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Building Community Through Latin Dancing

(Last Updated On: July 4, 2017)

If you are near the 512 S. Elm St. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, it is likely that you will hear Latin tunes that may intentionally or unintentionally put a skip into your step and a bounce in your hips. Specializing in Cuban Salsa/Rueda, Kizomba/Semba, Afro-Cuban folkloric and Bachata dances, Messina Dance Company opened in 2016 and in just this short amount of time they have been well-received by the people of Greensboro and Durham. Alongside being a new up-and-coming dance studio, Messina Dance Company has reached out to the community and made its mark as an open, social and communal dance company.

Steven Messina is the founder and instructor of Messina Dance Company and before he was teaching Cuban style dancing, he started out dancing with his mother in their kitchen at a very young age.

“It wasn’t even a conscious decision when I wake up in the morning,” Messina said. “I am thinking about dance and I am thinking about how to get people into classes or how to make a routine that will expose them into keeping up with dance.”

Messina said he lived in south Florida for a while where he learned and practiced Casino, or Cuban style, socially. Messina said when he first moved to North Carolina, people were telling him he didn’t know how to dance because they were doing it the American way and he had learned the Cuban way.

“I did not know at the time what I was doing,” Messina said. “I had to go back and do my research and take lessons in Casino like, what is it and how to break it down because I wanted to share it with the people I was meeting up here to dance salsa with. I had to go back and learn how to explain it, and when I did that I understood it better myself.”

Now, Messina said he has a group of people who can explain the lead and follow part to a man or a woman and that is how the dance spreads.

However, he did not pursue dance as a career until he started Messina Dance Company. Messina originally worked as an engineer but still kept dancing part time. He said he began taking lessons, then helping other classmates and then from there, he started teaching the stuff he likes most: Casino.

“I started teaching Cuban dancing and there was a really good response,” Messina said. “This area does not have a lot of Cuban dance– they dance salsa, but they dance it in a line, the American style, and the Cuban style is circular.”

In only about a year, Messina Dance Company has gone from having no people to dance in the area to a training team in both Durham and Greensboro that work on presentations and come to classes, Messina said.

“The Greensboro group has traveled and done performances in Wilmington, Virginia and we have our eyes set on other places as well like Miami,” Messina said. “In a very short period of time, it has really taken off and gotten a lot of good exposure. The thing is, people, keep using the phrase hidden gem, so, with that, they certainly mean the group of people.”

Messina said the most special aspect about Messina Dance Company is the strong bond among classmates as well as the community. Messina also appreciates the diversity of his students as well as the crowds that show up to dance in public.

Group picture of Messina Dance Company’s summer class, from left: Caleb Peter Turmel,Jennifer Antonosanti,Ṣoṣo Ọnasanya,Nico Brown,Rosanna Ventura, Kierra Campbell, Sam Sutton, Claudia Lozada, Abril Nieves. Jordan Alayna and Steven Messina
Courtesy of Steven Messina

“When you see us out dancing in public, it looks like we did a diversity casting,” Messina said. “But that just happens to be, people of whatever age, background, origin and they are all can bring their own experience to the table. They are all very nice people. So, anyone that gets exposed to the group they can see it, it is very obvious. That is what the real special thing is.”

Messina said he sees people come in and say they are new in town or they do not know anyone. He encourages those people to come to a class or a social dance session and then they will know and be in connection with 50 people.

“If you really want to, you could know 200 people,” Messina said. “That is just the function of the salsa community itself when someone comes around everyone is connected, it is an instant social circle whatever the size.”

Messina said he is very excited about starting up a new schedule for weekly Cuban Salsa classes as well as Kizomba classes. Messina said it will be in a month format, where people can join at any time but classes restart at the beginning of every month.

“I am encouraging people to come out and try it because the classes go very slow,” Messina said. “To allow people who are slower or newer to dance that level and then there is an intermediate level and advanced level.”

Messina said the cost of joining is normally $45 per month for an individual and $75 for a couple but if someone created a MeetUp account the price would only be $40 per month for an individual and $70 for a couple. Messina believes this is pretty affordable and he is confident that he communicates the dances pretty well. He said he does this by balancing social dancing, which he describes as “trial by fire” approach, as well as teachings like that, would be done at a formal dance school.

What makes Messina different and unique from all the rest is because Messina said that there are not a lot of people who do Afro-Cuban dances anywhere. Messina said the folkloric dancing is very specific and niche type of dance. Messina said that it takes a lot of training and the dances have a religious background, which can be very special to some people.

“Even little drops come from Afro-Cuban, so when we are dancing Rueda or something like that it is more Afro, it is what makes the Cuban music so rich,” Messina said.

Messina said his personal goal is to get someone who allegedly can’t dance to teach them to be able to dance as good as him and better. “I am trying to elevate anyone I can inspire,” Messina said.

Tonya Harmon a salsa dancing fan and a Zumba instructor came out on June 25 to the Salsa Dancing in the Center City Park because she wanted to learn how to do the dances.

From front left: Ṣoṣo Ọnasanya, Caleb Peter Turmel, Rosanna Ventura, Nico Brown, Jordan Alayna and Kierra Campbell lead the dance at the free event Salsa Dancing in the Park held at Center City Park on June 25.

“I am a dancer by nature,” Harmon said. “I am a Zumba instructor so I really enjoy this.”

Her son Marcus and husband Terrance Harmon joined her sitting on the green in front of the Center City Park stage. The family thought it was a great outing together and were big fans of the dancers.

“I like what I am seeing,” Marcus Harmon said. “I want to be an instructor I want to be taught, I am not 100 percent sure about the dance moves but that is why I am watching.”

Nico Brown, one of Messina’s more seasoned students (who also learned to dance in south Florida) said he “found this amazing group” and was thrilled to join. He said he has been with Messina for two and half years and loves to dance as a hobby.

“You got a diverse group of people with all kinds of backgrounds and skill levels just come in and he teaches everything really nicely and brings everyone together,” Brown said.

Brown said the Salsa Dancing in the Park was a really fun event that has been growing since it had begun. He said he noticed that a lot more people have come and joined.

Ruth Aquino attended the Salsa Dancing in the Park on June 25 and said it was her first time coming out. She said she dances Mexican folkloric dance with costumes with the different states of Mexico.

Lionel Villalta and Selene Pfeifer are a couple who came out to salsa dance on June 25. Villalta is also a dance instructor at Break‘N’ Out Dance Studios but just came out to dance for fun. “Steven Messina is doing a great job promoting salsa in the Greensboro area and I hope he keeps going with the same momentum,” Villalta said.

There are several events upcoming that Messina Dance Company will be hosting or involved in. On July 4 the dance company salsa danced in the Fun 4th Street Festival and they started the new schedule for Kizomba and Semba classes. On July 5, the Cuban Salsa classes kick off with the new July schedule starting at 6:30 p.m. On July 13, Messina Dance Company will host its second Downtown Latin Social located at Toniq Night Club. From 9 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. at Toniq, Messina Dance Company will be giving a complimentary Bachata lesson, no experience necessary and no partner required. From 9:30 p.m. until midnight, there will be freestyle salsa, kizomba, bachata, timba, merengue and more dances. The cover is $5 until 10 p.m. and $8 after 10 p.m.

Visit Messina Dance Compay online at its website to find out more and to get updates follow it on Facebook