When Salsa Mississippi Studio and Club made a move from Mitchell Avenue to Duling Avenue a few years back, student Shawntel McQuarter never imagined she’d be in the position she’s in now.
“Let’s see, I am the salsa instructor, the secretary, the bookkeeper, the cleaner, the DJ. You ask it,” she says,” I do it.”
McQuarter is also the general manager of Salsa, a job she took after being asked by studio owners Sujan and Sarah Ghimire, who gave two options when they left the country in early 2013. “They asked if they should sell it or if I’d be willing to take over,” she explains. [The couple, who returned to Sujan’s native Nepal, founded a trekking business there, Mountain Child Adventure Travel, to benefit Mountain Child, a charity rescuing children in the Himalayas.]
The 39 year-old McQuarter may have happened into her vocation by chance but she’s doing something enjoyable. “I’ve always wanted to make a career out of something I love,” she says.
The Jackson native came to Salsa Mississippi in 2008 for a dance party and learned salsa from Sujan. She remembers, “I saw him dancing and I loved it. He was gracious enough to dance with me and I thought ‘If he can help me do that, I can do that on my on.’”
Salsa Mississippi offers, of course, salsa dance lessons but also a variety of other activities.
Take ballroom, Bollywood, belly or hip hop dance or Zumba and kick boxing.
And the studio space, on Saturday nights, turns into a dance club. “It’s a club-like atmosphere, but more of a house party environment,” McQuarter explains. “Everybody dances with everybody. You come with one purpose and that’s to dance. Everybody is here to have fun.” A free lesson begins at 9pm and the party is held from 10pm-2am.
With 1,400 square feet of studio space, the possibilities are endless for rentals, too. Salsa Mississippi has hosted baby showers, small receptions and graduation parties and also has the ability to bring their portable dance floor to you.
McQuarter’s favorite part of her job? Meeting new people. She says, “Everyday I come to work and I see nothing but smiling faces. I meet people and get to teach them something they have always wanted to learn.” While ‘motivational speaker’ is not in her job title, dance helps her — and others — express themselves. “Music moves me and makes me happy.”
While dancing may seem like a challenge for some, McQuarter says it really doesn’t have to be. “If you can walk, you can dance. Dancing is just walking to a rhythm and you never know until you try,” she says. Dancing — like most of life, she explains — is simply putting one foot in front of the other. “We’re not looking for perfection, we’re just looking for happiness and fun.”
Salsa Mississippi has begun their fall internship program and is especially interested in attracting college students who want to learn to dance. Participants enjoy eight weeks of any class Salsa offers — for free. McQuarter says it’s a great way to learn and to fall in love with the dance. The students, in turn, will be required to help welcome dance party goers on Saturday nights and help them learn dance moves as well. The program, taught four times per year, gives students four additional weeks to make up any missed classes.
Salsa Mississippi Studio and Club is located at 605 Duling Avenue in Fondren’s historic business district.