Salsa: The rhythmic social dance form

T-Mag Saturday 02/January/2016 12:34 PM
By: Times News Service
Salsa: The rhythmic social dance form

Aquainted couples on their honeymoons, one Omani and the other American, were canoeing on the peaceful waters of a lake in America. They exchanged smiles and soon struck up a light-hearted conversation. One topic led to another and they found themselves discussing Salsa.

The American immediately thought of a name, and when the Omani man proceeded to say that his cousin was an established Latin dancer in Oman, they both said “Thuwaini A Al Harthy!” in unison.

Dance has always been a part of Thuwaini’s life. Growing up he was inspired by figure skating that he saw on television, and he fell in love with the movements of couples in synchronised dancing.

In 2003 he officially began his journey into professional dance, travelling the world, from Cyprus, to Malaysia, to Egypt, Turkey, Paris, Lebanon, Russia, Romania, Belgium, Indonesia (Bali), and the whole of GCC, to learn different styles and forms of dance. And he met some of the pioneers of modern salsa along the way.

The ‘Mafias of Salsa’ or ‘Gurus of Salsa,’ an elite salsa group from Portland who breathe, eat, and live salsa, were a major source of inspiration for him. For them, salsa is their source of income, their social life, and their passion.

Thuwaini stayed with the group and learned their techniques, returning to Oman with his newly adopted style to create a salsa group in Muscat where he could pass on his knowledge. He has since added more instructors and created a full-fledged team.

He started slowly, offering dance sessions in the Grand Hyatt, moving to a studio in PDO as the group grew, and finally landing in his current space in Al Bahja Hall in the Jungle restaurant in Qurum. Pursuing his passion here in Muscat was not without its challenges, as salsa is all about the union of a couple, evoking and publicly showcasing intimacy, something typically kept very private in Omani culture.

“People often mistake me to be Cuban and it is usually a task to explain to them that I am Omani. It wasn’t easy for me as an Omani to start this as many people don’t accept it. But with time I achieved recognition and acceptance. In the beginning it was weird to see a couple dance, but now people want to join and be a part of our group and dance with us, especially when we go for our social nights.”

Slowly people began to accept salsa as an art form and eventually began to love it and want to try it for themselves. Salsa in Oman spread like a virus, gaining massive ground over the past four or five years and now Thuwaini’s Oman Salsa and Zouk Group welcomes ten new students to the classes each week.

Thuwaini’s present dance group is a personification of unity in diversity with both locals and expats from different nationalities, cultures, and social backgrounds coming together under one roof to express themselves and work up a sweat.

Know Your Salsa
Salsa essentially is a form of social dance that evolved as a distillation of many Latin and Afro-Caribbean dances. A large part of the dance originated from Cuba and then began to mix with African Rhumbas originated from New York with strong influences from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Latin America.

Salsa music and dancing have striking traces of African drum rhythms, Spanish guitar music, and dances from Cuba and Puerto Rico. Before and around the time of World War II, the music travelled to Mexico City and New York. It was in New York where the term “Salsa” was created.

For Thuwaini, salsa is a synchronised dance in which two people become one and go into another realm altogether. The lady follows the lead of the man and the man follows the rhythm of the music. Salsa dancing is performed to eight-beat music, with dancers moving on three beats for which the movement style is left-right-left-pause.

If a dancer begins salsa dancing on the first beat of the phrase (left-right-left-pause), the style is known as “on one”. While not the easiest dance form, because of its high tempo, it is not particularly difficult, and dancers of all skill levels should be able to gain proficiency within a matter of months.

Thuwaini trains in a number of variations of Salsa and Latin dance, including:

LA style salsa moves are designed to dazzle the spectator – exciting, and flamboyant with lots of dips, sequence, spins and drops. The LA style “shines” have their roots in Latin Ballroom. Couples break away from each other in the middle of a dance to start “shining”. Women will extend their arms to strike a pose, then play with stylised hip and hair movements.

Bachata is a style of social dance from the Dominican Republic. In partnering, the lead can decide whether to perform in open, semi-closed or closed position. Dance moves or step variety strongly depend on the music (such as the rhythms played by the different instruments), setting, mood, and interpretation. Unlike salsa, bachata dance does not usually include many turn patterns. Bachata is also considered to be a slower, more sensual and romantic version of salsa. There is more connect and chemistry among the partners compared to the other forms.

Merengue's beauty is in its simplicity and rural, unsophisticated feel where partners hold each other in a closed position. Here, the partners lift their heels and march continuously with each other. The essence is to go with the feel of the music, the partnership, improvisation, and the mood of the occasion.

The Cubans call their salsa Casino because in the decadent days of Old Havana, all the action in town was going down at the Casinos. Cuban style salsa differs from the North American salsa styles in that it is ‘circular’ rather than linear. The man constantly moves around the woman in a circular dynamic fashion, checking her out and showing her off. Voila! The Cuban salsa dancers have a lot of fun due to the upbeat music and fast tempo which keeps them going energetically with a lot of footsteps and shoulder work.

Salsa Rueda
Salsa Rueda is a synchronised Cuban group dance wherein all the dancers form the pattern of a closed rose. People dance together changing partners with one leader in the centre leading the moves. While some of the moves are graceful and intricate, others are just plain funny, such as ‘fly’ where the guys slap their palms together over the girls’ heads in a pretend fly-catcher move.

Cha Cha
This lively and flirtatious form of dance is one of the most popular forms of Latin dance. The light and bubbly feel of the Cha Cha which is danced in beats of one, two, cha cha cha, gives it a unique sense of fun for dancers throughout the world. The Cha Cha requires small steps and lots of hip motion which works as a little hip twist.

Tango is a vibrant partner dance that originated in Argentina and Uruguay which has rich potential for expression and connection in a sophisticated manner. While dancing the tango, the lady is held in the crook of the man’s arm. She holds her head back and rests her right hand on the man's lower hip. There’s a lot of poise and rigidity in the postures and movements which gives it an element of old-school romance.

Zouk, popularly known as the dance of love due to its strong, flowing movements is a couple dance descended from Lambada. It is a sensual dance form where the partners are outstretched to the maximum with strong and different head, neck movements. [email protected]


International Salsa Festival
In February the OSZG will be organising their 6th International Salsa Festival for which over thirty international choreographers and trainers from across the world will travel to Oman to offer training in specialised forms of Latin dance. The five-day festival will also feature welcome parties, social nights, workshops, and shows. See for updates and details.

Social Steps
Twice a month the group hosts free beginner workshops followed by a social night of dancing.

On the Rocks (+968 9798 3333)
Shangri-la (+968 2477 6666),
Trader Vics (+968 2468 0080),
Rumba Lattina (+968 2465 1051)
Senor Pico (+968 2468 0030)

Weekly Group Classes
Take Salsa lessons, open to all ability levels, at Al Bahja Hall, Jungle Restaurant from 6.45pm onwards every Sunday. Contact OSZG at +968 9932 6632