Salsa Club puts a new spin on dance


Owen Barbato

Tomoyoshi Sato `23 (Left) and Nina Ranalli `26 (Right).

George Kosinski, Staff Writer

Grinnell College students eager for instruction in salsa and bachata dancing were all out of luck — that is, until just over a month ago when Nina Ranalli `26 and Tomoyoshi Sato `23 together founded the Salsa and Bachata Club.

At meetings, which are held every Saturday from 4-6 p.m. in the Charles Benson Bear `39 Recreation and Athletic Center (Bear) dance studio, students pair up with one another and receive instruction in salsa and bachata, two dances originally from communities in Latin America but now extremely popular worldwide. Both leaders stressed that they want the club to be as inviting as possible, and that everyone, regardless of experience or skill level, is welcome to attend.

“It’s open to anyone who wants to come, especially to complete beginners,” Ranalli said. “The majority of people who come are all new to the dances, and we welcome people from all levels of experience or with backgrounds in any form of dance.”

Though matched in their passion for the club, as well as a desire to share that passion with other students on campus, Ranalli and Sato each have very different backgrounds as dancers. “I’ve been dancing my whole life and was always involved in a lot of different forms, but salsa has been my favorite,” Ranalli said. “I used to teach salsa in Chicago before college, and I missed that a lot. The opportunity to teach it again has been really exciting,” she added.

Meanwhile, Sato said that he started dancing while studying abroad in Sweden a year ago. “Since then I always wanted to start a salsa club on campus,” he said. “I’m a CA  [Community Advisor] and I hosted a workshop last semester in my dorm, which nobody showed up to. Then this semester I started dancing, and then [Ranalli and I] were dancing together,” he said.

“When our paths crossed it was clear that we both knew how to salsa, and starting a club afterward was the obvious next step,” Ranalli added.

Ranalli and Sato each said that they are quite pleased with early attendance and participation at Salsa and Bachata Club. “It’s been great. We already have high turnouts,” Ranalli said. “Every weekend probably around twenty people show up, and I think we’ve done a good job cultivating a really inclusive and welcoming environment. A lot of the people that come are regulars now who have been attending since the beginning, but there are a lot of new people, too, and many also bring their friends.”

She said that instruction has largely focused on getting participants up to speed and able to dance with one another. “We’ve taught a lot of them the basic steps and then from there we go into spins and finally how to dance with a partner. Even though it’s a lot of people’s first time, they have all caught on quickly.”

“People seem really interested since there were no opportunities to learn salsa and bachata before,” Sato added. “We think it’s been wellreceived so far. We’ve got so much good feedback and people returning each week, which has been wonderful to experience.”

Looking forward, Sato said that they were thinking about possibly hosting a performance, but right now he and Ranalli were focused on teaching people the basics and getting them comfortable with the idea of dancing. Club leaders also said that they would be eager to partner in some capacity with Grinnell’s Student Organization of Latines (SOL). 

“Salsa and bachata are both important parts of Hispanic and Latinx heritage and culture which we think is really exciting to bring to the Grinnell College campus,” Ranalli added.

Ultimately, Ranalli and Sato want to share their passion for dance with as many Grinnell students as possible.

“I had always been interested in salsa and bachata, but for a long time I didn’t have a chance to actually learn them,” Sato said. “In Sweden I saw an ad posted for a free salsa trial. It was just an hour-long workshop but that has basically changed my whole life. I want Grinnellians to take one step forward, join us and maybe have a similar experience.”

“[Dance] brings so much joy to both of us, and we want to bring that to other people,” Ranalli added. “It’s also just a really good way to build a sense of community.”