Four hundred people head to the Kimmel Center once a month to listen and dance to the best of live contemporary Latin music.
They make the trip for La Noche, which will mark its one-year anniversary Sept. 24, complete with a set featuring the Latin Grammy-winning group Flor de Toloache.
Jay Wahl, producing artistic director at the Kimmel, said his vision for La Noche came from a desire to better engage Philadelphia's growing Latino community.
"One of the things I think about is making sure we have programs for everybody: for different groups of people, for different ages, and for different accessibility points," Wahl said. "That's our mission, and I didn't think we were really reaching this community as often as I wanted to."
Wahl worked with community members to design an accessible event that highlights the sound and rhythms of contemporary Latin music, played by both local artists and touring groups from around the world. Each event opens with the La Noche house band, led by percussionist Arturo Stable, followed by a performance by a featured guest group.
In addition to free admission, La Noche has food and drink specials, including empanadas, margaritas, and $3 beers.
Wahl credits La Noche's atmosphere for bringing attendees in — and keeping them coming back.
"You don't expect it [when] you walk into the Kimmel on a Monday night," he said. "You think not much is happening, and then it's like the lights are going, and the rhythm is flowing, and you just can't stop dancing."
While La Noche aims to engage the city's Latino community, the event invites people from all backgrounds to join, whether they're salsa experts or entirely new to Latin music and dance.
Wahl says the event is not meant to serve as a dance school, but dance host Kevin Ngo circulates throughout the evening to provide guidance to those interested in learning a few new steps.
"The beauty of it is I see people who are professional dancers, and then I see people who have no idea what they're doing, but they enjoy it, and they're not afraid to come and join and express themselves and have fun," Stable said.
Wahl looks to promote this inclusive atmosphere when he books guest groups for La Noche events.
"My requirement when I work with people to find this music [is] it has to make you want to move," Wahl said. "You don't have to be familiar with the history of the music or the rhythms or the country or speak Spanish. You just feel it in your hips."
This month's featured group, Flor de Toloache, is an all-female mariachi band that offers a modern spin on the traditional music genre. Vocalist and founding member Shae Fiol attributed the group's sound to the members' diverse backgrounds.
"We come from different places and have played different kinds of music, and we infused mariachi, which is a very traditional genre, with other different genres," Fiol said. "We make beautiful music, and it's because of all of the diversity and all of the joy that we have celebrating that."
The group's celebration of diversity makes it a fitting guest at an event that aims to do the same.
"I think dance music unites people naturally and transcends geographical boundaries and the things that divide us," Stable said. "So definitely, people who come, at least for those couple of hours, are pretty united and pretty happy, and it's a joy to see it."