Celebrate Salsa


Celebrate Salsa at the Knitting Factory

by Pamela Kleibrink Thompson, photo courtesy of Candela Salsa Band

Laura “Lolita” Johnston fell in love with a Latin man from Honduras in college. She also fell in love with the Latin culture.  The Honduran is no longer part of her life, but Johnston is sharing her passion for the Latin culture throughout the community of Boise.  Johnston grew up in the dance halls of Austin, Texas, with country and western dancing but when she was introduced to salsa, she was captivated and has been enthralling others ever since.

“I was super shy in high school,” reflects Johnston.  “My Spanish teacher, Mrs. Walker, opened her house to me and the rest of the kids in the Spanish club.  There were about 20 kids who would show up at her home around 11 at night and she always welcomed us in.  We played charades.  We dressed up and had dinner parties.”

A resident of Boise for 24 years, Johnston found that there was a lack of opportunity to practice dancing salsa.  She decided to provide that, and is on a mission to “Latinize” Boise. Johnston recounts, “I met a firefighter at the Boise Café. Since he could not always be at the Boise Cafe on weekends he taught me how to DJ by color coding the different types of tropical Latin music. There was also a small group of people who showed up at the same time to help salsa grow in Boise.  They were all positive and upbeat.”

Johnston is certainly positive and upbeat.  At the recent Primavera Salsa at the Knitting Factory, she was the epitome of spring, wearing a floral dress of orange, yellow and green—reminiscent of a spring sunrise—and sporting glittering golden disk earrings, which reminded me of the sun.  She encouraged the crowd of about 60, ranging in age from 21 to senior citizens, to dance the merengue, bachata, and salsa.  With her guidance and enthusiasm, many couples fell in love with salsa, step by step.

Johnston introduced me to DJ Giovanni, who is from Guatemala and grew up in Los Angeles.  “We have two different perspectives,” enthused Johnston. “But we come together when the show starts. I could not do any of this without him. His ideas are usually the best too.”

Giovanni came to Boise from Los Angeles in 2001.  “Where is the music?” Giovanni wondered.  “That’s why I became a DJ.”  Giovanni had ample background in Latin music—he even worked at a Spanish radio station from 2004 to 2005.

“Giovanni plays to the crowd in the room,” explains Johnston. “If there are Columbians he will play Columbian salsa. I just love working with this guy.” Johnston and Giovanni have been working together for 13 years.

Johnston introduced the couples on the dance floor to some basics and gave them an opportunity to practice their new skills.   “Latin dancing is social,” beamed Johnston as she instructed on the dance floor, “which means you have to find someone you don’t know, partner up, and practice.”  Switching partners from my husband Lance brought me face to face with Jason, a shy Latin boy in his early 20’s, to practice the merengue.  When we traded after the introduction to the cha cha, I met Brian, who was about 30, and we admitted to each other that it was our first dance lesson from “Lolita” Johnston.  I have a feeling it will not be our last.

Dance lessons were followed by entertainment and demonstrations of dance from Jv Red Elvice,  a singer/dancer from the Congo, who moved like Elvis dressed in suit and tie; Flamenco acoustic guitarist Kenzo Mendoza and another man who kept the rhythm by hand clapping inspired a Flamenco Ishi dancer to lift her black skirt like a bullfighter’s cape, revealing the blood red lining; and Marcela Timson & Zumba Dancers, a dance team who combined high energy aerobics by the women with fantastic leaps by Jose Elias Ceja of Boise Capoeira, or Brazilian dance fighting.   The women wore bright carnival feathery tails, which reminded me of exotic birds of the Amazon.  They danced off the stage with a serpentine string of balloons of every color following them as Johnston announced, “Let’s get this party started.”  The conga line of balloons wound its way around the spectators collecting dancers as it went, drawing people into the action with its irresistible energy, creating beaming smiles and lots of fun.

There are no salsa bands in Boise, so once a year Johnston flies in a group to play at the Knitting Factory, which is the only venue which stays open late enough for a Latin concert. The Knitting Factory has been tremendously supportive of Salsa over the years. This will be Salsa Idaho’s ninth year at the Knitting Factory and this year will feature Edgardo Cambón & Candela Salsa Band from San Francisco.

This year the 9th Annual Salsa Idaho Festival will be June 6th—don’t miss it.

For more information, check out the following resources:

Edgardo Cambón and Candela, http://www.musicandela.com.