Tuesday, 08 October 2013 00:00

Salsa in the City Featured

Written by Caroline Baird
When she’s not teaching salsa, Dau spends her days working as a court interpreter. When she’s not teaching salsa, Dau spends her days working as a court interpreter. Courtesy of Daniela Dau

Daniela Mena Dau, a 34-year-old Chilean native, is bringing the art of salsa dancing to Johnson City. Once a month, Dau and her dancing partner BJ Goliday host salsa lessons at Bodega 105, a local Latin American restaurant. Before the class starts, Dau takes time to mingle with her students. Dressed in a fiery red dancing costume, it’s apparent that she’s the instructor.

The band starts up and fills the cozy restaurant with the hypnotic beat of the Latin music. Students of the class eagerly make their way towards the front of the venue. Dau and Goliday, sensing that it’s time to begin, head for the stage. From 8 to 11 o’clock, Dau and Goliday will lead the restaurant’s patrons in various dance steps.

 “Sala is a fast dance,” said Dau. “The movements go forward. It’s a great workout.”

Evolving over the decades, the salsa that we know today is an infusion of many different types of dancing and rhythm. Salsa finds its roots in Africa and ancient Latin America, and influences from the French and English can also be seen.

The dance began appearing in the United States around the 1920s. Americans seeking to escape from Prohibition laws were vacationing in Cuba and became acquainted with the salsa music and style of dancing. It has been popular ever since.

In Johnson City, Dau’s classes have become quite popular as well.

Dan and Stacy Robinette, a couple from Bristol, have been attending the salsa events for the past two years.

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“Our favorite part about the events is getting to meet other folks and having a night out away from the kids,” said Dan Robinette.

Abingdon, Va. native and mother of 3-year-old twins, Amanda Sells, 31, started the classes a year and a half ago.

“Salsa is my way to get out of the house,” said Sells. “When I first started I was really confused and it wasn’t what I expected. Social dancing isn’t a norm for our culture, except for clubbing which is completely different.”

Nina White, 55, attends the classes as a way to connect with her daughters.

“I started salsa because my daughters dance,” said White. “I love to do things with them and this was something we could do together. It is a wonderful experience.”

When she’s not teaching salsa, Dau spends her days working as a court interpreter.

“I’m all over the place as far as fcourt is concerned,” said Dau. “I do general sessions and federal court as well.”

In her hometown of Valparaiso, Chile, Dau attended college at Pontifical Catholic University and received her bachelor’s degree in interpretation. After receiving her degree, Dau made the move to the United States to be with her husband, David Dau. Her love for dancing came with her.

“It’s difficult to tell you exactly when I started dancing,” said Dau.  “In Latin America, I started dancing when I was very young.”

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Dance partner Goliday reflected on his first time meeting Dau.

“My first instructor was a friend of hers,” said Goliday.  “We would have salsa nights at The Ballroom in Abingdon, Va. and that’s where I met Daniela for the first time. A few months ago we got together and decided we wanted to expand our salsa classes.”

But first they needed to find a venue.

“We put some stuff together and then contacted Bodega 105’s owner, Brim Leal,” said Dau. “Mr. Leal wanted us to come talk to him and figure something out.”

After a few meetings with Leal, Dau and Goliday began preparing to host their very first event.

“Mr. Leal has been very supportive,” said Dau. “He actually extended the hours for our events.”

Since the first salsa-dancing event, Dau and Goliday both believe that the lessons are really taking off.

“People came to try and see exactly what we meant by salsa," said Dau. “They loved it and kept coming. We’ve been growing. Believe it or not, people know more about salsa than you think. They have seen it on TV but they’ve never been invited to come do it.”

However, one of the biggest challenges has been advertising the events.

“It’s hard to know how to reach out, said Dau. “It will be a random person who we talk to who will say they want to come and that is how we spread the word.”

Bodega 105's owner, Leal, believes that the salsa dancing events add to the unique experience that his restaurant offers.   Brim Leal

  “We wanted to do a whole different concept of restaurant,” said Leal. “The art of conversation is getting lost. My concept has been live entertainment, no TVs and special events.”

Salsa dancing is nothing new for Cuban native Leal, pictured at right, who came to United States over 20 years ago.

“I grew up with that music,” said Leal. “My whole family danced. It’s nice the people want to bring the art of dancing back to [Johnson City], especially Latin dancing.”

As for the future of the salsa events, Dau seems very optimistic.

“We are actually considering teaching classes at a studio,” said Dau. “We would focus on basic steps at class and then practice at the Bodega 105 event.”

Both Dau and Goliday have advice for those who might be a little apprehensive about coming.

“Just come and try it," said Dau. “I bet if you try it and you like it, you’re going to want to learn more and there’s no partner required! I dance with every person whether they want to dance with me or not!”

“Don’t be nervous, said Goliday. “There’s only one rule in dancing and that’s to have fun.”

Photos of dancers: Caroline Baird. Photo of Dau and Goliday courtesy Daniela Dau. Photo of Leal courtesy of Brim Leal.

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