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!).

 

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

 

 

Cuba Cafe: Best Thursday Night in Town

Cuba Cafe: A hidden gem of the Northern Quarter

I’ve just revisited Cuba Cafe in Manchester’s Northern Quarter for the first time since Christmas. If you don’t know Cuba Cafe, you are missing one of Manchester’s great experiences: an intimate, wonderfully-decorated little bar and dance club full of Caribbean memorabilia and vibrant with atmosphere.

Walking in there is an amazing experience. With its coloured lights, TV screens showing old Cuban music videos, the suitcases and flowers and bicycles and a profusion of other strange things hanging from the roof, the pictures of Che and Marilyn and Charlie Parker, the palm trees and ceiling fans, it’s like a stage set where you and your friends are the actors, and absolutely anything could happen. I love the place and just wish more people knew about it.

An amazing place, full of Cuban memorabilia

If you’re into Latin music, salsa in particular, it’s a mecca: there’s a good dance floor and a great sound system. Plus Latin American beers on sale. There are salsa classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was lucky enough to turn up on a Thursday night, and found Michael running an excellent rueda class, teaching some really interesting and spectacular moves. Afterwards there was free dancing.

It seems this is now the pattern each Thursday: a styling class (men and women) at 7pm; rueda at 8pm and social dancing from 9pm onwards. For the Thursday classes you need to be comfortable with basic salsa, but on Tuesdays there are also classes for beginners.

Some of the best salsa classes in Manchester, for beginners and experienced dancers

As a bonus, you’ll often meet Mo, the cafe’s owner and a fine creative spirit who has made the place into a work of art; and Tracey, who’s equally happy behind the bar serving a cerveza or slipping out to join the dancers on the floor.

If you love salsa or if you just want to savour a unique Manchester experience, do go along to Cuba Cafe. It’s remained something of a secret because it isn’t easy to find. Here’s how you get there. Starting from Piccadilly Gardens, you need to go up Newton Street (opposite side of the gardens from the trams, at the right hand corner). After a block or so, you’ll see a little street running off right at a diagonal. It’s called Port Street. Walk up Port Street, past the Crown and Anchor pub. Just keep going: don’t be put off, because you won’t see Cuba Cafe at first. Just when you think you’ll never find it, the street takes a little slant to the left and there it is. Here’s a link to the website for more information:
http://www.cubacafe.co.uk/

Relax, meet your friends and enjoy the atmosphere

Go there. Have fun. Have a drink. Dance your socks off. See you there!

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!