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

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!

Hot Salsa & Cool Air @ Republic

Republic of Salsa delivered another great Cuban salsa party last night at Chorlton Irish Club. And anyone scared off by memories of the slippery, sweaty hell we all went through last time needn’t have worried: this time the air conditioning was perfect. Cool, in every sense.

Dark Magician: somewhere in his magic cave, Les mixes the music...

Les and Andy kept the floor hot with a great fuelling of salsa tracks, the new lights (think laser-red with interlacing patterns of intense green) were fabulous, and both movie-screens were flickering away to create atmosphere – Oliver Stone’s Castro documentary on one wall and Buena Vista Social Club on the other. Plus an interesting (?Cuban?) pop video I couldn’t identify. Where did you get that one, guys? The only factor missing was Lorraine, still on her camping holiday in Wales. Mil besitos, Lorraine, and hope you’ve got some sunshine! We missed you.

Les gets the whole room dancing Bachata

Les gets everyone dancing bachata

Les kicked off the evening with a great Bachata class, teaching a simple, classic routine that anyone could master but also felt like dancing real bachata. A huge confidence-boost for bachata-dabblers like me.

Radiant: Solar Salsa's Mike and Pauline
Radiant: Solar Salsa’s Mike and Pauline

As always, the crowd was wonderfully mixed. Teachers I spotted on the dancefloor included Pauline and Mike from Solar Salsa, Andre from Baby Salsa, and Mo from Cuba Cafe. There were crowds of friends from Opus, Spreadeagle, Cuba Cafe, La Tasca, and Copas – plus a lot of people I hadn’t seen for months and was really glad to have a dance with again. There were two or three great rueda sessions, and given the decibel level, the Solar Salsa teachers’ skill with hand signals really came into its own. I’m probably going deaf (too many years of loud music) but as long as Pauline’s that good at semaphore it won’t matter too much!

Before finishing I have to apologise to La Casa de la Salsa: I had wanted to go to the Ball on Friday but couldn’t make it for reasons beyond my control. I’m sure it was fabulous. Next time I’ll get there.

Oh, and a final PS: Anyone wants to take pics off this blog, from this post or any other, go ahead and copy them (click your right mouse button to ‘copy’ then ditto to ‘paste’). it’s fine to use on FB if you want. Just please give a credit to www.grevel.co.uk – thanks!

¡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.