For a moment, I thought I was in the multi-level Barrio Latino in Bastille or in the vibrating basement of the Montecristo in the Champs-Elysees. A ten-piece salsa band with bongos, maracas, claves, timbales, guiro and horns commanded my attention upon entering the room nondescriptly tucked next to the Kopper Top restaurant - a kitschy Grand Rapids restaurant popular among the local west siders. The latin rhythm sucks you in and before you know it, your legs starts marching to the beat, your hips sway organically from left to right, your arms shuffle, and your attitude takes that of a professional ballroom dancer. Welcome to the world of latin dancing and Friday Night Salsa at the Kopper Top hosted by Casey Reed of Salsalogy Dance Academy and his fiancee (and my dance partner for the Dancing with the Make-A-Wish Stars), Molly Thompson.
Culture is slowly rising to the surface in Grand Rapids. Inclusiveness is becoming more than a token word in one's mission statement. What was once hidden in the far corners of the city is slowly making its way to the mainstream downtown scene. It won't be long when the music of the streets of San Juan, Havana and Brasilia will be mixed by local dj's with the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas.
Unlike the superficial ambiance in most dance clubs, attending these venues are for those who simply want to dance. Everyone dances with everyone. No one cares. The objective is to allow the music to take over. Better dancers teach the beginners. Impeccably dressed ladies partner up with guys in t-shirt and jeans. Gucci meets super mercado.
Casey works the room wonderfully switching from one pupil to another. Molly, in her tight black dress and heels, was a walking salsa trophy on the dance floor with her tall posture and head turning moves. It's hard work to be "on" all the time, but for dancers with a dream, this is one way to pay the bill. $10 at the door helps pay the band and perhaps a few meals for the table. But one's passion has no price tag. This is the life of the artist. Five, six, seven, eight...let's salsa.