Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

SOLAR SALSA: Checking Out Manchester Salsa 1

This week I’m writing about Solar Salsa – first of a series in which I plan to review as many Manchester salsa classes & events as I can. There’s so much going on in the city that it’s easy to miss good things. And for beginners it can be hard to know where to start. Hopefully these reviews can help – and I can have some fun doing the research!

SolarWithKerry

Solar Salsa: Special session last year with visiting teacher Kerry Ribchester of Key2Cuba (centre, in black); Pauline at front, in white

SOLAR SALSA is an easy place for me to start: I’ve been a regular for some years. Classes take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays downstairs at the Spread Eagle in Chorlton (526-528 Wilbraham Rd, Manchester M21 9LD) with Beginners’ and Improvers’ classes at 7.30 pm, Intermediate and Advanced at 9 pm. The style is emphatically Cuban. The main emphasis is on RUEDA: salsa circle dancing, changing partners with someone calling the moves.

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Mandy explains the finer points of the next move!

There’s a team of experienced teachers: Pauline and Mandy mainly taking Improvers and Advanced classes, with Mike and Christine taking Beginners and Intermediate.

For me the biggest feature of Solar (and the reason I started going) is that it’s FUN! It’s consistently friendly, totally welcoming and there’s a lot of laughter, particularly owing to Pauline’s incredibly positive attitude. I don’t know how she does it, but Pauline is the most positive person I’ve ever met: I think the title Solar Salsa must reflect not just her belief in renewable energy but her sunny disposition! That’s not to say everyone doesn’t work hard, but the atmosphere is always very happy. It’s a class that’s guaranteed to cheer you up if you need it. No other class I’ve been to is quite so consistently positive. GREAT FOR BEGINNERS!

A close second in importance is that Solar is one of the very few classes which teach authentic Cuban body movement. Mandy goes to Cuba often, works with Cuban teachers and has danced on stage with Cuban bands. She has a full understanding of Cuban styling and ‘body isolation’ – as Mike also has from a male point of view. Cuban body movement is something that very few classes in the UK can genuinely offer. But it makes all the difference: without it, salsa is just a lot of footsteps and arm movements. But once you have the body core movement, the whole experience is different, and even dancers knowing only a few moves become elegant and exciting. There is no substitute.

The emphasis on Rueda is something that might not suit everyone. It’s a very good way for beginners to learn, but some people find it daunting to start couple-dancing alone when they’re only used to dancing rueda. The Thursday classes try to emphasise couple dancing more, but still the rueda emphasis can creep in. If you hate rueda, this might not be the class for you.

Numbers of dancers are currently good: classes are well-attended without being crowded and generally there’s a good balance of men and women. In the more advanced classes there are normally some female leaders: great if you’re a woman and want to learn to lead, not quite so great if you’re a woman and really want to dance all the time with guys!

 

Classes are good value: currently £6 for the whole evening, no matter if you take one class or two; plus you get some free dancing – usually about three tracks between classes. That said, there isn’t a great deal of free dancing.

(Check out the video above, with Los Van Van and Key2Cuba: can you spot Mandy (orange, pink and green dress) in the rueda?)

A couple of things to watch out for: (1) Classes begin very punctually (unusual in the salsa world)! If you’re not on time you’ll miss the warm-ups. (2) Dancing is mostly on carpet – though this isn’t nearly as much of a problem as you might think. It’s a thin hard carpet and mostly I forget I’m on it. Plus this is due to change: a new floor is supposed to be installed sometime soon. But if you have knee problems and need a totally smooth floor it could be a deterrent.

Overall this is a fun class, good value, excellent for beginners, with an authentic Cuban connection. Points to consider: Emphasis on Rueda; short period of free dancing; dancing on carpet. RECOMMENDED.

And finally: to cheer up your winter with a salsa adventure in Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Puerto Rico and Miami, why not read my book Travels on the Dance Floor, availabl;e by following this link (quote code DANCE for a 30% discount!):

http://www.carltonbooks.co.uk/books/products/travels-on-the-dance-floor-one-mans-journey-to-the-heart-of-salsa-1

 

 

QUENTIN CRISP: STEWY’S CHORLTON PORTRAIT

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Chorlton-cum-Hardy, the Manchester suburb where I live, has a lot of interesting, quirky little features. One that I’m fond of is this charming, Banksy-style portrait of Quentin Crisp (1908-1999), painted by the street artist known as Stewy.

