On Stage

Hot Salsa

Rumba Northwest takes it outside

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I first saw Rumba Northwest owners Antonio Diaz and Heather Haugland dance when the couple was invited onstage during a concert by the Afro-Cuban All Stars a few years ago at the Mount Baker Theatre.

To say they heated things up is putting it mildly. As the legendary Cuban band continued sharing their righteous island rhythms with the audience, the duo spun, dipped and moved their bodies with both grace and passion.

“We made dinner for the band before the show and they learned we taught dance, so they invited us onstage to perform for several songs,” Haugland says. “It was thrilling.”

It was also—how do I put this?—hot. For a couple that had at that point already been together for more than a decade, the way they danced made it seem as if they were in the early stages of infatuation—you know, the time in a relationship when it’s nearly impossible to keep your hands off each other.

While I’m sure part of the reason their dancing was so affecting is that that they really do love each other, a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that both Haugland and Diaz are longtime fans, and practitioners, of Latin dance.

“I took a few Salsa lessons about 15 years ago, which led me to listen to some Cuban music (including the Afro-Cuban All-Stars), which led me to travel to Cuba for a month,” Haugland says. “I fell in love with Latin music and dance there, and haven’t stopped since.

“Antonio grew up listening to salsa in Peru, where his family still runs a dance studio out of their home. He fell in love with Salsa dancing when he first moved to Seattle, about 20 years ago.”

Since settling in Bellingham and starting Rumba Northwest in 2010,  the dynamic duo has been sharing their love of the art form in a variety of ways. In addition to hosting “Salsa Night” every Saturday at State Street’s Cafe Rumba, they also offer beginning and intermediate classes Monday and Thursday evenings at the Bell Tower Studios and share news about live Latin music events in Bellingham, workshops, salsa “congresses” and more.

“More” includes events such as “Salsa on the Green,” a free event set to take place Fri., Aug. 1 at the Fairhaven Village Green.

Because it’s a social dance, Haugland says you don’t need to come with a partner, and you don’t need to know someone to ask them to dance. They’ll be demoing and leading plenty of line dances, as well, so partners won’t even be needed for many of the songs. Beginners, Haugland says, are encouraged and welcome to come.

Much like the themes Rumba Northwest focuses on as a dance company, “feeling the music” and “having fun” will be part of what “Salsa on the Green” attendees can expect at the hot summertime soiree.

“It is all about the music,” Haugland says. “People learning to partner dance can sometimes get caught up in the count, the turn patterns, the technical aspects, but whatever you’re doing, you should be connecting with and interpreting the music. Second, we talk about having fun because why else are we all out there on the dance floor? We try to create a casual and flexible atmosphere, one that’s not focused on rules or on performing, but rather just enjoying yourself and making it fun for your partner, too.”

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