Music pumped and hips swiveled as Candi and Bob Muro led an enthusiastic group of dancers through another Friday night salsa session at their Platinum Salsa dance company.
The sultry dance, which mixes fluid turn combinations with fancy footwork, is what brought the Southington couple together in the first place and is now connecting salsa lovers of all ages and abilities.
"Candi is one of the best salsa dancers in the state. She was my teacher about four years ago at another studio in Hartford," said Bob, 43, a New Milford native who off the dance floor is a psychiatrist with the Connecticut Mental Health Center Foundation. "I just happened to stop in when she was teaching her first class. ... It was the student, falling in love with the teacher."
For Candi, 35, salsa helped her to connect with her Puerto Rican culture and the father she never had the chance to know. Mastering the moves and teaching them to others has also been a great way get rid of the "baby fat" she says she acquired after the birth of the couple's daughters — now 19 and 6 months old.
"It's the one way I feel connected to my Puerto Rican roots. It's helped me feel connected to my father," said Candi, a New Britain native whose Puerto Rican father died when she was young. "Salsa really includes all cultures, there are Afro-Cuban roots, some Arabic roots, European and just plain New York City influences. To me, it's just a cultural fusion where people can come together."
As the Muros' love for one another grew, so did their passion for salsa and they began to teaching the dance to friends and family. They formed their own dance company and have found great success in the space they have rented for the past year from Dance City & the Arts, located in the Factory Square complex on West Center Street.
Formerly the home of the Southington Hardware Company, the spacious brick building is equipped with high ceilings, wooden floors and plenty of light — a great atmosphere, the Muros say, for learning how to dance.
"I love my place, it's so beautiful," said Candi, who has taken time off from her job as a fifth-grade teacher in Manchester to spend time with her daughters, but who teaches salsa and Zumba every Friday. "I have taught at a lot of places, but this is our home."
The Muros' students agree that the space is terrific, but it's Candi, Bob, the music and the moves that keep them coming back each week.
"I'd never go to another class and it's because of them," said 23-year-old Wilson Pellot of Meriden, who met his current girlfriend Becky Williams in the class. "Before I came here, I didn't know how to dance a single step. Now I go out and blend right in with the guys and dance."
Williams, who lives in Thomaston, said the class has given her the confidence to dance socially at New Haven's Club Vandome or Ivy Lounge, she said, where dancing salsa can be an intense, sometimes intimidating experience.
"We go out and dance every week now and I never would have done that before," said Williams, who has formed an international dance club at Crosby High School, where she teaches Spanish. "I love this class because Bob and Candi are both awesome, very friendly, passionate people who are knowledgeable in their teaching. And having them both, you can see both the man part and the woman part and all the hand movements."
Another way the Muros build their students' confidence is through socials at venues where salsa is danced regularly and extremely well by the patrons.
"We plan socials at local Latin venues, like restaurants and clubs and we all meet up," Candi said. "They get to practice, but it's not intimidating because we all go together and dance together."
During a recent class, the Muros provided more than two-dozen students with plenty of close instruction — Candi with the beginner and intermediate dancers and Bob with the more advanced, which involved more intricate steps and turns. Though there were more women than men at that particular session, each person had the opportunity to dance with a partner and learn something new.
"I just like to dance in general, but I love the Latin beat," said 55-year-old Karen Bozak of Torrington, who starting dancing when she was in kindergarten. "It's worth the 40-minute drive. I'd come a couple of nights a week if I could."
"People make friends here," said 15-year-old Becca Worsham of Berlin. "I love the feel to it, the way you get to move. It's just a happy dance. You can not come here and not have a good time."
For more information about Platinum Salsa, go to www.platinumsalsa.com.