A salsa instructor directs learners in pairs at Salsa Con Todo in Fremont. “One-and-two-and-three-and-four!” she belts out as her feet kick into a complex series of steps. Dance partners in the luminescent studio hold each other tentatively, testing careful coordination between their unfamiliar bodies.
Salsa Con Todo, a Latin dance school opened by partners William Vassili and Inessa Lisunov, sits next door to its companion, Cafe Con Todo. Vassili and Lisunov created the mixed-use “Con Todo” space as a center for their dance community.
The original Salsa Con Todo has ties back to 2007, when Vassili began to hold lessons in his Seattle living room. Vassili had nurtured a passion for dance years prior, traveling to countries with a history of salsa dancing. “I was passionate about the roots of it,” Vassili says. Eager to share what he learned abroad with locals back home, Vassili constructed a do-it-yourself studio by tearing up the rugs of his Wallingford apartment for the hardwood floors beneath and placing mirrors around so that students could get a good angle on their choreography.
Since then, Salsa Con Todo has moved through a few official studio spaces, landing in its current Fremont location in 2018. The interior of Salsa Con Todo on North 36th Street is well-lit under warm bulbs, illuminating butterscotch wood floors that gleam with clear polish. Wall-to-wall mirrors rest along the studio walls, and in the cafe area, plants pose brightly in their welcoming green. Vassili designed the multi-level, multi-studio space, laying out the floor plans and working with contractors to realize his dream of an inclusive, intentional space for Latin dance.
Salsa Con Todo attracts dancers of all levels, who train in Latin Salsa, Brazilian Zouk, Dominican Bachata, Argentinian Tango, Kizomba, and other forms of expressive movement. Courses are offered from complete beginner up to advanced, and each dance style holds its own tone, energy, and attitude.
The studio's namesake dance is a popular option for local dancers. During lessons, shoulders shake, legs sashay, heads turn, and feet step in nimble arrangements. I speak to Huong Phan, a salsa instructor at Con Todo. Phan teaches classes at Salsa Con Todo while also working a day job as a software engineer. “In salsa, the most important thing to me is the music,” she tells me. “When I listen to the music, I could not stop myself from moving. I just want to get up and dance, just get up and groove along.”
Phan has grooved along for the last 20 years, but she says one of her favorite things about teaching is the restful moments after class. “What comes after is the connection with people. In social dancing, you meet with different people; you dance with different people, some of them can become your friends outside of dancing. People who come from different walks of life,” Phan shares.
Vassili also shares a bit more about Brazilian Zouk, the specialty dance of Salsa Con Todo. During Zouk sessions, dancers spin around like courting birds, arms outstretched. The dance is a practice of sensuality. Choreography runs from the neck down to the back and legs in the form of controlled energy, and each movement evokes the language of desire and romance.
“Zouk originated in the French Caribbean with roots in Brazil,” explains Vassili. “Brazilian Zouk is a flowing and very technical dance. It looks like it is sheer abandonment, but underneath the surface there is so much control, awareness, and respect. It is a very conscious and technical dance.”
Dancers flock to Salsa Con Todo and, step-by-step, the studio hopes to reconnect them with the feeling of their bodies. Vassili emphasizes that these positive experiences are what Salsa Con Todo aims to provide. During classes, “we guard our safety closely, and there is a strong code of conduct,” he shares. “People are there to dance. It’s not a club. The only reason you are there is to dance.”
Dancefloor energy is sustained by the next-door Cafe Con Todo, which also offers several vegan and gluten-free options. Pink beetroot lattes or pitaya superfruit smoothies bring a jolt of color to the coffee counter. An espresso machine whirs steadily, churning out cappuccinos topped with mushroom supplement. Avocado plates delivered from the kitchen are often topped with a runny, soft-boiled egg.
A mural of a wild-haired man decorates the back wall of Cafe Con Todo, his goggles gleaming and handlebar mustache ablaze. He rides atop a motorcycle, holding what looks like a venti latte in his right hand. A mascot like this evokes more of a Fremont biker bar than a health food-and-Latin dance joint. Vassili jokes that “it’s just because I like motorcycles,” he tells me.
Vassili and his partner, Lisunov, invest a lot of individual effort into the nutrition at Cafe Con Todo. “We really strive to offer people something that’s healthy. I feel like that word is thrown around a lot. We offer things to people that we would make at home,” Vassili says. “We shop for almost all of our stuff personally; a lot of our stuff requires a degree of freshness that we don’t get in bulk.”
“My favorite thing on the menu is our avocado toast, which is just killer. It’s a really unique take on avocado toast,” Vassili thinks. “I personally love our smoothies, the cold brew-based smoothie that also has avocado in it.” He also raves about the tamales, a generational recipe handmade by Vamanos Burritos, a family-owned business local to Seattle.
Over the last few years, Vassili has watched both the cafe and dance school develop, although not without its own share of challenges. “The cafe has now become something sustainable,” says Vassili. “The school once had almost 40 teachers—now we have 25. Both businesses have gone through hardship because they are not easy businesses to run.”
The pandemic, in particular, threw up barriers to in-person lessons. Salsa Con Todo had to go digital for a while, and Cafe Con Todo survived on revenue from home deliveries. Still, the duo of Con Todo ventures has weathered through.
“Salsa Con Todo has a very welcoming environment… they’ve become like my family,” Phan reflects. In a city where the social “freeze” faces those old and new, everyone at Salsa Con Todo speaks about an atmosphere of openness.