Salsa Thursdays!

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Dancers fill the floor during a recent Salsa Night at Gilbert Cellars

By Andrea McCoy

Photos By Chad Bremmerman

On Thursday nights, the basement of Gilbert Cellars transforms from chic wine room to upscale dance hall. Known simply as Salsa Thursdays, the weekly event is hosted by the newly formed Yakima Salsa Dance Company. The company is made up of local salsa enthusiasts, including new-to-town television reporter Karma Dickerson and David Blancas, who serves as the group’s DJ.

The salsa dance originates from Cuban and other Afro-Cuban folkloric dancing. Today’s salsa dancing is a rich blend of Latin American and Western influences.

“Myself and a few other people who love to dance got together and brainstormed how we could grow an awareness for the sport and create a fun environment for dancing right here in Yakima,” Dickerson said. With an average of 50 people — and sometimes as many as 80 — coming to dance each week, the founders and organizers are thrilled to see interest build.

“We see new faces every week,” Dickerson said. “People are driving from Ellensburg and the Tri-Cities to come and dance on Thursdays.”

The event is typically held at Gilbert Cellars in downtown Yakima (although it’s moved to Seasons Performance Hall as an

A blur of feet move across the dance floor

alternate location as well) where the basement is a terrific venue with its elegant decorations, tasty wines and availability of food.

Each Thursday begins with a half-hour dance lesson taught by salsa experts and teachers Sal Castaneda and Eva Valdivia. With classes open to anyone who wants to try, the organizers are committed to making salsa dancing as nonintimidating as possible. Castaneda and Valdivia give students lively and inspirational instruction: “Ladies – fingers like you’re holding an egg!” says Valdivia during a recent session. To the men Castaneda says, “Look macho!”

“Anyone can join us,” Dickerson said. “A lot of times people having a glass of wine upstairs will hear the music and come downstairs to see what’s going on … After a glass of wine and a little instruction, they are out there dancing, having a great time.”

An estimated 70 percent of attendees are beginners, with teachers, experts and a few intermediate dancers rounding out each week’s group. “We are really focused on growing the community,” Dickerson said.

Before Salsa Thursdays, she said, there were places in town to take lessons, but nowhere where you could practice your moves on the dance floor. But now that’s changed.

“Salsa Thursdays have grown so much that I spend most of the night hosting, teaching, running around making sure everything is in order,” Dickerson said with a laugh. “But I love it and I still get at least five songs in.”

David Blancas cues up mucis for dancers on a recent Salsa Night at Gilbert Cellars

Salsa Thursdays

Gilbert Cellars

5 N. Front St.

Free salsa lessons start at 7 p.m.

Open salsa dancing ($5 cover) begins at 7:30 p.m.

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