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Photo by Richard Owens
Drinks at El Copetín
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Photo by Richard Owens
Harlem Jazz Club
Live band at Harlem Jazz Club
Salsa, the dance style that developed on the streets of Cuba, has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon and, especially as of late, has made its mark on Barcelona. If you’re looking to add spice to your summer, look no further than your nearest dance club.
Now, if this is to be your first foray into the salsa world, keep calm—poco a poco, as they’re always telling me here. Try a Meetup event or a free class. Bring a friend and arrive prepared. Wear comfortable clothes without too many frills, and minimal jewellery; the last thing you want is to get tangled up when your partner tries a vuelta (turn). Women should wear shoes that support their arches and ankles. Super-high heels are not advisable; think four or five centimetres, and you’ll be fine. If you want to take the plunge and buy a pair of dancing shoes, good prices and global shipping can be found at www.lightinthebox.com (search for ‘salsa shoes’). Believe me, you’ll have a much better time if you go home without blisters on your toes.
And where to go? If you ask someone local, you’ll probably get one of two responses: “Antilla” or “Mojito”. These are the two best-known salsa locations in the city, and each has its own dance school to boot and they host performances by groups from their respective schools. Either could be a great option to get started if you’re just investigating the scene, but the places that really interest me are the offbeat, lesser-known places to dance.
There are tiny rooms like El Copetín in Passeig del Born. It’s a Cuban cocktail bar that sports old wooden furniture and candles to light the room. Salsa events can often be found here, but you have to check their website or call in advance to find out what’s going on. And on Passeig Joan de Borbó, just a few hundred metres from the sand, is a restaurant and bar called HBN BCN, or Habana Barcelona. They offer Mediterranean and Cuban cooking as well as dance events and casual group dance classes.
7Sins restaurant and bar on Muntaner offers salsa classes downstairs on Wednesday—you can purchase a tapas-and-salsa-class package, which allows you to eat and get to know folks before you start dancing. This event usually caters to beginners and people who are new to town, and the classes are often in English.
For the truly adventurous, some of the most unconventional places I’ve found are not necessarily dedicated to salsa alone, but are still part of this cool little world. I discovered a tiny bar called Mistura that sits literally underneath Barcelona. One Saturday night, I was exiting the metro at Sant Antoni. As I walked towards the exit, I heard the unmistakable sound of salsa music coming from the little bar tucked away in the corner of the station. I walked in, and lo and behold, there was live music, people dancing and homemade empanadas, all underneath the city streets. It was 2am, but there were adults, little kids, grandmothers and teenagers. Giovanni Santis, who works at the bar and is the owner’s son, explained to me that they started Mistura with the intention of reflecting the ambience of the neighbourhood. “We are really proud that we can provide a place where local people or people who are just in town for a while can come and enjoy the food and, on the weekends, the music, and dance.”
A couple of local groups host monthly outdoor events, such as Salsa als Carrers (‘Salsa in the Streets’), usually in the gazebo of the Parc de la Ciutadella. Announcements are made via Facebook and private blogs, but you really have to scour the internet to figure out where they are. The best place to find out about all of these events is the salsa Meetup group in Barcelona (see More Info list for details).
The world of salsa dancing incorporates people from all walks of life, and is fuelled largely by word of mouth. If you see a sweaty guy in white shoes walking home at 4am on a Saturday night, you can bet that he’s part of it. (The shoes help onlookers and fellow salseros to see the dancer’s moves better in a dark club.) It’s an instant way to connect with people when travelling—and even if your dancing partner happens to be from a totally different country and culture, the music and moves themselves are the language in common. Social lines disappear. You might dance with a doctor, a student, a grocer and a guy who works at H&M, all in the space of an hour. To find out more about the Barcelona salsa scene, I spoke to a few people who are already well-ensconced in it.
