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!

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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

 

 

REAL CUBAN SALSA WITH KERRY RIBCHESTER

When I first went to Cuba and took private dance lessons in Havana, I thought I knew something about salsa. So I was amazed when the teacher totally disregarded what I thought I knew, and simply started showing me how to move my own body. As I wrote in Travels on the Dance Floor,

 ‘We work for two hours, and at the end of it I haven’t actually taken a dance step. Instead I’ve started to develop a new sense of my own body, a new kind of internal map…. Gradually it started to come. My centre of gravity changes. I begin to find that it’s possible to loosen up and let the different parts of the body flow, or float, to the music almost independently. I realise I’ve had a habit of holding my body tightly together, as if afraid the bits of me would somehow come apart if I didn’t keep them together in one tense mass.’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0233002987?tag=grelinpoewrit-21&camp=1406&creative=6394&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0233002987&adid=1XFFFVTR08ZQK9V2VTFT&&ref-refURL=http%3A%2F%2Fgrevel.co.uk%2F

In the UK, salsa is too often taught as if it’s a matter of footwork and moves – arms and legs.  What I learned in Cuba is that the movement inside the body is far more important than the movement outside it. Once you’re dancing from your heart, your kidneys, your hips, the soles of your feet, and the earth, then the ‘moves’ can be added. But with just the moves, you’re not dancing Cuban salsa, your’re just prancing about.

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It’s hard to find that kind of teaching outside Cuba. One of the few who really does teach it is Kerry Ribchester, and it was great to have her back in Manchester this past week taking some workshops in all the things that go together to make a really great dance experience: body movement, attitude, really feeling and using the music, and relating in a warm and living way to your partner – the most important person in the world for the five minutes of that particular dance.

Kerry has huge experience of dance, having danced professionally in Brazil, coached Madonna and Kylie in onstage movement and – most importantly – visited Cuba to work with Cuban dancers several times a year for the past fifteen years. She has produced award-winning music videos in Cuba, and she communicates a depth of knowledge about dance I haven’t seen anywhere else, and she makes it really fun. Amanda and I never miss a chance to go to one of her workshops.

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We took her class with Solar Salsa at the Spread Eagle in Chorlton on Wednesday, and Amanda was also able to go to Kerry’s Saturday workshop at Sunshine Studios where they worked on the four ‘layers’ that make up the rich ‘cake’ of salsa: the Orisha dances of the Afro-Cuban gods; the Rumba (the competitive Afro-Cuban street dance which is all about attitude and maleness and femaleness); the Son – elegant social dance of the 1940s and 50s – and salsa itself, the spicy sauce that mixes them all.

Kerry’s workshops are highly recommended:

She also heads Key2Cuba, http://www.key2cuba.com/kerry.html which provides the best and most authentic Cuba trips for people who want to sample the culture and meet the people as well as enjoy the dancing. When I go to Cuba alone I usually do it independently because I’m good at handling the many hassles you always have to go through contending with that complex culture; but Amanda and I have been twice with Key2Cuba – most recently in March 2013 – and I recommend the trips strongly. No other dance tours have anything like the level of authenticity and local contact that you get with Key2Cuba.

 

Cuba is changing fast and if you’ve dreamed of going there, you should do it soon. And if you want to go with a group, Key2Cuba is the one to check out. http://www.key2cuba.com/kerry.html

VIVA ADALBERTO ÁLVAREZ: HIS SUSANNA IS ALL OF US

One of the highlights of my visit to Havana in November was going to see Adalberto Álvarez and his band live at the Casa de la Música in Galeano. Adalberto is a mainstay of Cuban dance music and one of its finest songwriters. If you’ve danced salsa at all you probably know several of his tracks even if you don’t know that they’re his.

Adalberto’s roots are in Cuban Son music – he keeps this prominent by calling his orchestra ‘Adalberto Álvarez y su Son’ – but he has merged this with Timba and what we think of as Salsa.
But he also has roots that go deeper than that. Like many Cuban musicians his spiritual source is in Santería. The night I went to hear him he started off with internationally popular dance music including his wonderful and witty song about Rueda – Para Bailar Casino – but later in the set he embarked on a long, long song in Rumba style that went through passages about all the main Santería gods and goddesses in turn – Elegguá, Yemayá, Changó, Ochún and so on with the appropriate drumming and invocations.

