When you walk into Dance Quarter (1719 Toledano Street) on a Tuesday or Thursday night, the sounds are unmistakable. The click of heels against a wooden dance floor pound above you like rhythmic thunder, there’s booming music, and a voice counting “1, 2, 3, pause, 5, 6, 7.” It is the home of Bayou Movimiento, which was founded by dancer, teacher, and choreographer Sergio Zelaya.
It’s not often said that trying to find a place to dance in New Orleans is difficult, but for salsa dancers, that has definitely been true.”The one place [Mojitos] they had salsa they shut down…When that closed, there was no place to dance salsa, so for a while, all of the dancers were sad. I decided to start Bayou Movimiento,” Sergio says.
The demand to salsa til the sun goes down was high in New Orleans, and that remains strong as Bayou Movimiento adds to their dance schedules and creates events revolving around serious hip shaking. They hold bustling socials every Thursday night from 7:30-10:30 p.m., they have their classes–beginner and intermediate salsa as well as bachata–on Tuesdays, and the dancers frequent different spots around town, like Dragon’s Den on Friday nights, to show off their new skills.
No matter their age or skill level, dancing remains an actively vivacious way to move through time and life. “Dancing is innate in us,” Sergio says. “As you get older, maybe you aren’t as good, someone makes fun of you, or calls you stiff, and that is what takes us away from dancing, which is this natural thing we want to do.” He says he has never had a student he could not teach to dance, but how was it that he came to discover his own skill as a dancer?
Well, he grew up in New Orleans, and a lot of his parent’s friends had daughters (you see where this is going). The girl dancers were plenty, and the male dance partners were slim. Then throw in the quinceaneras when the girls turn 15, and there enters Sergio. Soon he started choreographing for quinceaneras, and discovering that not only was this something he was good at, but he also loved to do it.
“I did take a break for a while,” he says. “I went to college. I focused on other things, and then I wrote this paper on hedonism. I found that at the end of the day, everything people do is done in order to make them happy. It’s almost like an evolutionary instinct.” That instinct called him back to the dance floor, and “seeing the happiness it brings others” helps keep him moving and running Bayou Movimiento. “God has given me the gift to teach and to dance,” he says, and he has blended the two together.
In a way, we could say that Bayou Movimiento, Sergio’s stellar dance moves, and those vivacious Thursday and Friday nights where the dance floor fills with sweating bodies that turn and move on the 1, 2, 3, are all because of 15 year old girls. We could say that, but we know it’s not only that.