On a typical Monday night at the Student Union, the first floor is usually deserted save for a couple late night studiers. But on the second floor, a friendly group of people and their chatter and laughter fill the cavernous hall.
As members arrive, the women receive a kiss on the cheek, while the men grab hands and pull each other in towards an embrace. They are not just a group of people. They are a community. A community drawn together with one shared purpose: celebrating Latin dance.
They are Pulso Caribe.
“We are a Latin-based class. It’s what we do,” said Austen Thompson, junior aerospace engineering major and the club’s vice president.
Pulso Caribe focuses on two forms of Latin dance, bachata and salsa, which mainly differ in pace. Bachata is slower and more romantic while salsa is upbeat and sexy, Thompson said.
"You could call bachata 'simpler' only because the basic is easier to pick up on average," Thompson said.
An instant feeling of community forms as veteran members and beginners form a circle around the club’s president, Kristán Aviles, a senior industrial engineering major who is also one of the instructors at Pulso.
Assuring everyone will learn new skills, he explains to dancers in a typical meeting how the evening’s class will be divided – beginner’s bachata, beginner’s salsa and an intermediate salsa group. Thompson’s advice for beginners is to have fun and avoid getting frustrated.
“I think you can understand something we teach, or anything, rather if you have fun while doing it,” he said.
As melodic guitar, rumba bass, a steady beat of bongos and the occasional scrape of the gourd fill the room, beginners work on the basics, while the intermediate group practices a small routine compiling the basic forward steps with twirls, flicks, and spins.
With her mahogany brown hair flowing around her shoulders as she twirled to the guitar strumming and bongo beat, Karen Rodriguez a senior advertising-public relations major was a natural. She has been dancing with Latin Rhythm, a sister Latin dancing club, for four years and comes to Pulso classes to practice her moves and meet up with friends.
“Dancing is a huge part of our culture,” said Rodriguez, of Cuban descent.
Rodriguez said Pulso Caribe is not simply a means to be social, but also provides an environment in which Hispanic students at UCF can preserve and celebrate their culture.
And at Pulso Caribe, it’s not a competition to be the best — the goal is to enjoy and celebrate Latin dancing.
For students such as Bernardin Dezius, a computer engineering major, the motivation to attend the meetings was to try new things.
“I want to learn to dance,” said Dezius an improving beginner who showed up to his first meeting alone looking for a new hobby.
Having attended just two Pulso meetings this semester, he said he can already see a noticeable difference in the coordination of his hands and feet, through salsa. He attends Latin dancing classes three times a week to continue his progress.
As the nights begin to dwindle, the sense of community doesn’t fade, and a regular meeting room in the Student Union is transformed into a Latin music hall, where the atmosphere is without judgement, Latin guitar paired with sonorous horns fill the space between the felt walls and the door is always open welcoming new and old members.
Lauryn Savage is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.