Cristian Vera is from Chile. He is studying sports medicine, but is also a salsa teacher giving intermediate-level workshops. He himself takes master classes from Jorge Camaguey, a famous Cuban teacher who now lives here. “When I first arrived in Barcelona two years ago, I went out to a salsa club and stayed for about 15 minutes,” Cristian told me. “I went home with my tail between my legs—the dancers were amazing! But I was determined to learn. I got in contact with Jorge Camaguey who kindly let me sit in on some rehearsals with his dance company. I think he was curious to know why this Chilean guy was so interested in Cuban music. That experience changed my life as I later became one of Jorge’s students. Thanks to dancing, I’ve been able to travel to many countries in Europe that I’d probably never have seen otherwise. I just got back from participating in private group classes in Switzerland, for example.” Cristian has taken part in various festivals and competitions such as the Campeonato de Colombia Guaguancó Festival 2011. His preferred dancing spots are Suite Lancaster (Castelldefels), Mojito and Sandunguita (also in Castelldefels), while he and a few friends also rent an apartment where they meet specifically to host dancing fiestas.
Karina Murrieta is originally from Peru, but has lived in Barcelona for nine years. She makes her living as a massage therapist, and while her brother is taking dance classes here, she learned salsa back home. “I grew up dancing salsa in Peru, but I never learned formally, I learned on the street. Barcelona is a cool scene because you can enjoy the atmosphere and dance even if you haven’t taken classes. I haven’t learned all the complicated choreography but I can still go out and have fun. I like going to Agua de Luna on Wednesdays or Antilla on Thursdays, especially. They have live salsa bands around midnight that are amazing. In general, it’s a friendly atmosphere; I’ve met people from all over the world at Antilla.”
One of those “amazing” live bands is Son de la Rambla, a group of Catalan musicians who specialise in Cuban music. They regularly play at the Festa Major del Raval and Harlem Jazz Club, and they’re known for their matching white suits and hats. Clave player Carlos Ramagosa, born, bred and retired here in Barcelona, says “the musical and cultural connection between Cuba and Catalunya dates back to the 18th century and remains strong to this day. I’ve been travelling back and forth for 15 years and the connection between the two countries only grows, thanks to the internet and airplanes. In the past, there were very few of us who danced or played Cuban music [such as salsa or son], and now there are many. We’ve learned so much.”
Habana Con Kola is one of the other well-known Barcelona-based salsa bands (or orquestas) that can also be found at Harlem Jazz Club at least one Saturday a month. And the tiny-but-cool JazzSí Club, which is run by the music school next door to it, has live Cuban music every Thursday evening.
Carlos Saltos is originally from Ecuador, works in IT and heads the Salsa Meetup group in Barcelona. He greets everybody with a huge smile and usually a hug. “I organise events once every couple of weeks, or try to spread the word about other classes or workshops that are going on. My favourite thing is when it’s a small house party with friends. There are always friends of friends who have never danced before, but end up getting excited about salsa after trying it once! The idea is just to share something we love and get other people involved. When I go out to clubs, Bailongu is one of my favourite places—it’s a friendly atmosphere.”
Excited yet? Whatever your tastes or level of experience, checking out salsa in Barcelona this summer should definitely be on your to-do list. Just remember to wear the right shoes.
Antilla—Aragó 141, tel. 93 451 2151
Mojito— Rosselló 217, tel. 93 237 6528
HBN BCN—Carrer de l’Escar 1, tel. 93 225 0263
7Sins—Muntaner 7, tel. 93 453 6445
El Copetín—Passeig del Born 19, tel. 607 202 176
Mistura—Sant Antoni metro station, Ronda Sant Antoni or Villarroel
La Suite Lancaster—Cinco 22, Castelldefels Playa
Sandunguita—Passeig Marítim 423, Castelldefels
Agua de Luna—Viladomat 211, tel. 93 410 0440
Harlem Jazz Club—Comtessa de Sobradiel 8, tel. 93 310 0755
Bailongu—Passatge d’Utset 11, tel. 93 247 1602
JazzSí Club—Requesens 2, tel. 93 329 0020
www.salsacongress.com posts a list of all the salsa congresses in Europe, including one in Barcelona in September