Columbia salsa dance scene in search of new venue

Friday, July 23, 2010 | 1:20 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia’s growing salsa scene has hit a standstill since the only steady venue, the Underground Cafe, closed its doors on June 30.

Nick Robinson began teaching salsa lessons at the Underground Cafe in September 2009, after being invited by owner Ryan McAllister. At the time, there were only about 20 “salsaholics,” Robinson said.

"I think it's a tremendous community," said Mike Long, who was a regular at salsa nights. "People from many different backgrounds and vocations come together to celebrate a sense of community and humanity. It's more than just dancing."

The Underground Cafe already had an established salsa scene that carried over from when it was previously the Cherry Street Artisan. When Robinson started teaching, though, the venue added a second Latin dance night on Fridays.

Since then, the number grew to average about 70 dancers on Wednesday and Friday nights, according to Robinson.

Robinson and his wife, Cecilia Botero, taught salsa lessons every Wednesday and Friday night followed by a Latin dance social. Robinson said often they would draw in dancers from Jefferson City, St. Louis and Kansas City for the Underground’s Latin nights, which consisted of not only salsa dancing but also other popular Latin dances such as merengue, bachata, cha cha, reggaeton and cumbia.

Ben LeCure says he is “bummed” about the Underground closing.

“I’ve been attending Nick and Cecelia’s phenomenal sessions for about three or four weeks,” he said.

Robinson has experience dancing and teaching for 15 years. He also teaches for the Latin Dance Club at MU.

Helen Ruth Humphreys had been taking lessons with Robinson and Botero since May. She said she goes to St. Louis or Kansas City to dance on some weekends now that Columbia's one venue for Latin dancing is gone.

“I will miss dancing at the Underground because it was a great hobby for me, a way to meet new and interesting people, and also a wonderful way to stay in shape without really having to think about it,” she said.

Robinson and his wife said they are still searching for a new venue to move to and are not ready to discuss the future until they have a location secured.

“We have a lot of ambitious plans," Robinson said. "I am optimistic in spite of that because there’s too much momentum.”

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