by Natalie Obiko Pearson – Tokyo, Japan

A pulsating mambo fills the air at a cavernous club near Tokyo Bay. ”Ayyy-esssooo!” the song calls in exhortation as a sea of dancers — sweaty, skin bared, clothes clinging — roll their hips and swirl into turns with increasing abandon.

The scene is a world away from the formal and orderly Japan that lies outside — and that’s exactly why these dancers love it.

Salsa, the catchall name for a variety of music and dance with Latin and Afro-Caribbean roots, such as the mambo, rumba and Cuban son, has found an unlikely group of hard-core enthusiasts in Japan.

”It’s like they’ve suddenly woken up. They’re shocked by the gap between their daily lives and life on the dance floor,” says George Watabe, 56, an events producer credited as the force behind Japan’s salsa boom. ”It’s a kind of revolution, a mass rebellion.”

The signs of the boom in Japan are unmistakable.

The monthly ”120% Salsa” has grown from a one-page flier in 1996 to a full magazine with a circulation of about 40,000. Its pages list 200 salsa-related events across Japan every month. Music stores sport sizable collections of salsa CDs, and salsa-based fitness classes are now standard at Japanese gyms.

The salsa rebellion was in full swing in Tokyo when 3,400 people converged for the sixth annual Japan Salsa Congress — a three-day sweat fest devoted to the serious business of dancing.

And serious it is….For more click here!