Salsa dancers spin at Sabor on Saturdays


Salsa dancing instructor Demitri Gray, of Chicago, speaks to beginner dancers Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, at Sabor de Mel on the Carbondale Strip.

By Joe McLaughlin

Every Saturday night, a restaurant on the Carbondale Strip comes alive with the sounds of congas, bongos, horns, guitar and maracas — the rhythms of salsa.

Sabor de Mel, a local mainstay that serves traditional Brazilian dishes, hosts salsa night every week from 8 p.m. to midnight. Though Sabor has only been in Carbondale for two and a half years, the salsa club has been rotating around several different local spots for 17 years.

“I started here when Sabor de Mel was a coffeehouse in 1999,” said Aur Beck, who now hosts the weekly dance night. “We’ve been around every bar and every coffeeshop in town.”


For $5, newcomers can take beginner’s lessons from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. After that, everyone is welcome to stay, and the restaurant’s back room tends to gradually fill up with dancers as the night goes on and veterans mix with novices.

“This is my first time,” said Demetrio Antunez, a senior from Lincoln studying art. “The hardest part is learning the steps – keeping in time, knowing what I have to do and what my dancing partner has to do.”

Amber Walgamott, left, of Carterville, dances to salsa music with Demetrio Antunez, of Lincoln Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, at Sabor de Mel on the Carbondale Strip. “This is my first time coming out to salsa dance,” Antunes said. “The hardest part has to be keeping time and anticipating what she has to do as well.” (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Amber Walgamott of Carterville has been coming to salsa night for about four years. She said a good partner is key.

“To be as smooth as some people, it takes a long time,” Walgamott said. “You have to trust your partner.”

The club was originally started by two Americans, one from Champaign and one from Kentucky, Beck said.

On any given Saturday, salsa night can see an attendance of nearly 100 people, and Beck said his favorite part is the diversity of those who come to dance.

Christina Causarano, of Carbondale, dances through the night while being illuminated by streetlights Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, at Sabor de Mel on the Carbondale Strip. (Brian Muñoz | @BrianMMunoz)

“Every nationality is represented,” Beck said, pointing to dancers from Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines around the room.


Exposure to other cultures has been bringing 2013 SIU alumna Christina Causarano around for the past 10 years.

“I love Latin culture, the people, the dance,” said Causarano, who helps with instruction. “I can’t speak the language … but [I] get into the music.”

Another instructor, Demetri Gray, was drawn to salsa for a different reason.

“It was a girl,” said Gray, a Chicago native who now lives in Carbondale.

A girl he had a crush on gave him a tape of the popular Latin band Aventura 15 years ago, and he said he has been dancing salsa ever since.

He started teaching the steps at salsa night three years ago.  

“Expect the basics,” Gray said of the lessons between his calls of “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7” to the gathered salsa learners.

He said the idea of learning something new can be frightening to some.

“You want to try something new, but you are afraid to fail,” Gray said.

Though there were a few who were reluctant to jump in and dance at the beginning of the night, as the music picked up the energy and rhythm in the room soon had everyone following Gray’s dance instructions.

As the night wore on, the DJ kept the atmosphere lively with rhythmic Latin music. Seasoned dancers twirled with ease and newcomers at times struggled to find their footing, but the room was filled with laughter nonetheless.

Beck attributed the festive mood to Gray’s energy.

“He’s our Energizer Bunny,” Beck said.

Staff writer Joe McLaughlin can be reached at or on Twitter at @jmcl_de.

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