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

 

 

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!