A celebration of community and culture: SALSA invites students and alumni to join in the power of dance

Jesse Khalil , Reporter

The upbeat music and string of laughter made it hard for Spanish and Latino Student Association members to resist mirroring the dance moves of former SALSA Presidents Victor Benton and Ricky Ortega.

The two former presidents swayed effortlessly across the floor as they taught attendees three Latinx dances: Salsa, Bachata and Merengue, bringing the community closer together with each step.

The SALSA dancing event, hosted in the Student Multicultural Center, was brought back to promote community and reconnect with Hispanic culture after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once COVID restrictions were lifted, SALSA President Miranda Sepulveda was eager to bring back the event.

“We felt disconnected as a community during COVID,” Sepulveda said. “Food, dance and music all have a way of bringing people together.”

The event gave Benton the opportunity to not only teach members these three dances, but also immerse himself back into the lively community through teaching the Latinx dances he specializes in.

“I wanted to give back to the community that made me, me,” said Benton, who was president in 2017. “I reached out to Miranda, the SALSA president, and asked for ways I could get involved.”

After growing up in the small town of Twinsburg, Ohio with predominantly white residents, Aimée Flores, a first-year junior majoring in psychology, was in search of a way to get in touch with her strong Hispanic roots.

“When I found SALSA I thought, ‘Woah this is really cool and exactly what I am looking for,’” Flores said. “There just were not enough Hispanic people for me to talk to.”

Prior to joining SALSA, Flores struggled to find a community that understood her experiences growing up in a Hispanic household.

“The thing with living in Twinsburg is that I do not really have a way to keep my culture alive, it is more so me just spreading my culture to everyone else,” Flores said. “Here in SALSA, it is more about meeting people who know and understand the experiences that I went through, and it is something we can talk about, which is something I never got as a child.”

Members work together to build a safe space designed to feel like a piece of home for those who come from out of state. Growing up in a prominent Hispanic community with Spanish being her first language, freshman fashion design major Carolina Barrera-Arrieta struggled transitioning to Kent State.

“Honestly, it feels kind of lonely and sad,” Barrera-Arrieta said. “I wish I could connect more back to my family and where I am from, but it is hard just because the environment is so different. I cannot just drive down home for the weekend since it is so far.”

However, Barrera-Arietta has found a community in SALSA, giving her a way to feel more connected to home despite the distance.

“There is always a lot of dancing in our culture,” Barrera-Arietta said. “It is the music, the ambiance and some members speaking Spanish with me that makes me feel more comfortable and at home here.”

Through dancing, music and conversation, SALSA is able to bring students from all backgrounds together in a safe space to celebrate and embrace Spanish culture.

“My favorite part about SALSA is how it has the ability to bring a lot of people from different backgrounds together,” Benton said. “I saw it today and I lived it for five years, it will always be my favorite part.”

Jesse Khalil is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].