Amalia Ledesma and Ernesto Martinez had danced together a few times before at Thursday night Street Salsa at the Bruin Bear, but the natural cadence of live music sparked something new between them at an open invitation salsa social in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom.
As they matched their steps to the salsa beat and to each other, Martinez, a fifth-year civil engineering student, said he knew they made a good pair.
“At the Ackerman party with the live music, it was just like we were in sync, in the same frequency,” Martinez said.
Martinez and Ledesma, a second-year biology student, have been partnering ever since attending the Ackerman social with the Salsa Society in April. Now Ledesma is president of the club and Martinez is senior advisor. The dancers began dating in July.
Both Ledesma and Martinez came upon the Salsa Society by chance. Ledesma first started salsa dancing when she joined the group in February. Martinez had been dancing for about three years prior to joining the Salsa Society in winter of 2015.
Since joining, Ledesma and Martinez attended Street Salsa every Thursday where they learned different techniques and styles, such as salsa and bachata, from instructors. They then incorporated the new moves into the second part of Street Salsa, dedicated to social dancing.
Both Ledesma and Martinez began dancing in the Salsa Society around the same time, but neither could recall with great detail when they first met.
They gradually started to remember each others’ faces as they would’ve for any other member of the club, but they did not take further interest in each other until the Ackerman social, Ledesma said. Because she recognized him as a familiar face from the Salsa Society, she had the confidence to ask Martinez to dance with her.
Once the duo became more comfortable with each other as dance partners after dancing together during Street Salsa lessons, they began attending various salsa and bachata socials together outside of UCLA. They take what they learn from each class and workshop and attempt to incorporate new moves into their repertoire. Though the Salsa Society does not currently compete, Ledesma said they are always looking to expand and improve on their styles.
Kenneth Gutierrez, a graduate student in mechanical engineering and Salsa Society vice president, said socials are always an entertaining learning experience due to the variety of moves and styles different partners introduce. Both Martinez and Ledesma said they learn the bulk of the salsa intricacies from social dancing rather than lessons.
“We’re both comfortable enough to start exploring different dances, and to be comfortable enough to make mistakes with each other,” Ledesma said.
Ledesma said Martinez is interested in sensual bachata, a style similar to but slower than salsa. Ledesma, meanwhile, has been trying to enrich the couple’s dance knowledge with kizomba, which she said is an intimate form of dance similar to tango.
“When you start with something that you’re both equally passionate about, it just becomes easier for you to both develop not only (as individual dancers), but as two people,” Ledesma said.
Gutierrez said salsa requires an advanced level of trust between partners in order for the two dancers to read each others’ signs and movements.
“It’s very partner-intensive, so you have to communicate with your partner with signals,” Gutierrez said. “You have to trust your partner for a bit. Within the five minutes you dance with somebody, you get to know them pretty well, actually.”
Though she also enjoys dancing with other partners, Ledesma said dancing with Martinez always provides an unparalleled sense of comfort and ease. She said it is always a relief to return to Martinez, who knows her style, and to be able to share what they have learned from other partners with each other.
Martinez said the connection he feels to Ledesma during a dance is much more pronounced than when he dances with other partners.
“It’s hard to put it in words,” Martinez said. “I think it’s just the exchange of energy we have when we dance. She already knows my moves, she knows what I like to do, she understands perfectly what I’m trying to do, and even if she doesn’t, we improvise.”