As music teacher John Becker grabbed the microphone and led his pro musician friends in the opening chorus of “La Bamba,” not a foot was still in the jam-packed Sauk Trail gym.
Students, siblings, parents, teachers, and a couple of grandparents took over the floor and danced wildly to the happy beat at the school’s first-ever Salsa Night on Friday May 2.
Beginning with a dinner of tacos and burritos, plus Mexican side dishes (which, of course, featured salsa), the crowd of about 250 moved from the cafeteria to the gym for salsa dance lessons offered by Sauk Trail parent Shannon Gallagher — a professional dance instructor from Premier Dance Academy — and MHS students Meredith Dahlk and Camille Wirkus who volunteered to demonstrate the moves.
Under festive lights and decorations hung by PTA parents, Becker, who played drums, piano and accordion, led three other musicians — Laurie Lang Croasdale (bass); Chris Wagoner (violin); and Paul Hastil (piano) — in several easily danceable songs.
The combo’s set list featured world music with international traditions having roots in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Africa.
“It’s gratifying playing music that people are really into and dancing to,” Becker said.
He thought of the idea for a salsa dance night when a busload of Sauk Trail fifth-graders attended an Afro-Cuban music performance at the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison.
“Near the end of that performance, the musicians invited students to come onto the stage and dance,” Becker said. “Over a third of our students bounded up there and had a great time with it. So I thought it would really be fun to hold an event like that with live music and dancing for the entire school and parents.”
Art teacher Anne Gustafson discussed Afro-Cuban culture with her fifth-grade students, who then created murals with multi-colored plastic bottle caps to celebrate the style. Displays of the art decorated the cafeteria.
A school district Global Initiative Grant and the Sauk Trail PTA provided funding.
“Events like this are really great, as they help build a strong connection between our school and our parents, which benefits everyone, especially our children,” PTA parent Amber Sehgal said. “This evening is really special for everyone.”
-- By Tom Kobinsky