PREVIEW: OTSFM's Global Dance Parties
By Laura Molzahn
"I fell in love with the mambo because it's a natural dance," says Chicago native Saladeen Alamin. "It's done on the 2, so you're responding to the music --- it comes from call-and-response African worship dance, where you're responding to the drums."
Alamin must have delivered this information to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students over the 16 years he's taught at the Old Town School of Folk Music. He imparted it 13 years ago, when I took a class. Yet today he's lost none of his enthusiasm. "I just love teaching beginners, people who've never done it before!" he says. "It's not easy to teach beginners, but I love to see the joy --- 'Saladeen, I got it, I got it!' --- once they get the dance."
On Friday, April 12, at 8:30 PM, Alamin will provide the pre-concert dance instruction for a Global Dance Party at the OTSFM. Then Angel d'Cuba and his band play Latin music live, and everybody dances.
"We're the largest provider of dance instruction in the city," says Mateo Mulcahy, OTSFM director of community projects and events. "But one thing we did not have when I arrived, in 2006, were rooms conducive to social dance. That was a real disconnect, so we built the new building [at 4545 N. Lincoln] with a dance focus. There are three beautiful dance studios, all with sprung floors, and a performance space --- Szold Hall, a multipurpose room with mirrors and a sprung floor." With its accordion-style bleacher seating, which folds back, Szold is the home of the GDPs as well as many other events.
In the first year of the GDPs --- beginning in January 2012, when the new building opened --- the OTSFM had 35 of them. "At $10, which includes the dance class and, almost always, live music afterward to dance to, the GDPs are extremely affordable," says Mulcahy. "Nine times out of ten, we use our dance instructors, because part of the plan is to promote our classes. But I'm always looking for new styles, for communities we are not currently serving. We recently had an event with Greek music and dance, pulling those genres out of the usual Greek Orthodox church basements. We've had Haitian music and dance, and we have Colombian vallenato coming up."
Other GDPs he's excited about? "A Cajun band, a Hawaiian show, and a Brazilian GDP."
Though Cuban native Victor Alexander of Hedwig Dances is not on staff at the OTSFM, Mulcahy has sometimes brought him in to teach an Afro-Cuban lesson. "Victor is an exceptional dancer and teacher," he says. "But though Angel d'Cuba is Cuban, he plays salsa, not Afro-Cuban, music."
Latin music and dance seem to be riddled with fine distinctions and altercations about heritage and history. But here's Alamin's version: "In the early 40s, the mambo originated from the rumba, which came from son dancing, which came from a slave ritual dance in Cuba. In the 40s, it took to the streets; when the pace of the music picked up, it became the mambo. It was considered disgraceful at first."
That's probably why visitors to Havana were so eager to bring it back to the U.S., where it flourished in the 50s. "It came to the south side," says Alamin, "to black people." That's where he first saw it, in 1953 at the age of 12, and began dancing it professionally. Though later in life he became a boxer and a Muslim minister and dropped professional dance, he picked it back up years later.
"Salsa just means hot," Alamin says. "It's a generic name --- really, it's mambo." He may be partisan about the mambo, but he loves and teaches many styles of Latin dance. Hence the Chicago International Salsa Congress, which he started with his wife, Rosita Ragin-Alamin.
Alamin says that the 12th annual congress --- in February, over the long Presidents Day weekend --- was "the biggest yet." It featured 70 workshops, seven professional dance productions, and live bands and DJs for four nights of social dancing. "We took over the Hyatt Regency O'Hare," Alamin says. "We had 3,000 people a day dancing from 9 AM to 4 AM." Some undoubtedly got hooked at the OTSFM.