If South Korean dramas have set your heart to visit or even stay in Seoul, latin dance should all the more be the reason for your ecstatic heels. Meet KISS. NO no! We’re not referring to the former Korean female pop trio. We mean Korea International Salsa Social, an online English guide to all latin dancing and events in Korea, with a network of over 750 Latin dance lovers based in South Korea, a majority of them whom are expatriates. Sam Mardini from Toronto, Canada, who is currently in charge of KISS, shares more with us about KISS and the booming latin dancescape in Korea:

Tell us more about yourself.
I’ve been teaching Salsa for 3 years in Seoul along with teaching at a University here. I manage and run the Korea International Salsa Site (KISS) site for for expats and foreigners interested in the massive Salsa scene in Seoul. I also promote Salsa & Bachata events twice a year in Seoul wherein we invite international artists to perform and hold workshops in Seoul. If international dancers are coming through Seoul I also organize workshops for them to promote their style and give our members a chance to learn from an international instructor.

When and why did you decide to settle in S.Korea?
I met a salsa friend in Toronto after working in Japan and she told me the Salsa scene in Seoul was incredible. I heard this before, and I applied for a position at a university here to see what it was all about. I got the job, and when I arrived I was completely blown away at the amount of dancers and salsa clubs.

How long have you been dancing for and what are some of your favourite dancing styles?
I enjoy LA & NY style salsa, as well as Dominican Bachata and Bachata fusion.


From Top Left (clockwise): KISS website, Sam Mardini and Salchata event June 2012 with Ataca y Alemana

Tell us more about KISS.
KISS was started 4 years ago by my friend Sara Rose who was interested in merging the Korean and expat salsa dancers. She wanted to also promote the salsa scene among expats and hold regular parties so foreigners can partake in the salsa scene in Korea. Me & my partner Miranda started teaching Salsa with the KISS group to encourage a community and promote Salsa dance among the expat community. When Sara left Korea to return to the USA she offered the site to us and asked us to take over, so we did as it was a great resource. KISS currently has over 750 members, but the information with club maps, events, and classes is available to anyone that visits our site.

Describe to us the Latin dance landscape in Korea.
Salsa and tango are huge in Korea, and bachata is gaining popularity. The dance scene here for salsa and tango is hands down the biggest I’ve seen in any city in Asia. During the salsa congresses in the past, they would have over a 1000 dancers from across Korea alone. Not beginners, but full on dancers! The salsa community here is enormous with 10 different salsa clubs across the city plus numerous salsa communities that meet at smaller spots. On a Friday or Saturday night I can choose between 7-10 different salsa clubs to go to and they’ll all be full! Latin dance is certainly popular, I would attribute that to the fact that Korea has a lot of social rules and a Confucian hierarchy on how to behave among others. With salsa, tango and bachata they bypass all those social rules and just have fun without worrying about Korean social etiquette.

Given that the Salsa scene is so big in Korea, do you find that Salsa enables you to blend into another culture much better especially with the local people?
Absolutely, i met most of my Korean friends through salsa, and it has made me friends and exposed me to a large community on a level that most expats will never see simply because they don’t share this passion of ours that is Salsa. I communicate and make a connection with Koreans through salsa dance even though we speak completely different languages and come from different cultures. I was instantly a member of the very large dance scene here the moment i stepped on the dance floor and danced with other salseros/salseras.

What are some of the common misconceptions S.Koreans have of Latin dance?
Well that varies by person, but the ones I met that never danced Salsa think it’s a type of ballroom dance (“dance sport”) or that it’s very “sexual” dance.

Compared to back home or elsewhere, what are some of the Salsa techniques that Koreans find the most difficult to follow?
Korean Salseros have excellent technique when doing turn patterns, but they have difficulty with body movement. The turn patterns are simple for them to master as they’re very dedicated, but when it comes to body movement they have a cultural apprehension to it…. they find it a bit taboo. So to move your hips too much or to do body waves/ hip rolls while dancing is not something they are used to and they have a hard time accepting it. Some overcome, but most don’t, and that’s simply cultural.

List 5 of the best places in Korea for Latin dancing.
Only 5?? There are so many, but my favorites are Caliente in Itaewon, Turn in Gangnam, Club Naomi in Gangnam, Club Mambo in Gangnam, Macondo in Hongdae, Bonita in Hongdae, and Havana in Hongdae.

What can a person gain the moment he/she joins KISS?
To view the information it’s not required to join, but if they live in Korea and want updates on events or parties they’re encouraged to join. We currently have 2 big parties a year (called Salchata events, a mix of Bachata & Salsa), and we have our classes in Club Caliente in Itaewon every weekend along with occasionally running studio lessons. KISS has basically become a bulletin on local events for expats living in Korea.

Any future plans and expansion KISS?
We’re happy where we are, and we’ll continue to promote local Latin festivals in Korea for expats and foreigners visiting Korea.

KISS can be found at http://korealatinandsalsa.com/

This article was published on Vida De Latinos’ online magazine, 1 March 2013.

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