The recent shuttering of downtown Anchorage nightclub Platinum Jaxx had at least one unintended consequence: it displaced members of Anchorage's small but spirited Latin dance community, a longtime fixture of the nightclub's dance floor on Friday and Sunday nights.
Latin dance, from salsa to bachata to merengue, has seen measurable growth in Alaska over the last decade, punctuated by the launch of a state salsa festival in 2010, according to local instructors. But some dancers say the Platinum Jaxx closure, the loss of a major weekend venue, represented at least a temporary setback in efforts to nourish a growing community.
On a recent weeknight at Alaska Dance Promotions, a South Anchorage studio, about 20 men and women spun in pairs to the rhythmic backdrop of Latin music. From the center of the circle, the commanding voice of Michelle Holland rang out. "Rotate!"
Each pair stopped and high-fived before the woman scooted to her left. Then the dancers, part of an intermediate class, paused to watch Holland and her partner, Chris Alonzo, demonstrate a dip.
Five, six, seven, eight ...
For several years, Holland spent either Friday or Sunday nights teaching Latin dance at Platinum Jaxx. She owns Alaska Dance Promotions and hosts the Alaska Salsa Festival, which brings in guest instructors from the Lower 48 for a weekend of workshops aimed at marking Alaska as a presence in the national Latin dance scene.
When she first opened her studio in 2009, she said, her company's dance team consisted of six people. This year, she took 37 Alaskans to the Los Angeles Salsa Congress, the largest such event on the West Coast.
Petite and brimming with infectious exuberance, Holland is part of a group of Anchorage instructors hoping to boost the presence of Latin dance forms in the state.
"We are looking for a place to dance," Holland said. "And we'll find it, whether in a school gym or a church sanctuary or a dance studio or a nightclub."
Last summer, the hunt for dance space led another Anchorage Latin dance instructor, Michael Macedo, to secure space at the Best Western Golden Lion Hotel. His hope was to open up a Saturday night location to teach Latin dance to the public.
For now, the Golden Lion is the sole weekend spot in Anchorage offering free lessons and dancing, according to Macedo. Fusions Bar and Grill hosts Latin dance nights on Saturdays, but not lessons.
Macedo, a mechanical engineer by day, has spent the last year building up the space in the Golden Lion's ballroom, recruiting instructors and volunteer DJs. For a long time, the focus was strictly on salsa, but Macedo said he and the other teachers have been working to bring in different dance styles, such as mambo.
"We try to make it a community space," Macedo said.
About a decade ago, the Latin dance scene was small enough to refer to itself as the "salsa family." It was rooted in the city's Dominican community and was helped along by an instructor named Katya Kuznetsova, a Russian-born dance artist who taught at Alaska Dance Theater and the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Theater and Dance. The main venue was Club Soraya, the Latin club in downtown Anchorage.
A shuffling of venues accompanied a period of expansion, said Kagan Ford, the founder of Rumboso Ballroom Dance Company and a longtime Latin dance instructor in Anchorage. After Kuznetsova relocated to Toronto, the teachers moved in different directions and the circle of dancers began to widen to a more recreational segment of the Anchorage population.
To help bridge the temporary void in venues, Holland said her studio plans to step up. With rumors swirling of Platinum Jaxx's imminent closure, Holland invested in new DJ equipment, disco lights and blackout curtains for the wide windows that face Dimond Boulevard.
Starting July 11, Alaska Dance Promotions plans to hold dance events on Friday nights, which Holland said would be marketed as private events for her students and their friends and families.
She said she was "a little heartbroken" at the Platinum Jaxx closure, but she's also optimistic.
"Where one door closes, another one opens," she said.
Reach Devin Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4314.
By DEVIN KELLY