While the gentrification of the Funk Zone brings in new businesses, it also squeezes out groups like Yes You Can Dance Salsa (YYCDS), a community program offering salsa lessons and social dancing at the affordable rate of $2. Previously at the Ayni Gallery, YYCDS brings together a community of up to 100 salsa dancers of all levels. However, with the gallery repurposing their space, this passionate group of dancers is on the move, searching for a new home.
Monica Dabos began YYCDS after seeing a similar pop-up community flourish in Isla Vista. Every Monday, 150 people — students and community members — showed up to salsa dance. “There was no drinking,” Dabos said, “just salsa dancing until midnight. They charged $1.” The community languished after the founders graduated, which Dabos found tragic. She started her own salsa project, one that provided affordable lessons for beginning and intermediate students and offered social dancing for learners to practice new skills. Victor Contreras teaches alongside Dabos. “He doesn’t make anyone feel intimidated,” she said. “We teach together, but we laugh a lot; it’s very friendly.”
Dabos approached Contreras about teaching, and he agreed, thinking nothing would come of the offer. But Dabos contacted him the following week with a time, a venue, and a group of students. The classes grew in popularity, and YYCDS now has a fervent following. Helen Tu loves how welcoming the environment is; Robert Caiza agrees: “I always danced, but I never learned technique. I came to YYCDS, and no one was judging; no one was trying to show people up.”
Dabos’s goal is to find a space downtown. “On State Street, there’s nothing but bars. After 10 p.m., you can’t even eat dinner; you can only get drunk.” She wants to offer the late-night crowd another option. “We don’t play music very loud because I want people to talk. When people talk, they find jobs. They find friends, girlfriends, husbands. We want to create a place where you can dance, but you can also hang out.”
Her students are supportive. Julieta deCarlo, who met her husband, Contreras, through YYCDS, has always enjoyed the social aspect of the group. Richard Stocke describes the community as being primary to the dancing: “I came to salsa reluctantly and was swept up in the maelstrom of Monica’s energy,” he said. “She inspires people. The group is accommodating and patient, and the environment is friendly. For me, the salsa is secondary. It’s nice to be able to do it, but the sense of community is what’s rewarding.”
The group is searching for a space with a wood floor that can accommodate 100 people or more. It’s an alcohol-free environment, open to all ages. “It’s not a business,” Dabos said. “Nobody is making money. We want people to be able to afford to come.” YYCDS is a fun, inexpensive way to learn a skill, find community, and network.
Until they find a new space, YYCDS will be on the move. Follow their website (http://www.yesyoucandancesalsa.com) or Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/YesYouCanDanceSalsa) to learn about upcoming events, including participation in S.B. Open Streets and the Argentine Festival. Check out one of Santa Barbara’s hidden gems: affordable, laid-back salsa dancing for the community.