Rumbanana! Corvallis Salsa Classes… Is It Dance, or a Party?

Photo by Jaime Fuller
Photo by Jaime Fuller

Simona Boucek and Mike Eskeldson have been teaching Corvallis how to party since 2005. They’ve disguised these partying lessons as Cuban Salsa classes, which has proven itself to be not only a fun, but an award-winning practice, having ranked highly in worldwide competition.

Boucek and Eskeldson are the directors of Rumbanana, an organization and performance team formed to promote Cuban salsa, aka Casino, and Timba, the music it’s danced to. Boucek and Eskeldson moved to Corvallis in 2005 and started teaching. From the start, they knew they wanted to teach dance a different way.

“We had this theory,” Boucek said. “What if we focused on building up a social community first?”

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Photo by Jaime Fuller

The founders of Rumbanana were fed up with a lot of dance scenes out there, where people knew how to dance but didn’t know how to have a good time.

No one wants to hang out with a bunch of prima donnas. So they tried a different route. The first couple of months of classes they made their students a deal. If they came out to the club on a Friday night and said hi, Boucek and Eskeldson would buy them a drink.

“We would use class funding,” Boucek said. “The problem was they bought us drinks back. Our livers would never survive so we don’t do that anymore.”

Photo by Jaime Fuller
Photo by Jaime Fuller

Even without free drinks their theory panned out. How else can you explain a world-renowned dance team that hails from a town of 55,000? The group formed in 2006 and in 2008 went to Munich to represent the United States in a worldwide competition where they placed third.

They brought the trophy back to the club and let people order drinks in it.

As much as it’s about fun and socializing though, it’s still about music and dancing. It’s not “Dancing With the Stars” dancing though. “It’s very down to earth, very complex for what it is,” said Boucek, “a couples dance, very intricate, lots of arm work, lots of foot work, lots of body movement.”

Photo by Jaime Fuller
Photo by Jaime Fuller

“We perform it as far as showing what the style looks like but it’s not meant to be performed.” It’s also round instead of linear like other forms of salsa. The team dances in a wheel, or rueda, with a caller. The intros are choreographed but after that, each performance is unique and ephemeral.

There are about 20 people on the current Rumbanana team. They are dancers but they are also engineers, kindergarten teachers, university staff. And being a great dancer is not the highest priority.

“The minute someone walks into a level one class we start to look at personality,” Boucek said. “It’s more important to us than dance skill. We’re really interested in folks that will represent the culture well.”

“I really enjoy introducing people to it,” she said. “Especially when they tell me they’re really addicted to the music. That’s when we’ve won.”

Rumbanana throws a weekly party at Impulse Bar and Grill on Tuesdays and offers monthly classes. Check them out on youtube, facebook, or www.rumbanana.org.

By Lana Jones

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