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Shall We Salsa? Yes

Sundays at the Santa Monica Pier's Boat House keep the hot, hot, hot dance set coming back for more.

June 25, 1998|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Salsa dancing isn't about getting your back step perfect or spinning your partner to the beat of the music. In fact, the hot, hot, hot dance doesn't even have much to do with keeping time--it's all about having fun.

That's the way instructor Albert Torres likes to break it down to the dozens of novices who show up at the Boat House on the Santa Monica Pier for Salsa Sundays. Some of them have had a lesson or two, but many have never ever heard the likes of these sounds.

Torres has been teaching for too long to break salsa down any differently. The way the smooth-dancing salsa man sees it, if they're having a good time, they'll keep coming back. And if they keep coming back, they'll keep dancing. And if they keep dancing, all the steps and twirls and turns will eventually come together in time with the music.

"You're not going to get it on your first try, it takes practice," says Torres to a room crowded with beginners. "But keep practicing and you will get it. I promise."

From its beachside digs on the north side of the Santa Monica Pier, the Boat House has been serving up family-style dinners and drinks for 35 years. They've always had acoustic music on weekend afternoons and evenings, but last year they spiced up the joint with Salsa Sundays.

Led by Torres and his partner, Laura Canellias, the eight-hour event attracts dozens of salsa lovers and beginners--of all ages and races--who are all fixed on dancing the day away. The early afternoon hours cater to the novices with an hourlong dance lesson, while the evening attracts the pros.

At about 5 p.m., when they've just about worn out the dance floor with the five or six steps they've learned, the hoofers who are hot stuff hit the deck. They kick up their heels, spin and twirl to the deejayed salsa sounds until the place shuts down at 10 p.m.

It's easy to tell when the seasoned dancers have arrived. Gone are the girls who've wandered in off the beach in sarongs and the guys wearing sneakers. These folks come dressed to dance. The women don strappy high heels and miniskirts. And unlike the novice men who wear high-tops, the pros opt for dance-friendly footwear like loafers with slick bottoms.

Up until last month, Salsa Sundays took place on the outside patio overlooking the sand and surf. The folks at the Boat House said they've gotten some flak from police about noise and people loitering outside the place, so dancing has been relegated to the indoors for now. Management is working with city officials to clear up the problem.

"People sure prefer it outside," said manager Todd Work. "But it hasn't really slowed us down."

Indeed, there are people of all ages who come to do this ageless dance. Gen X-ers learn the "in" dance with friends, and baby boomers pair up with their mates. There are tots and teens who are regulars and some outshine even the adults as they boogie-oogie away.

"Salsa is a dance that needs to be shared with the kids," Torres said of the family-friendly event. "Passing it on keeps the dance alive. . . . The kids who come here and learn how to dance have a better understanding of what Daddy does when he goes out Friday night."

BE THERE

The Boat House, 301 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. (310) 393-6475. Salsa Sunday runs from 2 to 10 p.m. Lessons: 2 to 3 p.m. Cover: $5. All ages. Full menu. Buffet, $3.

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