The sassy sounds of Spanish music fill the air. The lyrics meld with the banter of first-time dancers shuffling across the floor with their partners. The energy of the room is welcoming and light.
This is Doc Marie’s weekly Sapphic Salsa Night, with a free, non-gendered salsa lesson by Queer Salsa PDX from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Wednesday. No partner or experience required. The classes are vibrant, fun, and teeming with friendly queer folk from all walks of life. They take place on the lower level of the space and are accompanied by a 5-dollar margarita special.
Hannah Horton, a Colorado transplant and Salsa night newbie, says “for me this is all just so low stakes. I get to come here and just be gay.” For Horton and many others it is that simple. A space to exercise queerness free of pressure is a gift within itself. It is a privilege in this instance to just be.
But why partner dance? Not only does Sapphic Salsa Night contribute to a mosaic of queer-centered events at Doc Marie’s, but it is also changing heteronormative culture. “Back in 2019, I started taking dance classes and as a queer fem I was often perceived as straight. I felt very unseen,” recalls volunteer event coordinator Lydia Greene.
She adds that the binary culture surrounding partner dance would alienate her other queer friends: “None of my queer friends or partners would go dancing with me, out of discomfort.” Greene’s feelings of estrangement would lead her to develop Sapphic Salsa as a means for queer people to learn partner dance in an affirming space. “There is something deeply validating about coming to class and leaving having mastered new moves,” she notes. “It makes me braver in my own life and in class.”
With dance being a traditionally binary space with male leads and female followers, salsa teacher Elena Duggan seeks to help break the mold. At the beginning of every class she encourages learners to ask their partners a simple question, “lead or follow?” By removing this element of dance from the binary equation, Duggan encourages dancers to choose what they are in the mood for. “Fundamentally I think the choice should be a personal one based on what your personality is like, or your mood is like,” she explains. “I think it is important to acknowledge that you can change your mind.” She then cracks a smile as she utters, “For example, if you are a passenger princess, you may prefer being a follow.”
Sapphic Salsa also demonstrates a move towards variety among queer events. “I hope to provide a wide range of events that apply not to just different kinds of people, but different moments that people want to have in their lives,” Lydia Greene adds, adding that “to cultivate a strong community it takes more than just one type of gathering to bring the kinds of diverse experiences that people want to have.”
Queer people are at a far greater risk of societal rejection. “A part of coming out means giving up a certain amount of privilege. It is automatically harder for us to have a safe, fun, and carefree night because of the extra burdens we carry,” says Olga Bichko, Doc Marie’s co-owner and operator.
Operating outside convention is a cumbersome task that queer people face every day. “Putting those burdens down for an hour or two, or even a night, is really crucial to our survival, our joy and our whole lives,” Bichko maintains. Sapphic Salsa gives queer people a chance to lay down these burdens. That is why Greene, Bichko, and the instructors for this event strive to keep the class free of cost and full of joy.
- Sapphic Salsa Night is held every Wednesday night on the lower level of Doc Marie’s (203 S.E. Grand Avenue, Portland) with a free, non-gendered salsa lesson by Queer Salsa PDX from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Salsa dancing continues until 10 p.m. No partner or experience required.