This was the final night of a six-week dance class and all the students were eager to sign up for the next semester, to begin this week and continue through Oct. 11. The popular salsa sessions are sponsored by the Brentwood Parks and Recreation Department as part of its Performing Arts classes.
"This is the time it gets emotional because the students are looking so beautiful and handsome," instructor Ron Bermudez said of the final class. "You feel like you've created something special. It's like a painter must feel when they finish a painting."
Bermudez not only teaches all the latest salsa nightclub dances from both the East Coast and West Coast, but he likes to weave in a bit of history between dances. During one of these brief interludes, while Bermudez explained the importance of correct posture in salsa dancing, he shared with his students some tidbits about the colorful origins of the dance style.
"In Cuba, the slaves would watch the Europeans' elegant dancing during their parties," he explained. "The slaves were a real mix of cultures. There were Africans, American Indians and Spanish Gypsies. Eventually, they incorporated the African rhythms and Indian drumbeats and Gypsy flamenco clapping and clicking the feet into a new kind of music. The result was what became Latin music - or what we now call salsa."
He said that like the music, salsa dancing is also a fusion of other dances.
"It's a mix of the lindy, swing, jitterbug, waltz, foxtrot," he told the class.
It was in the '50s that Latin rhythms and instrumentation styles went mainstream in the United States with what became known as Latin jazz. The style was made popular by such jazz stars as Cal Tjader, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck and Mongo Santamaria.
"I first heard Latin jazz at the Blackhawk in San Francisco when I first arrived here from Nicaragua in 1956," Bermudez said. "I saw those groups there and it completely changed my life."
Bermudez has been involved in the salsa music scene for more than four decades and produced a live salsa radio show in San Francisco in the '60s. It was during that period that he discovered the Pete and Coke Escovedo brothers band and hired them as the house band for his program on KOFY. He has been teaching dancing since 1978.
Bermludez delights in the current popularity of salsa music and dancing.
"Every musician loves playing salsa," he said. "Salsa has become the international music. It's big everywhere you go - all over the United States, in Europe; even in Asia."
His knowledge of the music and its history adds a major dimension to his classes, and it's one that his students appreciate. But he is passionate about dancing and wants the best for his students.
"I recommend you have a minimum of 10 moves so you look good and feel good when you're out on the dance floor," he told the class.
His students must be at least 13, but Bermudez said they range in age from teenagers to seniors in their 70s and 80s. And salsa dancing provides a good workout, too.
"It's great exercise. You can definitely lose weight doing this," said student Mary Anna Jansen, who lives in Summerset III. "Your body's got to respond differently than in other dances like the waltz. You can't be rigid. The moves are very intricate."
She and her husband, Martin, signed up for the next session and are looking forward to it.
"We've always loved dancing," Martin said. "This was a convenient night and we've always taken lessons, so it was perfect for us."
Todd Weisgraber and Alison Boudreau of Brentwood have taken several classes with Bermudez and now serve as tutors.
"It's a way of giving back," Alison said. "It's fun and we keep learning and practicing."
The couple has taken lessons in other types of dancing, but Todd said salsa is his favorite.
"Ballroom dancing is more formal," he said. "Salsa is my favorite, partly because of the music."
And also because of Bermudez and the enthusiasm and information he radiates.