‘Good for the soul’: Salsa pros offer lunchtime dance lessons at Love Park

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Mark ‘Maestro Flaco’ Best dances with Lana Corrales at Siempre Salsa’s free lunch time dance lesson at LOVE Park in Center City Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Mark ‘Maestro Flaco’ Best dances with Lana Corrales at Siempre Salsa’s free lunch time dance lesson at LOVE Park in Center City Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Love is coming back to Love Park — and it looks like salsa.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Siempre Salsa Philly is leading a Latin dance lunch break every Thursday at the park across from City Hall between noon and 2 p.m. throughout September. Dancers of all skill levels are welcome.

There, you will find salsa music filling the air, while dance instructors teach interested students how to do basic steps.

“It’s healthy. It’s fun. And most important, it’s just darn good for the soul,” said musician Carlos Luis Sanchez. Sanchez is one of the founders of Siempre Salsa Philly, which has built a business orchestrating dance events around the region, like Friday night salsa and bachata dance parties, also at Love Park.

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Siempre Salsa first originated after 9/11 in New York, as a week-long celebration of the genre. Rob Bernberg, a percussionist and former owner of the now-defunct Latin Beat Magazine, wanted to bring the salsa community together and create opportunities for musicians out of work. Bernberg had already been working with Sanchez in New York and later connected with Jesse Bermudez, founder of Artistas y Músicos Latino Americanos at Esperanza, and brought the week-long celebration to Philadelphia. Over the years, Siempre Salsa evolved to events beyond the week-long fest. Seven years later, the three founders — Bernberg, Sanchez and Bermudez — are responsible for producing events and entertainment centered in salsa music all around the region.

(From left) Siempre Salsa co-founder Rob Bernberg, dancer Lana Corrales, Mark ‘Maestro Flaco’ Best, owner of Flaco’s Dance Factory, and Carlos Luis Sanchez, Siempre Salsa co-founder. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“We promote both the world’s best music and the awesome community from which it emanates,” Bernberg said. “Because we know that inside the music there’s a secret ingredient that comes from the heart of the people that make it.”

That secret ingredient has proven potent in Philadelphia.

In Kensington, there’s a work-in-progress mural inspired by salsa and specifically, dancers from the area. One Philadelphia woman wrote a salsa about SEPTA’s 47 line, and how it connects the Latino community in the city. And of course, there’s Centro Musical, the historical music shop on 5th Street and Lehigh Avenue that keeps the tradition of salsa going.

“I think it has something to do with the fact that the heart of the people and the passion of the people is contained in the music and that joy is contagious,” added Bernberg.

For Sanchez, who has been singing at nightclubs since the age of 12 and formed a band with his brother at 16, preserving the salsa tradition is important.

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“We have to preserve our heritage and preserve the music and keep the music alive,” said Sanchez. It’s thrilling for him to see all kinds of people participating during these lunchtime lessons.

“It’s one of the most exciting types of music, we call it the best music in the world. And it’s just an amazing rush — dancing great music and having people learning it and then displaying it after learning it,” he said.

Carlos Luis Sanchez is a musician and one of the founders of Siempre Salsa Philly. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The centrality of Love Park drew the organizers there. “It provides access to our music with regard to all cultures, including many people from around the world who happen to be visiting,” Bernberg said. When the Siempre Salsa team approached the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation about hosting events at the Arch Street space they found receptive ears.

“Having it here is kind of a front-facing way to say, ‘Hey, there’s still fun in the world right now and you can come out and have a little lunch break and have some fun,’” Andrew Emma, Love Park’s manager, said.

Plus, the park is a no-judgement zone, Emma added. “So you can come out and do whatever you like,” he said — whether that means actually dancing or just watching and enjoying the show.

Jennifer Pieretti stops on her lunch break to dance with Mark ‘Maestro Flaco’ Best at LOVE Park in Center City, Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Those who want to dance will be in good hands. Mark ‘Maestro Flaco’ Best has been dancing for decades and owns his own school, Flaco’s Dance Factory, in Jenkintown. He is one of the dance instructors for the series along with Lana Corrales.

“Dancing is for everybody, and it makes everyone’s life better,” he said. It’s also tons of fun.

“People should come and instead of eating salsa, they should dance it on Thursdays for lunch,” said the Maestro.

Siempre Salsa is hosting a special Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Friday, September 17 at Love Park featuring a live salsa performance by El Combo Melaza and DJ sounds by Dance Republic’s Kevin Ngo.

Anyone who wants to learn how to dance salsa or have a quick dance lunch break can stop by Love Park on Thursdays for the rest of September, between noon and 2 p.m.

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