Nate Strager was like many Las Vegas Valley high schoolers 23 years ago: splitting time between school, sports, work and the social struggles of adolescence. When he graduated from Eldorado High School in 1995, everything but work went away, and Strager was left packaging milk and ice cream for up to 16 hours a day at a local dairy farm.
That changed during a weekend trip to Southern California, when a co-worker brought Strager to the Mayan, an iconic nightclub in downtown LA. Strager was immediately enamored of the diversity of people he saw at the Latin dance event that night, which included Japanese salsa band Orquesta De La Luz performing in Spanish. He noticed people interacting with one another through the music, not just bobbing their heads to a mainstream electronic beat.
He decided Latin dance, particularly salsa, was his calling. “It was just insane to see all these nationalities,” Strager recalls of that 1999 night at the Mayan. “It was a ‘wow’ factor.”
Strager co-founded Sin City Salseros with then-UNLV student Bill Schindler later that year, and hasn’t looked back since.
A real estate agent by day, Strager, 41, opened the 8,000-square foot Rhythms Dance Studio and Event Center in January after nearly six years operating Sin City Salseros out of a 1,500 square-foot warehouse and 800 square-foot studio near Chinatown. The new megastudio has 22 employees, 37 weekly classes and a Saturday social featuring DJs and performers from around the world.
Strager also runs the Las Vegas Salsa Bachata Super Congress, which returns to the Tropicana July 5 for its 18th edition. Strager expects no fewer than 5,000 attendees from more than 30 different countries. Annual teaching participants at the congress include Colombia’s “Ricardo y Karen” from NBC’s World of Dance, along with Italian actor Fernando Sosa.
Rhythms is a long way from the organization’s humble beginnings, operating out of its members’ living rooms and competing to rent weekly space at UNLV, restaurants, nightclubs and other dance studios.
Stager’s business partner also took an unconventional path. After discovering Sin City Salseros at UNLV, Virginia Cano was hooked. She grew up dancing Sevillana—a Spanish folkloric dance—in her hometown of Madrid. But like Strager, Cano didn’t start dancing salsa until later, when she was a 19-year-old student at UNLV.
Today, she has put her dreams of being a dentist on hold to pursue her newfound passion. Cano, 37, left her day job as a paralegal last year and sold her house for the chance to invest in Rhythms. She works full-time at the new facility as the general manager, doing everything from teaching classes to keeping the venue’s financial books.
Cano and Strager also head the studio’s professional salsa team, which has performed across the U.S., Canada and Mexico to showcase Las Vegas-born salsa routines. The pro team is one of 11 salsa and bachata teams from the studio to regularly perform around the Valley, and sometimes, across North America.
“It’s all ages, colors and nationalities,” Strager says. “We have lawyers, nurses, porters, business professionals, laborers, servers—it’s for everybody. Pretty much no matter where you go in the world, you can dance salsa and bachata.”
Las Vegas Salsa Bachata Super Congress July 5-8, $35-$250. Tropicana, salsacongress.us.