Grevel Lindop

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

MANCUBAN MONDAYS!

This week, for the second in my series surveying Manchester salsa classes and events, I’m looking at Mancuban Salsa – especially their Monday evening classes.

mancubanlogo[1]Les and Lorraine of Mancuban were among the earliest teachers to offer Salsa in Manchester, and their classes are still up there with the very best of the Cuban Salsa scene. In fact they’ve gone from strength to strength, thanks to regular visits to Cuba to work with leading professional Cuban dancers. This means that they have a wealth of authentic experience in Rumba and Orishas as well as in mainstream Salsa and are able to teach all of these.

Monday evening classes are at the Ape and Apple pub, 28-30 John Dalton Street, Manchester M2 6HQ (Beginners and Improvers 7:15; Intermediate Salsa/Casino Rueda 8.00; Advanced Cuban Salsa 9.00; dancing 10-11. £5 per class, two classes for £9). Amanda and I have been fairly frequent attenders at these, and always get a lot out of them.

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Stylish dancing between classes @ the Ape and Apple

Lorraine’s an inspiring teacher who works to a very high standard, yet manages to do it without being intimidating. She’s an enthusiastic and encouraging teacher for beginners; and for the more experienced, she has a sense of how to help dancers develop and improve by gentle attention to small details. Lorraine’s years of experience with many kinds of Cuban dance give her a depth of knowledge which is genuinely rare in the UK.

Les, besides having a similar level of experience with Cuban dance, is one of the most purely entertaining teachers I’ve come across (readers of my book Travels on the Dance Floor will spot him there as the teacher ‘who could have made a living as a stand-up comedian’!). At the advanced level he tends to specialise in teaching quite intricate moves – there’s always that ‘little bit on the end’ that I find quite challenging, being a bit of a slow learner myself. But the advantage is that even if you remember only a quarter of a move, you usually come away with something new that you can actually use on the dancefloor.

The Rueda classes often include elements of Orisha dances – the Afro-Cuban dances associated with the West African gods brought to Cuba by the slaves and fused into the Cuban religious culture of Santería. This is truly valuable, because Salsa gets its spiritual dimension from the elements of Afro-Cuban religion that find their way into the music and dance. You may not know it, but many of the tracks you dance to in clubs or classes have lyrics about the Santería gods: this is spiritual music that’s completely at home in a secular context. (I have a theory that this is one reason Salsa is so addictive: it works on levels other dances don’t reach!)

 

The venue has a good wooden dancefloor, and Les’s sound system is outstanding – both he and Lorraine do a lot of DJing – and there’s a fair amount of time for free dancing between and after the classes. It’s a notably friendly crowd so newcomers at all levels get a warm welcome.

Other points to consider: Classes are upstairs in a pub; if you want a drink you’ll need to bring it up from the bar downstairs. And we tend to be on Cuban time here: classes often run over and things are fairly relaxed, so don’t expect your class to start and finish exactly on time!

If you want to learn more about links between Salsa and the Afro-Cuban gods, or simply escape February in the UK for a Salsa tour of the Caribbean, try my book Travels on the Dance Floor (currently available at 30% off) – just follow this link:

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

Other Mancuban classes to note: Friday 10 a.m. to 12 noon at Langworthy Cornerstone, 451 Liverpool St, Salford M6 5QQ: Casino Rueda and Afro-Cuban, mixed levels, £6; and Sundays 3 pm  at The Jam Inn, 537-539 Wilbraham Rd, Chorlton, Manchester M21 0UE: Cuban Son, £5 (a really unusual class, which I’ll write about in a future post!).

 

Mojito Magic at Tower Ballroom

Salsa band ‘Mojito’. Blackpool Tower Ballroom December 2010 from Simon Lowe on Vimeo.

Mojito warming up for the show

Local salsa band Mojito gave us another wonderful night at the Tower Ballroom Blackpool on Saturday. Almost everyone from Manchester salsa was there – big contingents from Les and Lorraine’s ManCuban and from Sola Salsa’s Spreadeagle Tuesday Rueda clan as well as lots of old friends from Opus, La Tasca and elsewhere.

Amanda with Rohan Brown - Why do they find this guy so irresistible? (Note to self: Wear black tie next time...)

Mojito were well on form with their typical chunky, authentic Cuban sound, excellent percussion from Christian Weaver and Rich Silwa and fine brass, keyboards and the rest from other great musicians I sadly don’t know by name.

And there were two vocalists – Damien and a friend who again, regrettably, I don’t yet know personally but hope to get introduced to. The vocals were as crisp and inventive as ever, with lots of neat little dance setps and Damien’s sense of comedy and verbal invention well on display. It’s wonderful to see these guys enjoying themselves so much on stage and it’s very infectious too.

The crowd was heaving, the sprung floor was bouncing

I hadn’t been to the Tower Ballroom before and it really is stunning: the vast height of the ceiling reminds you of a cathedral and the whole place is overrun with lavish flowing gold ornament and these incredible ceiling paintings – ladies with Chinese partasols flying through the air, people in carnival masks and holding lutes floating serenely among the clouds – it reminded me of the opium dreams of my favourite writer, good old Thomas De Quincey.

A wonderful setting. With the music powering away – long, inventive, exciting songs with plenty of improvisation and plenty of that sexy rumba feeling to them – it was a marvellous evening and I was sad to leave.

Check out Mojito on Facebook for news of their Christmas party, and don’t forget they’re also playing at Hollingworth Lake on 27 December just to blast away any post-Christmas sleepiness and head us for the New Year in dynamic style! ¡Feliz Navidad, amigos!

¡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!