An Intro to the Philly Area Salsa Scene
Dancing runs through my veins, or at least I tell myself that because it makes me feel good, bringing me joy since I was younger. From dancing ballet and being frightened to perform on a stage, to dancing with my family in our living rooms during holiday fiestas, it has always given me energy. Starting in college, I began learning more of the fundamentals of salsa dancing in particular, through a few lessons here and there. To me, dancing has been more of a fun stress reliever than anything though, as I am by no means an expert, but definitely always down to move to a good beat.
Throughout the past few weeks, I embarked on a “Latin dance/salsa tour”. I realized dancing has been missing from my life more recently, so what better way to jump back into the scene than by going full force. This is my review of some of the hot salsa/Latin dance spots in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. Enjoy!
Salsa Rueda Passion
This group was led by Julio, salsa rueda dance aficionado. Classes of various levels have been held weekly. At the end of the summer, I began the Beginner level portion of this class, as I knew nothing about the steps of salsa rueda, which is danced by a synchronized group continuously switching partners in a circle. It caught my attention one day though as I was in Central Park and saw a group of New York rueda dancers bringing such energy to the main plaza. Anyway, back in the summer I took four lessons, and although I did learn some of the steps, it was not easy. Salsa rueda has so many names for the various steps involved, including enchufe, dile que no, dámela, etc. It’s like anything, in which repetition and practice makes perfect. Yet, if you are like me and have a short attention span, this style of dance may be more challenging. For me, I learn better by doing, so I did struggle a bit in this atmosphere. More recently, I learned that it was the last time Julio would be teaching the class, so I went back to give it one more try. Not being present for a few months set me way behind, especially as the group danced to moves like coca cola, el uno, and el dos. For now, I think I’ll take a break from rueda, but I so admire those who dance it so eloquently.
This type of setting is for those who are interested in salsa rueda, and are serious about learning all of the steps in order to dance cohesively with a group.
My good friend Leah helps run this weekly Wednesday night ritual at Timothy’s, in Newark, Delaware. Back when we all studied at the University of Delaware, we would occasionally go to Timothy’s for a quality night of dancing. When my friend and I walked into the venue, nostalgia hit me, and I immediately felt happy. I’m not sure if it is because we knew one of the event leaders or not, but this event emitted such a warm and open atmosphere. Once I got settled and drank a little liquid courage, I was ready to hit the dance floor. Potential dance partners came up to me and asked to dance, and I made sure to warn them that I was rusty. Each of my dance partners was so supportive though, walking me through the steps they were about to pull and making it fun. I believe there was only one person who tried to show off with his extra-complicated moves, but it was entertaining for me. The floor at this venue is large, with a bar right next to where the dancing takes place. This was the perfect place to get back into the Latin dancing scene, and I was high off of the energy by the time we left at the end of the night.
This spot is for those who would like a quick snapshot into what the Latin dance scene is like, along with complimentary dance partners who will help ease you into the different styles of dancing.
First Thursday’s at Brasil’s
I had been to Brasil’s several times before, once with a group of classmates during an event we hosted, and another time with my significant other. Both times, it felt nice to be there with others and enjoy the lively music. This time, it was just my best friend and I, and we both felt a little intimidated. Although we had brushed up on our skills the night before in Delaware, this evening we walked into a pre-lesson which lasted over an hour. We could tell that technique was heavily emphasized, which is great, but not necessarily what we were looking for. Once the dance floor finally opened up, this technique-focused energy was transferred to the dancing portion of the night. The venue was also a bit intimidating. I felt as though I only had two choices – either stay at the bar near the entrance, or venture onto the smaller dance floor, where one couldn’t just observe or stand around with a friend. One person did ask me to dance, and I braced myself because I knew this would be an adventure. He asked me if I knew how to dance bachata, and I signaled “a little bit,” creating the potential to impress as opposed to hyping up my abilities and then falling short. We started dancing and he said I was pretty good, but then he started inserting moves that I didn’t even know constituted bachata. I prayed for the song to be over quickly, and also made sure there was about a half a foot between us. Soon after, my friend and I decided to leave. We weren’t sure if it was because of the extra dancing we had done the night before or what, but we did not have the energy to continue dancing. The venue did have amazing music though, and we agreed that we would come back, with a bigger group.
This venue is for those who are serious about salsa and other forms of Latin dance, and are not intimidated about learning its technicalities.
Latin Monday at Vango
After the weekend hiatus from dancing, I was excited to get back to the salsa scene on a Monday night. This time, my roommate and I arrived early, even before the lesson began. The vibe was very friendly though, from the moment we walked in. One guy began talking to us and asking about our lives. We were honest and told him about some of our recent challenges, and he then said, “Where’s the sunshine?”
You have no idea how this one-liner changed the way I was thinking about things. The combination of dancing and good energy made for a great start to the night. Once the lesson began, I could tell that the instructor would be entertaining. His bold personality kept referring to us as grown people. The class was a nice warm up, and perfect for breaking the ice with potential dance partners later in the night.
Once the music started, the vibe in the room was so carefree. All of my dance partners were laidback and fun, really adding a warm element to the room. I even ran into my rueda instructor later on, and I filled him in on my investigative piece on the salsa/Latin dance scene. After talking to him, I felt a reality check when I learned about even more of the potential venues one could go to. Thus, this experience turned more into an introduction to the Latin dance scene, as opposed to an exhaustive list of places that the Philly area has to offer.
Anyway, this spot is for those who want to be a part of a more carefree dancing atmosphere, and feel no pressure while dancing the night away.
I ended the week by attending my rueda instructor’s farewell party, where of course there was dancing. On a whim and with some encouragement from a new friend, I finally just jumped into one of the rueda circles. Since I had learned some of the basics over the summer, I was able to keep up, especially thanks to the great leads in the circle. Then it hit me that I learn much faster through experiential learning, just learning by doing, which is exactly what I was able to do in that moment by simply participating. Everyone present was supportive, both within the rueda circle, and throughout the night.
So I learned two lessons at the end, or more like beginning, of this experience. First, I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss something, like I was about to do with salsa rueda. Even if something is challenging, we must find other ways to continue learning, and not give up right away. Second, I learned that it isn’t so much the venue, lesson, or party that makes or breaks an experience – it’s the community of people and the energy present. I’m excited to begin immersing myself in this community.