Spicy salsa

Reno Latin Dance Festival

The Gózalo Dance Company is ready to get down.

The Gózalo Dance Company is ready to get down.

Photo/Anna Hart

More information and tickets for the event can be found at renolatindancefest.com.

“Salsa is a way of expressing yourself in dance form, a way that you wouldn’t normally do around other people,” said Armando Calzada, a member of the Gózalo Dance Company, a Latin dance troupe in Reno. “When you hear the music you just fall into it.”

If you had to list what Reno is known for, the first thoughts would probably be gambling and drinking, or maybe even start-ups and Tesla. Whatever you might think of, it would probably not be Latin dance. But in the realm of the Latin social dance world, that is what Reno is known for. This is because the Biggest Little City is home to one of the best known salsa and bachata festivals in the country, the Reno Latin Dance Fest.

“I don’t think you think salsa and think Reno,” said Brianna Harwart, another member of the Gózalo Dance Company. “You probably think L.A. or Miami. That is what the Latin dance community here does—it brings a different culture to this city.”

From Jan. 7-10, the Grand Exposition Hall in the Silver Legacy will be filled with dance workshops, performances, vendors and all-night dance parties, where a visitor can experience a myriad of different Latin social dances, from salsa, to bachata and cumbia.

“This really is a world-class festival, with high-level dancers, not just club dancers,” said Alex Garnica, a bachata dancer in the Gózalo Dance Company. It is incredible to not just see, but learn from dancers around the globe.

BB and Kiki are the owners of Salsa Reno, a local Latin dance outfit that spearheads the Reno Latin Dance Fest. The pair also manages the Gózalo Dance Company, which is composed of teams of salsa and bachata dancers of various skill levels, all of whom will be performing at the festival.

In the nearly 10 years that Salsa Reno has existed, Reno has built up a solid Latin dance community of hundreds of people, young and old, who come from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

Alongside the dance fest, Salsa Reno also teaches weekly classes at The Ballroom of Reno, as well as hosting a weekly Latin dance lesson and social from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. every Friday at Edge Nightspot.

This year’s attendance is expected to exceed 1600 people from all over the world. A large part of that is due to the pervasiveness that Latin dance, especially salsa, has outside of Cuba and Latin America where it began.

“I used to joke around and say salsa is danced everywhere in the world except where it’s illegal, like Iran, and someone said, ’You know there are underground salsa clubs in Iran, right?’ So it really is danced in basically every single country in the world,” said BB.

In its eighth year, the Reno Latin Dance Fest has grown to be an international affair. The event boasts dance instructors, performers, and DJs from places like Mexico, Portugal and even Kenya. It is a mix that parallels the origins of Latin dance, born from a fusion of African, Latin American and European cultures.

Kiki, who grew up in Ethiopia and immigrated to the United States in her teens, appreciates the connectivity that dance brings to different cultures.

“All of the people in the Latin dance community come from different places. But we all speak the same language when we are dancing,” said Kiki. “It’s not just Latinos or Americans or anything. We are all together.”