Salsa by the Sea celebrates 10 years
The sun is setting as a crowd gathers around a makeshift dance floor next to the Santa Cruz Wharf. At the center of the circle, a diverse group of beaming locals appears liberated as they writhe to the sensual sounds pouring out of the speakers.
The energy is infectious.
The free event, known as Salsa by the Sea, has drawn experienced dancers and first-timers to the deck adjacent to Ideal Bar & Grill every Sunday for the last 10 years. In honor of its anniversary, the group will host a special event from 5 to 9 p.m. on July 29, featuring DJs Luis Resendiz, Paul Camacho, Ferdouse Khaleque, Dark Rum, and Micheal Mpyangu. Watsonville’s community dance group, Fuego Latino, will also perform.
“It all started with a small boom box,” says Itziar Santos, Salsa by the Sea’s founder, “and it grew and grew and grew from there.”
In 2002, Santos was a DJ at the now-defunct Club Dakota, where she would spin during their free Monday night salsa events. When the salsa night was cut, Santos recognized the sense of loss among the dancers, who no longer had a place to regularly convene.
“Salsa dancing must be shown! It must be seen,” she exclaims. “The world had to know how great it is. That’s how I felt when I started it.”
In the beginning, Salsa by the Sea was an attempt to replace what had been lost with a handful of amateur salsa dancers clustered around a modest portable sound system at the end of Pacific Avenue. But, after receiving numerous noise complaints and police visits during their months Downtown, Santos took to the beach.
“I walked out on the Boardwalk and I came to that deck that we dance on now and I thought, ‘This is it,’” she remembers. “It’s right by the ocean, the sunset, it really couldn’t get any better than that.”
From a small boom box to its current professional sound system, Salsa by the Sea has inevitably grown in the past decade; some people even travel from outside of Santa Cruz County to participate. While each week the group grooves to salsa music mixed with cha-cha, cumbia, and merengue, the event’s current coordinator, Trace Farley, has recently incorporated an evening dedicated solely to bachata—a hip-swaying style of dance that originated in the Dominican Republic, and is popular in the Bay Area—on the third Sunday of every month. “Bachata is a more romantic style of dance,” explains Farley. “It’s really like the slow dance of our event.”
Relative to the size of the community, salsa has a fairly large following in Santa Cruz County.
“I look forward to the end of each week because I know that I will be back in the arms of Salsa by the Sea,” says Lillian Berger, who has been participating for five months. “It really does hold me; seeing the same warm faces and feeling the familiar rhythm of the music each week keeps my blood pumping and feeds my soul.”
Both Santos and Farley describe their involvement in salsa as a way of life, even an addiction. “It’s just so fun,” says Farley. “It’s great exercise, it’s free, it’s very social, it’s a great way to meet people, it’s great for dating. In fact, there have been some salsa babies that came from people meeting at our event.”
The intention of Salsa by the Sea and its patrons is the same today as it was 10 years ago: to get more people involved.
“Because Salsa by the Sea is a very open event, people are very accepting,” explains Berger. “Dancers of all levels are welcome because people are enthusiastic about the dance and willing to help [those who] do not know the steps.” A partner is never necessary and everyone is welcome. “The most important thing is to have fun.”
Salsa by the Sea meets from 5-8 p.m. on Sundays on the left side of Ideal Bar & Grill. The anniversary event is from 5-9 p.m. Sunday, July 29. Free for all ages.