Wes Sturgis has been an indispensable volunteer for Salsa In The Suburbs Dance Studio and one of its most loyal supporters.
Wes helped founder and artistic director Julie Berger paint the studio before its opening. He helped transport and set up sound equipment when salsa socials were held at outside venues, routinely arriving home just a few hours before sunrise. He regularly attends additional classes, beyond those in which he himself is a student, so that there would be an experienced dancer who could work with beginning dancers.
Wes remembers feeling extremely uncoordinated before joining Julie Berger’s studio in the fall of 2008. He signed up for 10 private lessons and recalls having trouble mastering basic steps, and distinguishing salsa songs from merengue rhythms. But he refused to give up and made gradual improvements through force of repetition.
Wes has become one of the studio’s regulars on Tuesday nights, “performance class night,” and he would hardly know how to occupy his time if he weren’t taking dance classes.
For Wes, the studio has become a home away from home. He has taken every single performance class ever offered, so many that he has actually lost track of the actual number. He estimates about a dozen. He keeps coming back because he enjoys learning new dance moves, developing new friendships and a sense of camaraderie. He considers his fellow dancers like a “second family.”
He enjoys a bond and connection with other salsa enthusiasts that remains intact even if they no longer come to the studio or don’t go out salsa dancing as much, if at all. Wes still goes out to dinner with former dance partners from years earlier.
There have been numerous outings, including whitewater rafting, canoeing, concerts, trips to Longwood Gardens as well as biking and hiking in Fairmount Park and other cultural events in the city. And, of course, they’ve gone out for nights of dancing too.
“You make a lot of friends, and I like that. Who’s got too many friends?”
Wes had never danced before arriving at Julie’s studio. But he was motivated to learn after realizing he knew nothing about Latin dancing while on a first date with a Latina woman from South America. In his initial email to Julie he wrote, “We went dancing at Cuba Libre a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t keep up and felt like a dweeb.”
Fast-forward five years and it’s obvious that all those dance lessons are starting to pay off for Wes. He’s an assistant teacher in Beginner Salsa classes on multiple days per week and wears a t-shirt which says “Blackbelt in Salsa,” which Julie presented to him for his birthday.
Julie, who met Wes before finding a home for her studio in Media just off Route 1, said Wes has been an immense help.
“He is a great dancer and an even better person,” Julie says. “Wes helps out with everything, including having painted the studio before we opened our doors to moving tables and chairs for set up and break down at salsa parties at outside venues and even promoting the studio. He is one of those people I couldn’t do without.”
“I’ve always volunteered all the time for stuff like that,” Wes says.
“I became the guy who had three left feet to a guy who teaches class,” Wes says in classic Wes style, with a mix of humor and modesty.
He sees his personal growth as an ongoing “journey” that he still enjoys.
“I dread the day when I stop,” Wes says. For now though, the Garnet Valley man is definitely savoring the moment; call it “sabor Latino.”
Julie says, “Wes is the poster boy for how transformational Salsa in the Suburbs’ can be. He is proof that someone can walk in with very little dance ability and no prior experience and become an advanced dancer. He will be the first to admit to our beginner students that it took him ten hours of private lessons to master what our students learn in two group classes. He has worked very hard and his brain has become a salsa sponge and he picks up patterns very quickly and you should see the ladies line up to dance with him!”
“I’ve always been blessed to have wonderful dance partners,” Wes says. “I’ve been very blessed to have the best dance partners a guy could ever want. It’s because of them, I’ve been able to accomplish so much.”
Written by: Wilford Shamlin III