Thursdays in Olmsted’s Mezzanine, Allison Peterson of Salsa Des Moines teaches students latin dance, free of charge. These lessons are sponsored by El Ritmo Latino, an organization dedicated to promoting, celebrating and exploring Hispanic and Latino heritage and culture through their meetings and events. President of the club, Estuardo Menendez-Villa hopes in the future for all potential members to understand the club doesn’t shut out those who are not Latino.

“We give people the opportunity to come together through different backgrounds, I feel like those that do attend the events realize you don’t have to be Latino to be a part of the culture,” he said.

Menendez-Villa has been in the club for three-and-a-half years and has witnessed and been a part of its transformation. Before El Ritmo Latino was as it is today, Menendez-Villa was part of La Fuerza Latina, which is a group dedicated to providing a space for students to foster dialogue around issues impacting Latinos.

According to Menendez-Villa, the group was struggling with finding and keeping its members, so he decided to branch off and create more of a social club, which became El Ritmo Latino. Shortly after, El Ritmo Latino decided what better way to attract members than to give Latin Dance Lessons?

“If nothing else, the dancing is bomb,” Matthew Malmberg said. “Even for the people who think they ‘can’t dance,’ if you can count to four and count to six, you can dance. It is not that hard. You don’t have to be all like, ‘Latino senorita, move your hips,’ or whatever. You can just go and relax, so that’s awesome. It’s just cool to get to learn about a culture that is not your own, I find that super interesting.”

Malmberg is a sophomore here at Drake and discovered El Ritmo Latino and its dance lessons at his first-year’s Activities Fair. He believes that the people he meets in the group are awesome and the meetings are “super chill.”

“Dance is just a way to relate to other people,” he said. “Like the way we dance here is very different from the way they dance in Africa. The way we dance here is very different from the way they dance in Puerto Rico, Mexico, take a country, usually you dance differently. So, it is a way to bridge the gap. It’s a universal language, it doesn’t matter if you’re from there, or know the language, or have no relation to them at all. If you can dance like them, you’re cool, you can hang out. In a way it brings a part of other cultures to you.”