Winter nights may seem cold and dark, but there’s a sultry dance movement bringing heat to Bend. Latin dancing has ignited in Central Oregon with partners spinning and grooving to the salsa beat in clubs across town; it’s a sizzling scene.
The term Latin dance is used to refer to any type of dance that originated out of Latin America, and includes salsa, mambo and cha-cha-cha. The most popular Latin dances found in Bend are salsa and bachata. While both are of the same genre, origins of the two dances are different. Salsa dancing was imported to the U.S. from Cuba largely by immigrant populations in Miami and New York City, yet the dance has far-reaching roots to Africa, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. Then, bachata is a direct export from the Dominican Republic. The word “bachata” means party or good time, and this dance became popular through social gathering as it is largely danced in a festive, group atmosphere. While both dances are Latin in origin and performed with partners, the steps are quite different and each dance has its own type of music.
The word “salsa” translates to sauce, which is a good place to start when describing the dance. The salsa dancing style popular in the U.S. originated in New York during the 1960s. It’s fast, with partners dancing front to back, while bachata is performed in a circular motion using side-to-side steps. Bachata is a bit more sultry or romantic to match slower-paced music. Partners dance close to one another, often hip to hip.
Salsa with Victoria
Victoria Tolonen started salsa dancing in Eugene in 1993. She led a small performance group teaching classes and hosting competitions. There wasn’t anyone else in the area doing organized Latin dance at the time. A move in 2002 brought her salsa lessons to Central Oregon when she opened the studio, Bend Dance. Early on, she organized salsa nights at any bar or nightclub in town that had even the tiniest bit of dance floor space. This was the start of the Latin dance community in Bend. Having a community is essential for Latin dance to thrive, Tolonen said. She offers a four-week salsa dance series in her home studio each month, with skills progressing over the course of the class. Both couples and singles are encouraged to attend lessons as partners rotate continuously. The classes include all ages and abilities and private lessons are available as well. “Everyone is welcome and no experience is necessary,” said Tolonen. “You just need a willingness to learn and a desire to have fun.”
Latin Dance Bend
Andres “Andy” Garcia sees an opportunity to grow the Latin dance community with the influx of new residents who have relocated to Bend from bigger cities. Andy, originally from Mexico, is the founder of Latin Dance Bend. As a kid, he had a lot of Puerto Rican friends who helped shape his love for dancing. “Growing up, at our family gatherings, you eat and you dance,” said Garcia. When Andy graduated from high school, his parents gifted him a trip to New York City. During the weeks he visited, he and his friends danced frequently. In 2008, while going through some personal transitions, Garcia reimmersed himself in dance here in Bend as an outlet. As his passion grew, he took lessons and attended Latin dance congresses, or dance competitions. He eventually started teaching in 2012 part time. In addition to teaching salsa and bachata classes, he also hosted socials open to the public, where he was DJ and gave dance lessons.
After a couple of years, Garcia took the plunge and started teaching Latin dance full time. The demand for his classes grew to two classes a night, three days a week. This lasted until the 2020 pandemic. Today, Garcia has a full-time job and young family, but dance—especially bachata—remains his passion. In 2022, he started hosting monthly Latin dance socials
at Campfire Hotel.
When asked about the positive impact of Latin dance in Bend, both Gary and Tolonen accentuate the community it builds. Tolonen said her entire circle of friends came through teaching salsa, and Garcia met his wife dancing. “Even if you don’t want to participate, watching the dancers’ show is a fun night out,” said Tolonen. Latin dance is a way to learn a new skill, keep active, and expand a social network. Now, that’s pretty saucy.