People traveling along North Harvard Street in Allston might sometimes mistake the view inside the Harvard Allston Education Portal for a “Dancing With the Stars” tryout.
But while there are not a lot of sequins involved, there is a lot of fun. And fumbling.
Inside, students are learning how to dance with the help of Marco Perez-Moreno, a lifelong salsa dancer and recently turned professional ballroom dancer, who this month is teaching both dance styles at the Ed Portal. The classes are open to the public, as well as to Harvard students and affiliates. Over the years, the Ed Portal has added a range of programming in everything from the arts to politics, law, science, and engineering by tapping programs, resources, and people from Harvard to serve local residents of all ages.
A native of Mexico City, Perez-Moreno graduated last year from Harvard, where his four years were spent concentrating in sociology and illustriously traveling the world to compete in dance competitions with the Harvard Ballroom Dance Team. This summer, he led Dance Week at the Ed Portal, five days of workshops covering everything from foxtrot to waltz.
Salsa student Minoo Ghoreishi, a faculty assistant at Harvard Kennedy School, learned about the classes by accident: “I went to check my paycheck, and there was the listing on HARVie. It was 4 o’clock and a Wednesday, and I said, ‘I’m going tonight!’ ”
Allston residents David and Angela Franks are enrolled in both the salsa and ballroom classes. Each week they bring along their newborn, Cecilia, while their older daughter, Caterina, babysits and does homework. “It’s convenient and inexpensive to come to the Ed Portal,” said Angela. “And Marco’s a great teacher,” added David.
“Ballroom dancing requires a lot of precision, and it’s very demanding. Salsa is freer. It’s fast, it’s flavorful, it’s rhythmical, and it’s passionate. It’s a bodily experience,” said Perez-Moreno. But, he insists, dancing is for everyone.
“I know a lot of people are afraid of learning just because they think they’re not able to dance, that their body doesn’t work that way or they have two left feet, and that’s not the case,” he said. “Yes, there are people who have more natural skills for dancing, and they may develop faster, but I think everyone can dance, no matter who you are or where you come from. It’s a matter of how passionate you are about it.”
Pedro Romero, 54, of Brighton by way of Peru, learned about the classes from an ad at his local library. “Dancing is a way to let you socialize and do some exercise,” he said.
After landing in Cambridge from Calcutta, India, first-year Harvard Business School student Tat Sarkar didn’t waste any time before enrolling. “I’ve wanted to learn dancing for a long time,” he said. “So I thought I’d give it a shot.”
Asare Christian, a research fellow in global health and social medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health, was always interested in Latin dance. “I’ve been so busy with school and fellowships that I really wanted to do something for myself,” he said. “I’ll definitely keep the lessons up when I’m done here.”
Turning novices into dancers in training is the perfect cap to Perez-Moreno’s time in Cambridge — he recently accepted a position at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies’ outpost in Chile. “But I’m already looking for a ballroom dancing group there!”
Allston resident Cindy Marchando began the dance classes to keep herself and her husband, J.C., active after he underwent an illness — and to enhance their relationship.
“The best part about the dancing is my wife being happy,” said J.C. While he jokes that he and his wife practice at home “when she’s not too tired,” Cindy told another story.
“He practices in CVS!” she laughed. “The main entrance, and there he is!”
“I couldn’t help it,” J.C. replied. “They were playing good music.”