If it's Tuesday night, Vienna's Crystal Lopez and her friends usually can be found at eCitie Restaurant and Bar in Tysons Corner, where its club is transformed into a salsa hotspot.
"We have been making this a regular thing for about a year, and there's nothing quite like the thrill and excitement you get from dancing salsa," Lopez said. "The different salsa music and the different dancers you dance [with] in one night makes your social night out a different experience every time."
Beginning at 7:30 p.m. each week, nationally acclaimed instructor Lee "El Gringuito" teaches salsa and bachatta, and by the time the doors open at 9:30 p.m., more than 250 dancers are ready to hit the floor to present their best salsa moves.
"It's funny because it could be hit or miss, but for us we've been going strong for seven years with some sort of salsa going on," eCitie's general manager Rob Dispenza said. "It's a great way for people to get out of the house, get some exercise and really have a good time doing it. A lot of people dance salsa because it's a sexy dance and they are very in tune with the music."
Karen Aguilar has been teaching salsa in Northern Virginia for the past decade, including the past two at her Y2salsa Dance studio in Arlington. She regularly attends Tuesday nights at eCitie and often sees current and past students practicing their moves.
"Salsa is popular in my opinion because it allows a person to dedicate themselves to a hobby that's healthy, that requires dedication, keeps you moving and it takes you to a social environment where everyone has fun dancing with a partner and among other dancers doing the same," she said. "If you learn how to dance well, you will never forget to dance -- it's like learning how to ride a bike or ice skating -- you give it dedication to learn it and once learned you will not forget it, but keep improving."
Salsa blends Haitian, African, Cuban and other Latin and Afro-Caribbean dance styles. While the word "salsa" was first coined in New York City, the dance actually has its roots in Cuba.
"Salsa is popular because it's a fusion of different Latin dances," said Fabio Bonini, an instructor at Forever Dancing in Falls Church. "It's all about the Latin sexiness and adds just about every Latin influence to it."
Forever Dancing offers three levels of salsa classes on Thursday nights, and also runs salsa parties on the second and third Saturday of every month.
"Salsa Fuego [the event staged every third Saturday] is a big meet-up for salsa lovers. We offer several workshops and then have a big party with DJs and shows," Bonini says. "It's a great party that gives you the feel of a nightclub without having to worry about all the normal club things. Everyone just dances and has fun."
David Norton is a salsa instructor who for the last four years has led "Salsaholic Saturdays," which recently moved to the studios at Forever Ballroom. On the second Saturday of every month, he can be found teaching salsa lovers and dancing the night away with fellow enthusiasts.
"We start out with three hours of workshops from 6 to 9 p.m., and I normally bring in three to four instructors, and there is always something for someone of any level," Norton says. "After the lessons, everyone hits the dance floor."
Norton also hosts the "Flava Fridays" salsa dance party every week at Picante in Chantilly, where for $10 you can get lessons and an entire night of dancing.
"Every Friday we do a beginner class, something intermediate, and then from 10 [p.m.] to 2 [a.m.], we have open dance," Norton said. "Salsa saw a big growth about three years ago. I think the reason it is so popular is that you can do it anywhere. Our party is always packed."
Longtime friend of Norton, Hector "Titi" Chavez, runs LatinDanceVibe.com, which holds salsa classes every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in studios at Elan DanceSport Center in Fairfax.
"What separates salsa from other dances is that it's a little more intricate and not everyone can dance salsa," Chavez says. "It requires a lot of understanding of the rhythm and the timing of the music itself, and they need to understand techniques of partnering dancing."
During the past five years, Chavez has seen a big increase in the number of people who come out to the classes and people of all ages and nationalities are getting involved.
"There are a lot of dancing TV shows and movies that are getting people interested, plus the Latin community is growing here as well," he says. "This area is a melting pot and people are intrigued by this dance whether they are Latin or not."
The Salsa Room in Arlington offers salsa classes by Orlando Mahcuca from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, followed by a night of dancing. Saturdays offer up more salsa excitement with Aguilar and DJ Hercules heading up the night, and live performances are held on most Sundays.
"I know every dancer, DJ and musician in this area, and I choose instructors who I think are the top in this area," said Franco Villarreal, who owns the club with his brother Victor.
"The best way you are going to learn is to stay and dance after. This is a dance that you have to take lessons, but if you practice, in six to seven months you will be doing great on the dance floor."
The Villarreal brothers purchased the club, formerly known as Cecilia's, from their parents in 2005 and changed its name to The Salsa Room to reflect the growing demand from the Washington, D.C., salsa community.
"We knew that the salsa community in Virginia, Maryland and the D.C. area was growing, and wanted to keep it going," Franco Villarreal said. "The music was growing, the dance was growing, and we wanted people to hear the name and know they could find great salsa music here."
The club has consistently offered live international Latin artists since 1991, including salsa artists such as Marc Anthony, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Frankie Ruiz and Oscar D'Leon.
"The Latin community in the United States is growing, and more people are seeing salsa on TV, in movies and hearing the music on radio, and it's becoming more mainstream," he says. "The dance itself is ageless. You can be 12 years old and you can dance until you are 80. It's an addiction."
Cecilia Villalobos, director of Salsa Fuego, holds salsa lessons at Mango Mike's in Alexandria on Thursday nights and Babylon Night Club in Falls Church on Saturdays.
"When a couple is dancing on the floor and a guy has a good frame, the ladies can do whatever they want, and they can show off on the floor," she says. "That's why more people are coming to learn. With time and practice, everybody is going to get it with the right instruction."