Quentin Crisp is remembered as a wit and raconteur, author of an autobiography called The Naked Civil Servant and a notable campaigner for Gay rights. He died in Chorlton, on the eve of beginning a tour of his one-man stage show. He didn’t die in Keppel Road, though: that was a few blocks further away again, in nearby Claude Road.

He’s famous for describing himself as one of ‘the stately homos of England’, and for his advice on housework: just don’t do it, because ‘after the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse’.

He was also a friend of my old friend and mentor, the poet and literary scholar Kathleen Raine. The picture shows him with his characteristic broad-brimmed floppy hat and silk neckscarf. Sadly, it’s a little battered now (not that Crisp himself wasn’t, by the time he came to Chorlton – dare one say it?).

Anyway I smile whenever I see this painting. For more Stewy artworks, including John Betjeman and Joe Orton, follow this link: http://stewystencils.tumblr.com/

Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Chorlton’s Rock’n’Roll History

Sister Rosetta, pioneer of rock'n'roll

BBC4 continues to put out some of the best music programmes on any channel. But last Friday’s offering, ‘Godmother of Rock’n’Roll: Sister Rosetta Tharpe’ was one of the all-time greats.

Sister Rosetta, who started as a 1930s Gospel singer from the USA’s deep South, graduated by way of nightclub singing at the Cotton Club and touring work as a jazz, blues and gospel soloist, to being a pioneer of Rock’n’Roll and one of the all-time great figures. yet she’s been almost forgotten.

Listening to her wonderfully percussive guitar style you could hear at once how much Chuck Berry learned from her; and the archive footage of her hugely energetic performances, full of movement, power and infectious delight, made it quite clear that she was a – if not the – key figure in the transition from Black gospel music to Rock. Popular music history needs to be rewritten to put this lady at the centre!

But the most amazing thing for me was to learn that, when her career (like that of many blues musicians in the US) had stalled in the early ’60s, she was invited to the UK by Chris Barber of all people – and that Granada TV invited her to perform at the disused Chorlton-cum-Hardy railway station about five minutes from where I live in Manchester. Just take a look at the clips! And more important, listen!

The rationale was something to do with freight trains and all that – the vague mythology of train tracks and the Blues. Whatever. Granada decked the old station out as a kind of Wild West scene, with a fake ‘Chorltonville’ sign which they must have thought sounded American. They put the band on one platform and the audience on the other, and delivered Sister Rosetta in a horse-drawn carriage. The horse is a typical piebald cob – a ‘gypsy horse’ of the kind you can see by the hundred at Appleby Fair every year. Her affection for the horse is typical of this immensely sweet and loving woman who seems to radiate kindness and warmth with every ounce of her being. Good to know, then, that the UK tour put Sister Rosetta back on the map and she remained a big star in Europe at least until her death.

We all knew Chorlton was special (Quentin Crisp died here, Badly Drawn Boy lives here, and of course it’s full of wonderful creative people) – but now we know it has a place in Rock’n’Roll history too. The station is about to reopen as a Metrolink stop. Maybe there ought to be a blue plaque on that platform.

¡Que Viva Salsa Republic!

Les mixes the sounds with a little help from Che

Mancuban’s Republic of Salsa provided another amazing night out in Chorlton on Saturday. As this alternate-monthly club night gets better known, more and more people from the friendly Manchester salsa scene are arriving and it’s becoming a huge gathering of friends that gives a warm welcome to newcomers and old amigos/amigas alike.

Typical last night was the fact that there were Cuban-style salsa teachers from all over the country, and along with them a number of people who’d never danced salsa before. That’s how good, and how eclectic, it is.

Stars together: Mohito's Damian, Mancuban's Lorraine

There was the usual fine DJing from Les, Lorraine and Andy (no congas this time, but a notably Afro tinge to the music as the night got later) and Lorraine kicked off the evening with a great warm-up session followed by an enormous rueda that stayed interesting but was straightforward enough for even the beginners to handle it.

