Salsa: The dance that is taking Kigali by storm

As a growing number of entertainment places in Kigali start ‘Salsa dance’ themes, more people are taking up the dance not just for entertainment but to also keep fit.

“Wherever we headline a salsa night, people can’t wait to dance salsa no matter what little experience they have in it, while others are eager to learn. That makes us proud of our initiative and I don’t think it is not too late to share our experience with them,” says Mike Marorerwa, a dedicated Burundian choreographer and dance instructor in Kigali.

The word “salsa” in Spanish means ‘sauce’. Salsa originates from Eastern Cuba, Latin America, from the Cuban Son about 1920 and Afro-Cuban dance (like Afro-Cuban Rumba).

There, Spanish and Afro-Cuban musical elements were combined, both in terms of rhythm and the instruments used.

This style of dancing is by nature an expression of emotions, feelings and options through the movement and manoeuvring of the body.

In Rwanda, it is hard to know exactly when such social dances first took place but it started getting popular in 2007.

Parfait Mugiraneza, a salsa enthusiast and the brains behind Salsa Night at Ubumwe Grande Hotel, says the genre has been in Kigali but not many people had warmed to it.

“I cannot say that salsa is new in Kigali but it is attracting more people although some do not know where they can enjoy the dance, while others have no idea where they can learn it from,” he says.

In 2009, Pasadena Bar in Gikondo started salsa dances every thursday night where a diverse mix of dancers would take to the dance floor. The place would bring a Latino mood as only salsa dance was allowed inside, and that was the night when all people, old and young, male and female, a mix of nationalities and backgrounds, would gather to the loud Latino music blaring from the speakers.

A couple dances Salsa. The dance is becoming popular in Kigali.

“It had such a big following that included foreigners. It is the first place that I know that started salsa themes,” Mugiraneza further says.

After salsa opened plenty of opportunities for him while in France, he fell in love with it and decided to move to a salsa class so that he would dance to it confidently in pubs.

“Salsa has helped me to meet so many people and get opportunities while I was abroad”.

On his return to Rwanda in 2014, he met different salsa enthusiasts and together they founded a salsa association.

Dubbed ‘Dance and Events Association’ the association aimed at bringing together all salsa enthusiasts not only from Rwanda but also those visiting the country.

As the genre was gaining momentum in Kigali, people started asking where they can get training. That is when they decided to start classes at Soho Fitness.

Since its establishment in 2017, a lot of people have joined the school with coaches training people Salsa and other related dances like Kizomba, Merengue and Bachata.

Mugiraneza further adds that salsa is a stress reliever and can also help to keep fit.

“Some people come to the salsa class with different plans but, in the end, they change their attitudes after some time. Salsa is performed by people from all walks of life, including corporate people and VIPs. Salsa has its rules built around respect and that’s the kind of training we offer”.

A Salsa class at Ubumwe Grande Hotel. Photos by Eddie Nsabimana.

Marorerwa, also a coach of social dances, insists Salsa dance is not all about just having fun; it is a physical activity which reduces stress and tension. It also connects people from all walks of life.

“Salsa helps you enjoy the dance but the best thing you realize is networking and make friends,” he says.

He also said that, as coaches, they are also looking to attend further trainings in Salsa to gain more experience from countries that are already advanced in the genre so that they can train people who want to do it as a profession.

“We want this to be as professional as any other kind of arts where we can produce best choreographers who can do their job professionally not only in the country but on the international level and I am confident we can reach our target if we keep sharing experiences, keep learning new things”.

“I would encourage everyone, especially the young generation, to join this dance genre, learn how exercise with an objective to become real athletes who can even take part in international competitions”.

Salsa also helps people to exercise and stay fit. 

Next year, they are planning to launch a social dance festival which will be instrumental in marketing them and the country.

 “I am sure there are some tourists who like salsa dances and are interested taking part in it. I think such competitions and festivals would be an added advantage and a reason for them to visit Rwanda. We are eager to give them a choice so they can enjoy their stay in Kigali,” he added.

Christine has been attending salsa classes for over a month and says it has not only helped her stay in shape but is now also a better dancer.

“I regularly practice salsa and enjoy every single session. Salsa dance was something many of us were missing in Kigali and, personally, I have seen it as a classic and nice dance worth learning because I always want to learn something new”.