For Brown Salsa Club, the beat goes online

When Jordan Schuster learned that Brown, like nearly all universities across the country contending with COVID-19, would transition to remote learning for the last two months of her senior year, texts from concerned friends began flooding in.

The messages didn’t ask how she felt about finishing her last semester of classes away from campus, or about the possibility that Commencement might be postponed. Instead, her friends worried that Schuster wouldn’t get to say a proper goodbye to Brown Salsa Club, the student-run dance group that she had been a part of since her first year on campus.

“Everyone knew that’s what I would be thinking about,” said Schuster, an applied math concentrator and the club’s current co-president. “It was really heartbreaking.”

Schuster wasn’t the only one disappointed that the club’s annual spring celebration — an evening of dancing and music called SalsaFire that attracts hundreds of people to Brown’s College Green each year — and its weekly salsa lessons would be cancelled.

“Shock was my first reaction,” said Emily Wang, a sophomore economics concentrator and the club’s public relations officer. “I realized that this would be taking away a huge component of my life that I depended on — not just to keep in touch with my salsa family, but also to provide me with an outlet when things got stressful at school or when times got tough.”

But Schuster, Wang and their fellow club officers quickly mobilized, refusing to settle for a spring without Brown Salsa Club.

“We immediately knew that we wanted to find a way somehow to continue the lessons, even if they happened virtually,” Wang said.

Their instructor, Mori Granot-Sanchez — the founder of the Rhode Island Latin Dance Team, who has been involved with Brown Salsa Club since it was founded in 2009 — quickly signed on and, after a few online test runs, their virtual salsa lessons were ready to go live.

Every Wednesday since the first week of April, the group has hosted two hourlong, live virtual salsa lessons — one for beginners and the other for intermediate dancers — that, like the in-person lessons the club normally holds on campus, are open to anyone, including all members of the Brown and Rhode Island School of Design communities.

The virtual lessons have attracted approximately 50 salsa dancers each night, including many of the club’s several dozen regulars and more than a few new faces.

“We’ve been seeing a lot more new Brown students in particular hopping onto the calls,” Wang said. “They’re more aware of the salsa lessons now than they were when campus was open, and they are either curious or hoping to learn a new skill during quarantine, which we love.”

Because the lessons are now online, alumni members have also been able to join their old friends on the virtual dance floor.

“We had the club president and treasurer [from my first year] come online,” Schuster said. “They hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and I hadn’t seen them in a long time, and it felt like such a nice reunion.”

The club’s online lessons look a bit different from the in-person lessons that club typically holds: With dance partners scattered across Zoom windows instead of sharing a dance floor, Granot-Sanchez has shifted the focus of her lessons to footwork sequences that members can execute solo.

The sense of community and intricate dance sequences that each session brings have made these lessons a weekly bright spot for Karina Bao, a junior political science concentrator who began dancing with the club during her sophomore year.

“What brings me back are the wonderful people that I get to see every week and the new challenge that comes with every lesson,” she said. “It’s a great sense of solidarity to see everyone else is also dancing and able to find that time to relax and be together in this space.”