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Radio Talk: Salsa Date

1 May

Last night, I was invited to be a guest on “Love Bent and Adventure Bound,” a weekly radio show hosted by Ben-Jamin Toy and his co-hosts, Sparkle and Eric. The show’s main focus is adventure dating, and Ben asked me to talk about Salsa dancing and if Salsa makes for a good date.

Hmm…

I had to think about it before I went on the show. Personally, I would not use going to Salsa as a date and have pretty strong opinions about dating within your hometown Salsa scene (but I won’t get into that here). Also, I wouldn’t bring a guy that I’m just starting to date to Salsa, especially if he didn’t really dance (“Hey honey, sit down and watch me dance for three hours). However, I recognize that it’s different for me as an instructor and Salsa addict than it is for someone who has maybe never danced before.

So that caveat aside, yes, I do think that taking Salsa classes and then going out dancing socially would be an excellent date.

Probably not a first date, but if you’ve been going out with someone for a few weeks or months and are ready to mix it up a little bit, taking Salsa classes together would be great. You would be bonding over the shared experience of learning a new skill, have an opportunity to take your burgeoning (or established) relationship out of the one-on-one date realm, and be introduced to a whole world of passion and excitement that I think can sometimes be difficult to tap into (My buddy Richie discussed the passion that Salsa awakens in people here).

However, I would caution people who are taking classes as a couple to avoid falling into the trap of just dancing with your guy or girl.

For non-dancers, one of the most difficult parts of social dancing can be when your significant other (or date) is dancing with other people. But trust me ladies and gentleman, it’s for everyone’s own good.

You will never improve as a dancer if you don’t test yourself and dance with other people—if you get too used to dancing with just one guy, you won’t actually learn how to follow, you’ll just memorize your guy’s moves and it will get boring really fast. The same thing applies to leads—you’ll think you’re a great lead because your girl has memorized your moves, not because you’re actually leading them well.

So, if you’re planning to take Salsa classes with your significant other or someone you’re tryna holler at, be prepared to dance with lots of other people. For some, it requires a degree of trust that can be uncomfortable if you’re a jealous type of person, but when you realize that a dance can just be dance, it frees you up to enjoy dances with other people. Then, when you dance with your significant other or date, you can change the attitude and make it a little bit more sensual, flirtatious, silly, sexy—whatever your chemistry and style dictates.

I probably didn’t articulate any of what I’ve written here during the interview, but I did impart some wisdom that I think is invaluable to all Salsa dancers, whether on a date or not:

Ladies, test drive your skirts before you take them out dancing. Salsa wardrobe malfunctions are the kind of malfunctions.

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Salsa Family Vacation!

4 Apr

Every few months, I have the good fortune to attend a Salsa congress (nope, I’m not an elected representative). Last weekend, a caravan from Charleston (Salseros of Charleston and friends) embarked to enjoy the Greenville Salsa Congresito in Greenville, S.C.

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Salsa family at the hotel! Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

In an effort to save money, I went for the Saturday social only, but I had the same amount of fun that I had going whole hog at Orlando Salsa Congress, Hotlanta Salsa Congress, and the Charlotte Salsa Invitational.

 

Me and BFFL Rebekah. Salsa brought us together!

Me and BFFL Rebekah. Salsa brought us together!

“But Georgia,” you ask, “How is that possible? Usually you dance a minimum of fifteen hours throughout the course of a congress weekend, and yet you only danced three or four during this congress.”

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Lolo and Mario, two close members of my Salsa family. Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

Well friends, my answer to that is that this go round, instead of boogying full-time, I spent most of the weekend just hanging out and catching up with my Salsa friends.

The funny thing about Salsa is that even though you’re interacting with people non-stop during a social or when you’re out dancing, you’re not always talking. You aren’t catching up even though you’re socializing.

Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

Salsa brings together a mix of people who often would otherwise have no reason to speak to each other. Our group included a preschool teacher, Navy officers, a research assistant, and a pilot. It was therapeutic to have an opportunity to just hang out and talk with these friends, some whom I’ve known for years, others for just a few short months, but all who I count to be dear friends.

The morning after…Best part about this Congress hotel? Free breakfast, free drinks. Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

The morning after…Best part about this Congress hotel? Free breakfast, free drinks. Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon, Salseros of Charleston.

It was a Salsa Family Vacation! The only thing we didn’t do was get a good Christmas card picture…

“Havana Nights” in Charleston

30 Jan

Tito Puente said, “If there is no dance, there is not music.”

Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon.

Crowded dance floor at Voodoo. Photo courtesy of Yaenette Dixon.

I’m sure many musicians would probably disagree with that statement, but dancers and musicians have a symbiotic relationship when Gino Castillo’s quartet plays at Voodoo Tikki Bar and Lounge.

“We play better when people are dancing,” says Castillo, “Sometimes there is so much energy and everyone is dancing and I don’t want to stop playing.”

Photo courtesy of LaQuinn Mims.

The low light is part of the Playboy Mansion-esque vibe at Voodoo. Photo courtesy of LaQuinn Mimes.

Almost every Sunday evening, Castillo and his quartet take the floor at Voodoo and play a mix of what Castillo describes as “Afro-Cuban funky jazz” while an increasing number of salseros swirl around the beer stained hardwood floors of the Avondale bar. The set list includes anything from Cuban hits like Los Van Van’s “Azucar” and Irakere’s “Bacalao con Pan,” to tunes from Dizzy Gillespie or (my favorite), a Cubanized version of Gershwin’s “Summertime.”

Photo courtesy of LaQuinn Mims.

Photo courtesy of LaQuinn Mims.

Trey Cooper kills it on the keys, William Moore holds down the bass line and Michael Quinn keeps it funky on sax and the instrument I used to call the shaky gourd thing, until I learned it was called a “shakere.” (But, to be fair, it’s essentially a hollow gourd covered in what looks like one of those wooden beaded things people put on their car seats to massage their backs).

William Moore holdin' down the base. Picture by LaQuinn Mims.

William Moore holdin’ down the base. Picture by LaQuinn Mims.

Castillo, a native of Ecuador who spent 11 years studying and playing percussion in Cuba, has only lived in Charleston for three years, but considers himself a Charlestonian. He assembled his quartet through a series of happy accidents: meeting William Moore at a teaching clinic in Goose Creek and connecting with Trey Cooper at a gig with Bringers of the Dawn, who also brought Michael Quinn into the fold.

“They told me ‘Ok, we want to do that, but we know nothing about the Latin or Cuban music,’” says Castillo. He replied with “If you want to learn, I can do my best to show you how to do that.”

Now native Cubans aren’t sure if the band is comprised of Latinos or gringos.

Latinos or gringos? The quartet plus special guests. From left, Calvin Baxter, Adam Fallen, Michael Quinn, Trey Cooper, Ron Wiltrout, Gino Castillo and William Moore.

Latinos or gringos? The quartet plus special guests. From left, Calvin Baxter, Adam Fallen, Michael Quinn, Trey Cooper, Ron Wiltrout, Gino Castillo and William Moore.

“I’m so happy and proud of band. They didn’t know nothing about that music and they really learned,” says Castillo. “Like this gringo, really nerd gringo, plays these crazy things on piano with flavor.”

A few of Castillo’s Cuban friends have come to Voodoo to see the band and were amazed.

“My friend used to be a club manager and he said, ‘I can’t believe I just closed my eyes and thought I was in Cuba,’” says Castillo.

Photo courtesy of LaQuinn Mims.

Photo courtesy of LaQuinn Mims.

Although we (all the salseros of Charleston) dance salsa when Castillo and the boys play, Castillo is adamant that they aren’t a salsa band.

“It is not straight Latin jazz and it is not  salsa…it’s kind of something in between,” says Castillo.

The in-between is what gets us moving during the “Havana Nights” at Voodoo.  Castillo says February will mark the quartet’s one-year anniversary of playing among the bar’s pleather couches, cheetah-print curtains and air-brushed portraits of Loony Tunes characters and he hopes to add another Havana Night soon in addition to Sunday nights.

Me dancing with my friend Andres. Photo by Laquinn Mims.

Me dancing with my friend Andres. Photo by Laquinn Mims.

When I first went to see the band at Voodoo in May, there were just a handful of dancers and the floor was mostly empty. Over the last few months, so many people come to listen to the music and dance that it feels like dancing in a New York subway. It’s hard to describe exactly what the vibe is now, but I think the correct word for it is friendship: An easy rapport among the dancers, the musicians and everyone there to just have a good time.

“I think it’s because we are doing this thing together better every Sunday. We know better what you need,” says Castillo, “It’s something pretty special. It’s people enjoying and doing a good job enjoying.”

Gino Castillo, having a ball. Photo by Laquinn Mims.

Gino Castillo, having a ball. Photo by Laquinn Mims.