It s a far cry from Ethiopia s traditional Eskista shoulder shake dance, but Salsa is sweeping Addis Ababa with aficionados twirling and spinning their way across the city s dance floors each night.
From just one Salsa school five years ago, started by a US-educated Ethiopian entrepreneur, some 10 more have sprouted in this city of five million people.
At a packed club, businessman Daniel Nigussie, jauntily clad in a white satin shirt and fedora, is getting ready to show off his latest moves with dancer partner Seble Asrat.
The venue is full to capacity and music blares from the speakers; rivals limber up as the clock ticks down to the start of the competition.
I came here to win and I m prepared for it, said Nigussie, who spends his days running a computer import company.
With their elaborate steps and twirls, Nigussie and Asrat s performance delights their fans. Like them, they have all recently taken up the dance which groups several different types of Afro-Cuban dances and music.
In addition to the new dance schools, a number of clubs have also started Salsa nights to cater to the growing number of enthusiasts, while training sessions attract at least 50 salseros each night.
Nigussie started learning Salsa a year ago and says his dance skills are getting better every day.
It s the synergy, the intimacy that you enjoy more than anything else. It s also fun and entertaining for those watching he explained to AFP.
It s not easy at all, you need to be on the same wavelength with your partner at all times.
Asrat, glamorously dressed in a skimpy black-and-white dress and high heels, is equally keen.
It was all by accident. I was invited to a party three years ago and found Latino music being danced to by most of my friends, said the 23-year-old.
I ve never looked back ever since. I ve taken courses and I m now competing.
Salsa could not be more different from the traditional national dance of Eskista performed to a drum beat and in which dancers gyrate and turn in sharp twists from the waist up.
But the differences have failed to deter Salsa s popularity.
They (styles) are at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Salsa is all about the movement from the waist down, said Mekonnen Bizuwork, who has taught Latin dance for the past four years.
The 24-year-old takes pride in his skills, and points that merengue, cha-cha-cha, bachata and the Caribbean zouk routine are among his specialties.
At first every newcomer finds it difficult to adjust, but ends up addicted in a short period of time, he said.
Feseha Girmay, the organizer of the inaugural competition – Addis Salsa Clash – said the event was so popular he was now unsure how many more to hold next year.
There s so much excitement. It has put me in a dilemma on whether to organize the event twice a year when I initially thought once was enough, he said.
The trend also reflects a steady growth in Ethiopia s middle class population and change of attitude towards the West since 1991, when a secretive and anti-US Communist dictatorship was overthrown by the present government.
From MTV to Channel O to American Idol and Britain s Got Talent , Ethiopians now have access to entertainment shows via cable and free satellite channels – luxuries that were once banned by the old regime.
Feseha is even considering a television version that would attract participants from across the country.
I ve been very encouraged by the enthusiasm from participants. I m constantly asked about the possibility of hosting more competitions, he said.
I think a television show would make everyone happy.
For Nigussie and Asrat, who eventually lost in a unanimous decision by a panel of three judges, the experience was what mattered most.
I wasn t here to become a star. I came here to enjoy myself . and I really did, Nigussie added.