More than a dozen dancers took their show on the road, literally, Oct. 8, 2023, by bringing a flashmob to Open Streets Lyndale. In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, performers from three studios – Yirií Dance Studio, Evolución Latina Dance Company and Keri Simonson Dance – rehearsed together at Yirií earlier in the day before heading over to Lyndale at 29th Ave. With music cranked up on a portable speaker, they delighted passersby with the rhythm and sway of Salsa and Bachata dances.
“It was a great opportunity to interact with other studios who have been very influential here in the [Latin dance] scene,” said event organizer and Yirií instructor Tommy Valerio, who wanted to showcase the dynamics of Hispanic culture through these dances. “It was just a great time here to share this moment with everyone.”
Making connections and growing the Latin dance community is one of the core values of Yirií, whose website proclaims, “Community. We are always, always stronger together.”
One student, Lyton Guallpa-Naula, who is the director of the Ecuadorian folkloric dance group Away Runakuna and is taking a Bachata (from the Dominican Republic) course at Yirií, appreciates learning different dance styles. And Yirií has supported his work to provide opportunities for the Ecuadorian community to learn traditional folk styles of Ecuador.
“The environment is just such an awesome place to be at… to learn the etiquette of what it is to be part of a social dance group but also to have fun,” he said. “It’s just been an amazing collaboration to keep the arts alive here in the Twin Cities. Folkloric arts and Latin arts, as well.”
Sofia Arisian, another student and lifelong dancer, just started taking Latin dance classes at the studio this year and has begun helping out with the kids teams. She appreciates the connections she’s made through Yirií, including two of her best friends.
“The connections are really meaningful, and it’s nice to just go out in the Latin dance community and have my Yirií family wherever I go,” said Arisian. She likes that dance is taught authentically, with traditional music.
“It’s about the feeling when you’re dancing and the connection with your partner and the music. It’s not about ‘Can I get the steps – Can I do this combination – Can I do this turn?’ None of that. It’s just connection, listening to the music and having a good time in social dancing. So that’s why I come,” she said.
Yirií, which means “movement” in the dialect of owner/instructor Eda Kachiri’s Indigenous tribe in Costa Rica, opened in the Seward neighborhood in 2021 – during the height of the COVID-19 shutdown. Kachiri was the only instructor and offered two footwork classes and a kids team (no partner classes due to COVID-19). Now the studio has seven instructors and more than a dozen weekly classes geared to all experience levels. There are group classes for those who want a hobby or to learn the basics, as well as teams for dancers who really want to train.
“Everyone’s a fit,” said Kachiri, including beginners.
That’s my ‘why’
Born in New York and raised in Costa Rica and Minnesota, Kachiri began dancing in high school and explored different styles of dance before finding her way to Latin dance. She earned her teacher training at Social Dance Studio in Minneapolis in 2010, and has been teaching and performing ever since.
Creating a welcoming culture is deeply important to her. About six years ago while Kachiri was teaching at another studio, a friend told her, “You never know why someone’s walking through that door.” This friend had been in an abusive relationship, and her words changed Kachiri’s outlook on teaching. Whether people come to work on their confidence or to meet people or because they want a challenge, they need to feel safe, happy and comfortable in the space.
Often within 30-45 minutes of working with someone, Kachiri knows what they struggle with in their personal life, because it reflects in their dancing.
“They work through it through dance. I watch them transform,” she said. “I always tell people, ‘That’s my why.’ That’s why I do it.” Kachiri performs, social dances and teaches, but if she had to choose, teaching is what she would do because as she put it, it’s “amazing” to watch somebody transform.
Kachiri also wants her studio to be as accessible as possible, especially for her kids teams – whom she calls her “Littles” (ages 7-12) and “Bigs” (ages 13-17) – for whom these opportunities aren’t always available. She gears the kids toward performance, to give them an end goal. Five of her seven current “Littles” have been on the team before and love performing, so she tries to give them more opportunities to do so.
“Because they believe that they are famous dancers now,” Kachiri said.
Two kids teams and three adult teams who have spent months learning choreography will now be performing around the city. Their debut was at the Bailame Festival Minneapolis Oct. 26-30. They’ll also perform in the studio and likely do a night at La Doña Cerveceria brewery (241 Fremont Ave. N.).
Kachiri and Valerio teach and perform at other festivals. In August, they took their Salsa and Bachata teams to Arkansas so students got to perform somewhere else.
This is not the aim for everyone who joins the studio, though. Their partner work classes are geared toward social dance, not performance.
“We have people that just want to be able to go out and dance, so we have students who do that,” said Kachiri.
Above all, Kachiri strives to maintain a culture of being very relaxed, laid back, a place where anybody can come and feel comfortable – and find whatever they need through movement. Students don’t have to have years of experience or speak English (all but one of the instructors are Latino, and all speak Spanish) or dress a certain way or look a certain way.
“The idea is just come as you are,” said Kachiri.
Yirií Dance Studio (2621 28th Ave. S.) in Seward offers drop-in and cumulative classes. They also host monthly socials and Wine Down events, which include a one-hour lesson followed by a social hour with wine and appetizers. More information is at yiriidance.com