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Nepal, home of the Himalayas... and a salsa scene?

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Taylor Weidman

(Read caption) Couples cut loose at the Salsa Dance Academy.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Latin dance is heating up life beneath the icecaps of the Himalayas. In Nepal, young and old alike are coupling up to salsa, tango, cha-cha, and merengue the night away.

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“In our country, we’ve never had a couples dance,” says Binayek Shrestha, founder and chief executive officer of the Katmandu-based Salsa Dance Academy. A new and attractive social concept to Nepalis, Latin dance has opened up an avenue for people to attend parties and show off their moves for the first time.

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This year, Mr. Shrestha and the staff of his academy celebrated the growth of Latin dance in Nepal by hosting the country’s First International Salsa Festival, held Nov. 19- 22.

Professional dancers from around the world flew in to teach four days of workshops, including a two-hour salsa “boot camp” and sessions that focused on everything from basic footwork to advanced “shine patterns.” Other dance forms were on the roster, too: Break dancing (a form of hip-hop), swing, and belly dancing also drew big crowds.

Shrestha hopes that annual dance festivals like this will put Nepal on the map as a country that offers more than mountain treks and quaint village towns.

“As a destination, we are not just the Himalayas, but for dance we are here as well,” he says. It’s a timely aspiration, since Nepal’s government has declared 2011 the year of tourism.

But in the long run, Shrestha hopes the cultural exchange and this new way to socialize will also change the way Nepalis see home.

“Yeah, we are one of the poorest countries in the world,” Shrestha said. “We don’t have McDonald’s. But it’s OK. We have salsa.”