Noel takes a break from giving Inverness some Cuban heat

Teachers I spotted included Noel (from Cuba, but currently teaching in Bury and Ramsbottom – check out www.almacubana.co.uk ), Paris, Pauline, Mike and Jordan from SolarSalsa, as well as Damian (courtesy of Northwich Salsa and bands Mohito and Cafe Con Leche).

Good to see that the movies projected on the back wall have returned (in fact there were two, one behind the DJ deck and another oppsite the bar) though the current projection method isn’t quite doing them justice: to be worthwhile they need to be bigger, and flat (not coming up at an angle so the end product is trapezoid in shape). A few details to be ironed out there, maybe.

But yet again music and atmosphere were second to none. If you’re committed to Cuban, want a workout to the best music going with the friendliest people around, or simply looking for a great night out, this is the one to catch. Next opportunity will be 5 June.

Best Cuban Salsa Night Outside Cuba?

For months I’ve been telling everyone who’ll listen that the best and most authentic Cuban salsa night in Manchester is Republic of Salsa. Last night (Saturday 5 Dec 09) I felt totally vindicated. It was pure dynamite: seriously, the best salsa night I’ve been to anywhere outside Cuba.

Lorraine mixes her salsa magic

Lorraine mixes her salsa magic

I’ll go further. Last time I went to Republic of Salsa I just caught myself heading for the bar to pick up another Cristal, and realised that for the past few minutes I’d truly slipped into thinking I was back in Havana. These club nights are that good.

Last night was a solid feast of Cuban beats: non-stop hardcore bailable Cuban salsa tracks at the son and timba edge of things, with enhanced edge and depth added by Jack McCarthy playing congas up there alongside the DJ deck. (He also had a set of timbales but mysteriously never seemed to touch them). Plus the usual garnish of reggaeton, bachata and merengue. The sound-system was superb, and the Irish Club’s new (or resurfaced?) dancefloor, which started off feeling a bit sticky, wore in nicely as the evening went on.

A rueda moment: !Arriba!

A rueda moment: !Arriba!

The session kicked off with Lorraine organising a huge beginners-friendly rueda and relentlessly heated up from there on.

The place was heaving and people danced their feet off. There was that intent, glistening, hypnotised, sweaty feel you get in Havana around two in the morning – though here it set in about eleven p.m. And pretty much everyone on the Manchester salsa scene was there, including two of the contenders for ‘coolest guy in the city’ in the form of Cuba Cafe’s Mo-ji and Baby Salsa’s Andre. Mo was resplendent in black beaded Native American buckskin and a shiny top hat; and Andre forsook his usual pose of pensive observer to dive in and dance by the hour. The sheer friendliness of everyone was tangible: laughing, smiling, kissing, grabbing hands. Was it possible, I wondered, that Chorlton really was becoming an outpost of Cuba?

Andre and Mo-ji: Cool or what?

Andre and Mo-ji: Cool or what?

Maybe the Irish Club’s refurbished bar and table area are a little too smart for the purist. I used to feel the tatty plaster and horrible curtains added to the sense of authenticity, giving the place that inimitable not-touched-since-1959 Havana look. But the newly smooth ceiling made a great arena for the lightshow. And for those who miss the grainy black-and-white Cuban movies on the rear wall, Lorraine tells me they’ll be back as soon as the new projector has been installed.

Jack McCarthy on Congas (and who's that beautiful girl?)

Jack McCarthy on Congas (and who's that beautiful girl?)

Republic of Salsa (promoted by Mancuban Salsa and Baby Salsa – see Facebook) runs first Saturdays of alternate months, so the next one should be 6 February. Do not miss it. This is a total-immersion Cuban dance experience you won’t find anywhere else. One day people are gonna wish they’d been there. You can. All you’re waiting for now is February.

Though if you can’t wait that long, you might still get to La Habana for New Year: check out key2Cuba.com

I’ll be reporting on Rohan Brown and Mojito live at the Tower Ballroom Blackpool (Fri 11 Feb) straight after the event. Watch this space! And if you still don’t have the two best albums by the best Cuban band, see below!