DALTON — When Latin dance instructor and Berkshire Salsa founder Alan Franco left the Berkshires in 2019 to move to Northampton, his absence was keenly felt by enthusiasts who attended his regular social dances and took lessons to hone their dance floor moves.
On May 26, in partnership with Wandering Dance Society, a community dance initiative produced by Mill Town Foundation in association with Jacob's Pillow, Franco will once again celebrate the dance stylings of his native Mexico and beyond at the Stationery Factory.
Franco will teach beginners’ salsa and bachata lessons at 7 p.m., then spin platters for an open dance floor from 8 to 10 p.m. All ages are welcome. Admission is $10.
“It’s going to be fun, the Stationery Factory is a beautiful venue,” Franco said. “We’re spreading the joy of Latin dancing.”
In his lessons, Franco will teach basic footwork first as a group, then move on to partner connection and social dance language.
Everybody gets to practice with a partner, he said. “Most people who come are not couples, it’s social dance, not your typical club scene. It’s a very welcoming and safe environment.”
Franco first taught dance at age 16, helping his cousin prepare for her Quinceanera coming-of-age celebration. “A lot of people saw what I did, and a few month’s later I was teaching Quinceaneras all over Mexico City,” he said.
When he started salsa dancing in the Berkshires in 2015, “it helped me make a lot of friends and I lost almost 25 pounds. All the good music and endorphins released, to me it’s a workout, it’s therapy and it’s friends. When I talk to people, those are three common factors, that’s what gets people hooked. Latin dancing is happy, it’s energizing, romantic and sensual.”
Salsa is from Puerto Rico, New York and Colombia, Franco said, while bachata is from the Dominican Republic. “I love dancing salsa, but my passion is bachata. It’s a little bit slower, people stand closer almost like tango, and it’s easier to learn.”
“People think most people who go dancing or take lessons are Latin American. Actually 70 percent are not. We have pictures of our Latin socials, and I counted 40 people from 25 different countries — United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru, Romania, Greece, everywhere. They come from different backgrounds and they love dancing.”
In the short time since Mill Town Foundation was founded in 2018 by venture capitalist and Dalton native Dave Mixer, more than $3 million has been spent on community programs focusing on the arts, education, outdoors and more, in partnership with cultural organizations such as Jacob’s Pillow and Tanglewood.
Wandering Dance Society, said Mill Town Foundation program manager and local musician Andy Wrba, “was inspired by dance being a vehicle for community making. There are so many styles of dance and different groups of people that gather around [them].”
The initiative kicked off in April with a well-attended swing dance with live music from The Lucky Five at Berkshire Palate, as part of Pittsfield CityJazz Festival. The participatory events typically include an instructor and change locations often, supporting different cultural and non-traditional venues. “People [can] try something new in a safe, welcoming space,” Wrba said, “and interact with people they maybe wouldn’t be with on a regular basis.”
Wandering Dance Society is coordinated by area dancer, instructor and choreographer Olivia Martin.
“I want people who share the idea that dance brings communities together,” Martin said. “Dance is a way to connect, it doesn’t really need a language, the music starts and people will dance. It just takes one person to step on to the dance floor for the rest to follow. People in their 80s are going to dance alongside 4- or 5-year-olds just jumping up and down.”
“It’s a human thing, something that is born in us, a natural rhythm we have in our body with our heartbeat and our breathing. Music just emphasizes that for us.”
“Wandering Dance Society has a great partnership and collaboration with Jacob’s Pillow,” Wrba added. “They’ve helped us quite a bit in the program development, offering guidance with instructors and different [dance] styles.”
June programs will include an Open Dance Circle following a Jacob's Pillow “On The Road” street dance performance at Third Thursday on June 15; and plans are in the works for a hip hop event at the YMCA. A September event in Pittsfield will include African dance and drumming. The full schedule of Wandering Dance Society and other Mill Town sponsored events is available at milltownfoundation.org/events.
“We want to promote events and programming through the non-summer months so we [help make the Berkshires] a year-round place to live, work and play,” Wrba said. “We’re planning a weeklong festival in November, there’s so much great work being done with all these individual events and partners, we want to have a big collaboration to pull it all together.”
Accessibility is important both on a financial level and the feeling of acceptance and being welcomed, Wrba added.
“Around 75 people showed up to our first Swing Dance event at Berkshire Palate, we filled the dance floor,” Wrba said. “For salsa night, we have room for a few hundred.”
If You Go
What: Wandering Dance Society's Salsa Night! with instruction by Alan Franco, founder of Berkshire Salsa
Where: The Stationery Factory, 63 Flansburg Ave., Dalton
When: 7-10 p.m. May 26. Beginners salsa and bachata instruction available from 7-8 p.m. Dance floor open 8-10 p.m.
Cost: $10. Financial assistance is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information and tickets: stationery-factory.com