This is the superb thing about Cuban music, that it has all the attack and fun quality of pop and at the same time it can be deeply religious. Even American Gospel to me doesn’t quite manage to do this so completely and with such spontaneity.
But for the dancers, as so often recently, the climax of the set was – appropriately – Gazando en la Habana, where Adalberto sings about someone who has done what so many of us did – got hooked on salsa, dreamed about going to Havana, and finally got there, learned the real Cuban style and danced the night away.
What’s fascinating to me is that the song isn’t really written from a Cuban point of view. It’s written to speak for its international audience, the countless people around the world who go to Cuba to dance. The nearest parallel I can think of is the way Chuck Berry in the 1950s wrote rock’n’roll songs to speak for white teenagers. His songs broke through because he wrote about the experiences which as a black teenager he hadn’t had – driving his girlfriend in a car, for example.
Adalberto has done the same. A young Cuban can’t easily travel the world, and their experience of Havana will be a much harder and less affluent one than Susanna’s. Despite the nod to Cuban youth at the end of the song, they can’t afford to go to the Casa de la Musica every night because it costs ten dollars – more than a week’s wages. Yet I don’t think either Berry or Adalberto writes with condescension, cynicism or exploitiveness. Of course they want to appeal to an audience and they want to make their dollars. Good luck to them. But there’s also a generosity of spirit, an imagination that crosses racial and political boundaries. And Adalberto like so many Cubans is very proud that his country, whatever its problems and restrictions, leads the world in dance music and is loved by millions of people for its wonderful culture – of which he’s an important part.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the video clip above of Gozando en la Habana. Especially the little boy at the front, who even has his own microphone! And now I’ve talked about it so much, I’ll translate the words here:
Susanna is a modern girl
she might live anywhere
she could be from Paris, Rome or Milan
from New York, Switzerland or Panama.
Susanna’s dream is to be in Havana
where she always wanted to dance:
a lover of Cuban music,
now her dream has become reality.
She’s only been a short time in Havana
and already she’s dancing like the Cubans
at the Casa de la Musica in Galeano or Miramar
dancing all night, the dawn surprises her
And everyone in her neighbourhood’s looking for Susanna
because they can’t imagine that she’s partying in Havana.
They say that over there in her district they’re looking for Susanna
but Susanna, gentlemen, is partying in Havana!
The girl’s disappeared, no one knows where she is.
Look for her in Galeano, or if not, over there in Miramar,
and you’ll see…
Look how everyone enjoys themselves, dancing to Cuban music
But I assure you the one who’s enjoying herself most is Susanna,
she’s doing the whole thing in Havana.
Lots of people ask, where’s Susanna –
She always goes out at night and comes back in the morning?
Look! she goes to the school every day to learn how to dance:
And she’s always keen, Oh Susanna’s not wasting her time in Havana!
Oh my God! Look for her! (And I’m gonna look for her, with the mambo…)
How do you like Havana, Susanna? Susanna the most beautiful,
the one who dances, the one who parties!
She goes to the Macumba, she goes to the Tropicana,
and if you want to find her, look for her at the Tropical!…
I don’t know if she’s Argentine, Cuban or Venezuelan,
In every part of Cuba you’ll find a Susanna
When she arrived in Havana she hardly knew how to dance
and now she moves so that no one can equal her!
She’s really got into Cuban music.
Hey Susanna, how do you like Havana?

¡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.

La Casa de la Salsa

Salsa with Heart: La Casa de la Salsa

Salsa with Heart: La Casa de la Salsa

Valentine’s already seems a long time ago. But before memories fade, I’d like to look back and thank La Casa de la Salsa for their fine Valentine’s Ball at the Britannia Hotel, Stockport.

It was a lovely evening. Gorgeous table settings, beautiful balloons everywhere, an imaginative cocktail menu at good prices, Mike Parr’s usual suave and seamless DJing, and of course friends, lots and lots of friends, and wonderful dancing.

Open Break with Vicky

Open Break with Vicky

And why didn’t I write about it sooner? Well, it took some days for Lydia’s pics to appear on Facebook (I’d lost my own camera at the time so it was Facebook or nothing!) and then life just got so busy and chaotic I wasn’t blogging at all.

But it was a good enough evening to make me want to say, Watch out for La Casa de la Salsa and their future events. Check them out on Facebook and keep up with what they’re doing.

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Braz, Tina, Silvia: Awesome Threesome

Besides the music and the company, a special feature was the ZOUK LAMBADA demonstration from Braz (of Kaoma fame) and his partner Silvia. I’m not sure I’ll be taking on this (literally) head-turning dance in the near future, but the performance was an amazing spectacle. The highlight in some ways was the point where Braz insisted on involving Tina (of Latino Euphoria) in the dance and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Despite a modest display of resistance Tina allowed herself to be drawn in and Braz performed a truly extraordinary Lamada threesome with her and Silvia. Astonishing.

What else? Well… Several people said they’d had a terrible time finding the Hotel. Maybe better directions could be available next time? Lighting: perhaps a bit bright on the dancefloor. Any chance of dimmer, warmer, coloured lights or even a disco ball? Music: maybe a bit bland (and no merengue, no reggaeton? well, perhaps you can’t expect reggaeton at a Valentine Ball…) – but some faster, heavier music, some salsa dura, might have been welcome. Though I admit this is from the viewpoint of a Cuba fanatic: all those hours of sweaty dancing on cracked concrete in near-darkness, moving between the tropical heat outside and the freezing air-conditioning inside, have probably warped my brain more than a little.

Thanks, Girls: And here's looking at you too! (Next time I'll bring my camera...)

Thanks, Girls: And here's looking at you too! (Next time I'll bring my camera...)

The more people come to these events the more the atmosphere and the urgency are going to build, so watch for La Casa de la Salsa’s next production. Definitely worth the journey!