Latin Night offers upscale dance, food opportunity with Hispanic theme

Sept. 28, 2011 at 4:28 a.m.

Robert Garza demonstrates salsa dancing with Mary Pereira as the dance students look on Sept. 22 during Latin Night at the Golden Gecko. Garza gives free salsa lessons at the Golden Gecko around 9 p.m. every Thursday.

Robert Garza demonstrates salsa dancing with Mary Pereira as the dance students look on Sept. 22 during Latin Night at the Golden Gecko. Garza gives free salsa lessons at the Golden Gecko around 9 p.m. every Thursday.

Tongue titillating smells of carne guisada filled the air as men on the Golden Gecko dance floor sensually and rhythmically turned and dipped women with flowers in their hair and high heels on their feet to the pulsating bongo beats, ardent guitar rifts and sultry lyrics of Enrique Iglesias' "Bailamos."

For that night, the Golden Gecko seemed more like a scene from a Latin street party than a Victoria night club.

This is the scene every Thursday night at The Golden Gecko's weekly Latin Night event.

The club has held the Latin-themed night for about a month now.

"I wanted a night that wasn't strictly Tejano but also some merengue and salsa," said club owner and salsa instructor Robert Garza. "It's a Miami kind of feel."

Latin Night features Latin music, Mexican food and Latin dance lessons, most often the salsa.

A Victoria County native, Garza, 31, began his career as a dance instructor after graduating from Industrial High School in 1998.

In need of a summer job before leaving for college, Garza, who grew up admiring famed dancers Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, answered an advertisement longtime dance instructor George Blaha placed in the Victoria Advocate seeking people he could train to become dance teachers.

"It was a lot more work than I thought," Garza said about the strenuous six-week training course, during which he learned the basics of several dances including ballroom, country, Tejano, the fox-trot, the cha-cha, rumba, cumbia and salsa.

Garza went on to teach dance classes at Blaha's studio before moving to New York in 2001, where he toured the East Coast playing the role of Aladdin for a children's theater.

"I went to New York to become famous, which means I waited a lot of tables," Garza said laughingly.

From New York, Garza moved to Corpus Christi where he managed Corpus Christi Dance World for more than four years.

While there, his dance students performed in several state invitational competitions.

He moved back to Victoria in February where upon his return, Garza not only became one of the partners of Golden Gecko International, the managing company that owns The Golden Gecko, but he also resumed teaching at Blaha's studio.

His return to teaching in The Crossroads and his new business venture prompted him to put together Latin Night.

"The biggest complaint I hear from my students is they are learning the fox-trot and the salsa, but they have nowhere to go dance," said Garza. "Here, you can dance, have some wine and enjoy some tacos somewhere where there's not a lot of drunk people, or stabbings or shootings."

In the 45-minute class, which is free and averages about 20 students, Garza teaches participants the basics of popular Latin dances.

"You've got to lead with your body. Your feet do nothing in dancing but keep time," said Garza, as he dished out salsa instructions to eager class participants. "Women, it's man law. Whatever he does is right. You have to follow even if he's wrong."

Students said they enjoyed the class for various reasons including its health benefit.

"I don't like to exercise, but I like to dance," said Jane Simicek, a managing partner of Golden Gecko Enterprises and a salsa class regular. "It's a nice way to get out and spend time."

For couples like Frank Pena, 59, and Yolanda Perez, 60, both of Victoria, Latin Night provided another option for date night.

"We like to dance salsa and there was a place now where we could go so we decided to come see what it was all about," said Pena.

For singles, Latin Night provides an opportunity to mingle and learn some new dance moves.

"We need more single men. There are more people coming so it's getting better, but I'll dance by myself if I have to, said Mary Pereira, who said she used to spend her Thursday nights at home.

"I appreciate the women that come in to do the Latin dances," Chaz Taylor, 29, said smilingly while checking out the female dancers. "I like it a lot."

Tasty's taco truck owner, Rico Moraida, said he is happy to help The Golden Gecko complete its Latin-themed night by parking his increasingly popular taco truck at the event to provide patrons with his popular dishes including the Titan Taco, aka a carne guisada; the Kick Flip Burrito; and the Material girl, aka a chicken fajita.

"They love the food," said Moraida. "They can't get enough of it. That's what it's all about."

Garza said he hopes the night will continue to grow in popularity.

"The biggest comment we get is, 'I didn't know this was here,'" said Garza. "Anyone taking zumba at the YMCA or Citizens can come practice their moves here with their husbands, wives, girlfriends or boyfriends."



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