Community and inclusion in art — Latin social dancing in Utah

Story, photos and gallery by KRISTEN LAW

“There’s dance for everything. You don’t have to be a competitor, you don’t have to be a professional,” said Julio Morales, a professional Latin ballroom dancer and instructor in South Salt Lake.

Morales said that students come for many reasons: to increase health benefits, enjoy the community and socializing, or to compete and perform. “You get to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds who have different goals, so it’s a great community,” Morales said.

The purpose of Latin social dancing is to build community. Social dance is centered around socializing while engaging in different styles of dance. Morales said all of the styles have their own kind of “flavor.” Salsa is a “high-energy, happy dance,” Morales said. Merengue and bachata are Latin dances originating in the Dominican Republic but have slightly different characteristics from one another. Merengue, according to dance websites, is more of a traditional, lighthearted and festive Latin dance, whereas bachata is more of a sensual and intimate Latin dance.

DF Dance Studio located at 2978 State St. in South Salt Lake offers many Latin social dance classes that fit any level. The beginner Latin social dance classes encourage a comfortable and relaxed environment for learning the basics. DF Dance Studio provides professional performances for attendees for social dance nights to encourage beginners to come out and dance.

Some people come who have never danced before. Teachers are there for students to ask questions and make them feel comfortable.

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Hope Jackson (second from the right) watching the students dance during the Latin Nationals Prep Camp.

Beginner or not, even the professionals take classes. “I’m a professional, but I still take lessons from other professionals because we understand in our sport that we’re never too good to learn something,” said Hope Jackson, a professional dancer and instructor in Utah.

Kyle and Madelaine Treu grew up dancing a variety of styles of dance and now the professional dancers specialize in Latin American dancing. The couple teaches at a studio in Idaho Falls, Idaho, called Extreme Ballroom Company.

“Those who get the ‘bug’ are in it for life, whether they want to pursue it consistently socially, or consistently competitively,” Kyle Treu said.

Jackson and the Treus are professional dancers who put together a Latin Nationals Prep Camp to help students and competitors practice and hone skills for a competition in March 2018. The team flew in Pasha Stepanchuk and Gabrielle (Gabby) Sabler, Latin dance world champions, for this camp to help teach the students.

“In this particular group of people, [the students] were beginners that were adults, beginners that were kids, and then there were our competitive adults who were 19-25 that are going to be competing against [the instructors],” Jackson said.

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Students practicing at the Latin Nationals Prep Camp.

“I want this to be an inclusive sport,” she added. Dance itself is inclusive, but she longs to see growth in the arts in this way.

Latin and ballroom dancing in Utah is very popular and common. Salt Lake City supports the arts well and has donated money for years in support of the growth of arts and culture. 

“It’s a sport, but it’s art as well,” Jackson said. “The arts [in Utah] are really important.” She said kids in Utah are usually either in sports or in an art, and most parents want their kids to be well versed in both.

Madelaine Treu said, “I think overall, dance anywhere is very accepting. So there can be a lot of diversity and age and race and status because dance is so much about self-expression, and the beauty and happiness that dance brings to life. So when you find that community or that coach that gives that to you and you really click with them, then so much happiness and acceptance and family really revolves around that.”

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Gabrielle (Gabby) Sabler finishing a demonstration with Pasha Stepanchuk, behind her, for students at the Latin Nationals Prep Camp.

Jackson said she loves the art because she values being around people who inspire her. “I want to bring more of that to the community here, but I also really just love being part of it.”

Professional Latin dancer and instructor Julio Morales said when he goes out to social dance he sees a relaxed, community environment. “I like to go out there and have fun, whether it’s salsa or bachata,” Morales said. “It’s whatever you like, just to go out there and enjoy yourself and have a good time.”

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