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The national craze for all things Latino has cha-cha'd its way to Richmond.

Get Ready to Rumba

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Bienvenido to today's hottest trend that's out of this world — or out of the country, that is.

Little did we know that when little Ricky jumped into boy-band Menudo as its youngest member in 1984, he would be the chief ambassador of the Latin craze of 1999. When Martin stepped on to the stage at the Grammy Awards in February his performance caused a huge stir among the pop-music nation. Since then, there has been a nonstop media barrage of everything Latino. Newsweek, Time, and most major newspapers have already given front page-coverage to Latin music. You can't turn on the radio without hearing Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca," and Jennifer Lopez's video for "If You Had My Love" is in heavy rotation on MTV.

The Latin trend has danced its way to Richmond, as well. Tito Puente recently kicked off the Big Gig, attracting nearly 12,000 Richmonders to salsa on Brown's Island. Havana '59 features live Latin music regularly on Thursday nights, and "Rumba en la Calle" has brought Latin dancing to the 17th Street Farmer's Market Saturday afternoons all summer.

But according to those who have been a part of Latin music and dance, the craze has been around forever.

"This has always been here. It is the movement of a culture," says Ana Ines King, artistic director of Richmond's Latin Ballet Company. King was born in Colombia, and lived in Venezuela before coming to Richmond.

"I actually studied at the same studio as Menudo," she says. "I danced with Ricky Martin when he was just a baby." King also danced with Latin heartthrob Chayanne — you know him from last summer's movie "Dance With Me."

King now teaches Latin dance at VCU, and at the West End Academy of Dance and says there has always been a steady interest in the classes. "Latin dancing and music is full of emotion," she says. "People are drawn to that. And it's all in the hips."

King and her partner, Pedro Szalay, a dancer with the Richmond Ballet, perform Latino dances all over the city. They recently joined forces with Jackie Stutzman at Cafine's on Friday evenings to teach Latin dances such as the cha-cha, rumba and merengue.

Last year, Cafine's was the place to go for swing dancing, but Stutzman thinks the Latin boom will be more successful than swing ever was. "Things travel West to East, and since Ricky Martin has everybody insane we thought teaching Latin would be really popular," she says

"The thing about Latin [dance] is it's so diverse," says Cafine's owner Todd Boyd. "It is not just a period, it reflects an entire culture."

Cafine's inaugural Latin dancing session attracted about 40 people, from couples to families to singles and children. Dancers learned how to salsa and cha-cha, doing their best to throw their hips around and be sensual.

Cafine's owner Todd Boyd says he's already lined up a number of live bands for Latin night, including Havana Son, which plays son, the traditional music of Cuba and a precursor to salsa.

But who better to comment on the current Latin boom than Bio Ritmo, a local salsa band that has been making people dance since 1991?

"This runs deeper than an ordinary trend," says Justin Riccio, who plays timbales for Bio Ritmo. "It's a culture thing, it will never be uncool."

When Bio Ritmo signed a recording contract with Mercury's Triloka Records a year-and-a-half ago, the Latin craze had yet to explode.

"In years past, no one knew what to call us," Riccio says. "Now even salsa is being replaced with timba — a word popular in Cuba to describe salsa music."

While Bio Ritmo continues in the salsa tradition, last year's "Rumba Baby Rumba!" did veer somewhat from the traditional Puerto Rican musical style, infusing it with a more mainstream pop sound. Riccio says it was a natural evolution, but he admits that the record company did have something to do with the change.

"The record company pushed styles that were different," he says. "We all agreed it was not exactly what we wanted to do, but we did not compromise that much. We wanted to be put on the mainstream."

The band is accomplishing that goal, touring furiously to increasingly larger audiences, who are starting to tune in because of the buzz surrounding Latino musicians such as Martin, Lopez and Enrique Iglesias. Last month, Bio Ritmo even finished shooting its first music video for the song "Bin Bin" in downtown Los Angeles.

"We expected this to get big since we started; it was always right on the cusp," Riccio says. Now it seems widespread success is within Bio Ritmo's grasp. Riccio says that these days audiences seem to have more knowledge of Latin music than ever before. "This is the music of the Latino community," he says "It is the music of a

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