Young Beijingers dance to a Latino beat
By Francois Bougon, Associated Foreign Press
BEIJING (AFP) — It's a big night for Wang Ying, a Chinese student passionate about salsa who has thrown on her party clothes for one of the first "Latino" parties of the summer in Beijing.
"The first time I saw people dancing salsa, I thought how beautiful it was," says the 25-year-old, who now studies English in Beijing after having completed an accountancy course.
Wang, decked out in a tight-fitting red dress and high-heels, has been taking salsa lessons since 2005, and would not miss this outdoor party for the world.
Her steps are perfect and assured, and her partner twirls her around to the rhythm of a song in Spanish, the lyrics of which she does not understand -- "Oh if you don't love me, you don't love me... I won't die, hasta la vista baby..."
"As soon as I hear the music, I forget all my worries," Wang said.
"It's a passion, when you dance salsa you're just not tired, it's a really beautiful dance."
Salsa, which groups several different types of Afro-Cuban dances and music, was once the preserve of Latin American expatriates in China at the end of the 1990s.
But the number of schools has increased in recent years, with more than 10 opening in Beijing in the last four years.
"At first 75 percent of those dancing salsa in China were foreign, but now it's the opposite, 75 percent are Chinese, and the number of Chinese is increasing," said Jack Dunn, a New Yorker nicknamed "Mambo Jack," who arrived in China in 2004 and opened his own salsa school.
Yoandris Reyes Sanchez, a 25-year-old professional dancer, arrived from Cuba a year ago to teach salsa.
"Chinese people are not as I imagined them to be, I thought they were shy, that they were scared of dancing, but not at all," he said.
"I've been here a year and I can see that they really give their all for salsa, they really like salsa."
And whereas the older generation prefers to waltz in public places such as parks, younger people appear to favour lively rhythms that are a departure from traditional Chinese reserve.
"A lot of people think salsa is too sexy, but if your aim is only the love of dancing, I don't see where the problem is," said Wang.
The salsa trend also reflects the increasing openness onto the outside world of modern China, which has reinforced its economic presence in Latin America in recent years.
"Beijing is getting more international. Salsa comes from abroad and more and more people are open to the culture and ways of thinking that come from outside," Wang said.
In October, Dunn is to organise a Salsa Congress for the fourth time in Beijing -- a competition that gathers together hundreds of contestants.
"Last year at the China Salsa Congress, we had the first band with Chinese (people), it was headed by two Latinos, but the rest of the band were Chinese," he said.
"It was really unique, special, because it was the first time that Chinese were really on stage as a Latin performance, performing Latin music."