Common threads behind club doors
I’ve been a big fan of salsa for a long time. One of the things that I have always enjoyed about the world of salsa—besides the dancing and the music—is the unique environment found in salsa clubs. I find it fascinating that no matter what location, the ambiente is almost always the same.
I speak from personal experience as I have been in salsa clubs in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Miami, New York, Chicago, London, Mexico City, Cancún, Veracruz, Tijuana, Bogotá, Madrid, Paris and, most recently, Istanbul. The similarities start, of course, with the music. Sometimes it’s live, sometimes it’s supplied by DJs. In some places the music is great, in others it leaves something to be desired, but I guess that’s to be expected. There are, however, other shared characteristics.
One that always makes me smile is the area back by the bar where lots of guys stand around. Seldom do any of them dance, but, oh boy, do they look good holding up the bar. Then there are the tables of women all dressed up in their very best just waiting for some guy to ask them to dance. After all, in the salsa scene, it’s still a very traditional place. There’s also that dead area in any club that to sit there is a kiss of death; chances are you will be overlooked. So, it’s not uncommon that women will really scope out a club before settling down.
Inevitably, there are almost always more women who know how to dance then men, hence the guys holding up the bar and the women sitting around hoping for a miracle.
The next thing to look for is the section where the hot dancers hang out. These are the dancers who generally are quite good and they know it, as does everyone else. If you don’t belong in that group, you may be ignored. Some clubs are friendlier than others and if you’re an out-of-towner and feel you qualify to be in that group, your best strategy is to casually move to that part of the club and look like you belong.
Another phenomenon that has developed is those clubs where everybody thinks they are the best dancers around. They all dance alike and dress alike. Meanwhile, few couples are on time—or are on time together—despite the fancy turns and dips. But that’s another story.
Am I trying to make a point? Not really. I just think it’s fun to observe the mini universe found inside a salsa club and to ponder the universality of this delightful and unique world.
I mentioned that I had recently been in Istanbul. I didn’t plan on finding salsa as I was traveling with a friend who isn’t into it at all. But one day while walking along the bustling İstiklâl Caddesi, he pointed out a poster. I can’t read Turkish, but it was clearly about salsa and seemed to point the way.
Within minutes, we found ourselves in a dance studio where salsa lessons were in progress. After watching for a while, the instructor came up to us and spoke to us in English. She mentioned that every Saturday she hosted a salsa dance party and invited us to return.
So come Saturday, I had to go. While my friend went off to explore his interests, I found myself back at the studio not knowing quite what to expect. Was I in for a thrill.
First of all, there was some serious dancing going on. Couples were dancing salsa, merengue, casino rueda, cha cha cha and even something I did not know. And, yes, there was that group of dancers that just knew they were the best dancers there. At first, I just watched as I was obviously the odd person in the crowd.
Finally, someone got brave enough to ask me, the stranger, to dance. He was good, and it broke the ice. Before I knew it, I was dancing up a storm and loving every minute of it. None of my partners spoke English, but that was OK. We were speaking the international language of salsa.
When the party wrapped up, one of the guys kindly walked me to the taxi stop and helped me get a cab. He even managed to communicate to me how much I should expect to pay so that I wouldn’t end up getting stiffed.
This experience remains one of the most fun times I have ever had dancing salsa. I would love to go back and do it again. Thank you Turkey!