Lynchburg Salsa Returns to the Dance Floor
Photos by Ashlee glen
Salsa dancing is much more than a series of steps, it is a conversation between two partners built on mutual coordination, trust, and passion. It also takes fortitude and patience to master salsa, and as Abram and Genette Dahlby know firsthand, all of these things are invaluable when it comes to running a salsa dance studio as well. The Dahlbys have owned Lynchburg Salsa since January 2017, and they have navigated several challenges with the same deftness that characterizes the style of dance they teach.
Chief among these challenges is the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic hit us hard,” says Abram. “We had to close our doors in March 2020 when the mandate for gyms and other things fell under the workout classification and only reopened in August 2021. It was almost 18 months in total and we are ready to build up our numbers and get people back to dancing.”
Changes in locations and times over the past several years have also affected participation. Lynchburg Salsa was originally founded by Elizabeth Pfister in 2009 and took place on Friday nights in the former Dance Theatre of Lynchburg on Commerce Street. The studio subsequently moved to The Glass House and then to Riverviews Artspace before coming back to the original Commerce Street building—now the home of Mission House Coffee—in October 2019. Classes and events now occur primarily on Thursday nights.
“Over the last couple years, we have seen Lynchburg Salsa ebb and sway with our weekly numbers due to having to change to multiple locations and different days and times,” Genette notes. “Regardless of the hardship of having to communicate new locations, times, or days, we have always had a great community that looks forward to dancing and we have seen a lot more interest in dancing since COVID has lightened up. We hope to get to the point of the fire code being the big issue each week.”
The Dahlbys fondly remember the days when participants came out in full force to dance. “When I started dancing about seven years ago, it felt like every Friday was the hottest the room could get,” Abram says. “People were always ready to dance and came out religiously.”
“The early days were so much fun,” Genette recalls. “It was the thing to do on a Friday night in Downtown Lynchburg. We always had a packed house, with a minimum of 75 students for the beginner class.
I’ve seen as many as 150 in my beginner classes before; that seems like a chaotic number, but it’s amazing to teach so many people at one time.”
According to the Dahlbys, the majority of participants are college students. Luckily, the fact that many of these students move away after graduating hasn’t proven to be much of an issue. “Since most of our population of dancers is the students in the area, we have seen them graduate and move away, but more students have come in,” Genette says.
“Lynchburg has a lot of young students constantly looking for a place to dance and get energy out,” adds Abram. “We have locals who love coming out and students who have graduated and stayed in the area and have become regulars. We have multiple colleges and an ever-revolving door of new students and people who might just want to try out salsa.”
Of course, Lynchburg Salsa isn’t just for students; it’s for everyone, including those who have no dance experience at all.
“We have some dancers who are able to pick up on the steps quickly and others who need a bit more time,” notes Genette. “We want people to come to our beginner class as many times as they want to understand the steps. We also make sure to help those who are having a harder time, typically during social dancing. Since we have a group lesson, it’s not always easy to give one-on-one help during class, but we make sure everyone knows we are here to help.”
Although mastery takes a great deal of time and effort, beginning is as easy as walking and counting to eight.
“When we walk, we transfer our weight to each foot and it’s the same in salsa,” says Abram. “We transfer our weight to different feet while counting and communicating with our body what we are doing. The count lets you and your partner move on the same timing, so the moves start and complete on the same timing. The music is the base structure and gives the dancers the same starting point and then the footwork follows the timing.”
Lynchburg Salsa’s Thursday Night Salsa events run from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.; the first hour is a beginner salsa lesson, and the remaining two hours are allotted for social dancing. Additionally, the studio occasionally offers intermediate salsa lessons for those who are interested in more advanced instruction.
“The beginners usually are taught the basic eight count with a fun turn and cross body lead,” Abram says. “After a couple weeks and classes, participants are usually confident in leading those moves as well as maybe picking up one or two more from other dancers or instructors. The basics are the most important, but if you want to learn more intermediate moves and combinations, we offer intermediate classes when we have those who show interest.”
Special outdoor and themed events are also back on the docket. In September, Lynchburg Salsa partnered with The Lot on Jefferson to offer an outdoor salsa event, and in October, the studio held their “Salsaween” Costume Dance Party. The Dahlbys are hoping to bring back their popular Valentine’s Day Masquerade event in February.
The couple also hopes to ultimately expand their instruction offerings and be involved in more extensive salsa workshops.
Photo courtesy: Lynchburg Salsa
“We want to see over 100 people every time our doors are open—beginner, intermediate, and advanced dancers on the dance floor,” Genette says. “We also want to be able to provide more instruction beyond the basics of the class. We would even love to see weekend-long salsa fests so that more people can learn from other instructors and improve their dance skills.”
Above all else, the Dahlbys hope that Lynchburg Salsa can provide a fun and comfortable atmosphere that facilitates friendship—and perhaps even romance.
“Abe and I met at Lynchburg Salsa on the dance floor; that’s where he asked me out for the first time,” recalls Genette. “Lynchburg Salsa is a part of our love story and we hope that it is a part of others’ stories too where they have met friends and maybe, one day, their forever dance partner.”