A cool wind from the nearby ocean cut through the dry heat that persisted into the night at Jardines 1830. As soon as darkness engulfed the outdoor patio of the restaurant/club, based in a colonial mansion situated in the Vedado district of Havana, it began filling up with local and visiting “salseros” alike.
Any performance anxiety I felt in anticipation of showing off my skills (or lack thereof) was dulled by tangy lime and mint-muddled mojitos, the rum buzzing in my head was just enough to ease my nerves without hampering my coordination. Standing right in the thick of the swelling crowd, the four-beat measures (characteristic salsa music) played by the live band reverberated through my chest, stirring the restlessness in my soul.
I had begun to take salsa lessons at the beginning of the year in Toronto and immediately fell in love with this spicy, Caribbean-influenced dance. While I’d doubled my classes prior to my trip to Cuba and pushed myself to attend socials, nothing could’ve prepared me for experiencing salsa in a country where the people grow up with rhythm and passion in their blood.
Performers on stage at Jardines 1830 would demonstrate moves that the crowd on the teeming dance floor would follow along simultaneously. In that moment, with my hair flying over my shoulders as I twirled in unison with strangers who felt more like friends, I was consumed by the overwhelming sense of community and oneness that so defines Cuba as a country.
Salsa does that.
And salsa dancing in Cuba? Another beast entirely.
It wakes you up. It wrenches you from the place you’ve burrowed, deep your head and deposits you back in to your body. It steals the listlessness from your limbs and injects it with a wild vitality. In such a short time, it’s taught me more than I thought an activity I chose to do on a whim ever would.
THE BENEFITS OF LEARNING TO SALSA
01/ PHYSICAL CONFIDENCE
As with anything else, the more you practice salsa, the better you’ll get. What you once viewed as “impossibly coordinated” will eventually turn into muscle memory that your body does with ease.
02/ BEING PRESENT
There is no room for distraction, sober or otherwise, in salsa. As the lead, men have to think several steps ahead in the dance and women have to pay attention to the signals their partner is giving for next steps, whether it’s a subtle raise of the arm or slight pressure on the hand.
03/ EMBRACING YOUR SEXINESS
There’s no room in salsa to be shy or to worry about whether you’re being too overtly sexual. This dance forces you to embrace, rather than suppress, your sensuality, flaunting it with every body roll and hip swivel.
04/ MAINTAINING EYE CONTACT
For practical reasons, gazing into your partner’s eyes acts as a spot to focus on for turns so you don’t lose your balance. Not only will you avoid embarrassing yourself but in terms of positive body language, it is indicative of confidence.
05/ LETTING GO OF CONTROL
Nowadays with us independent ladies running rampant, it’s difficult to cede control to a salsa partner who’s role is to lead. You have to resist the urge to anticipate the steps, let go of the need control and practice trust.
06/ BEING OK AT SUCKING
I love salsa….but that does NOT mean I’m any good at it. Sticking with something that you don’t have a natural affinity to can be frustrating but embrace the struggle because the absence of pressure should liberate you to just enjoy the activity. Eventually, with time and persistence, you’ll improve.
07/ MAKES YOU MORE OPEN
Nothing will force you out of your comfort zone than having to dance closely with near strangers. Salsa is a very social dance, requiring a partner that you have to immediately trust to lead you. You adapt to the feeling of vulnerability so when you encounter it in other areas of your life, it’s not such a jarring contrast.
08/ IMPROVES YOUR MEMORY
There are seemingly endless variations of moves in salsa that you have to remember along with the preceding signals your partners gives you. Practicing this repeatedly is great exercise for your memory!
WHERE TO SALSA IN HAVANA
Address:Malécon, esquina 20, Vedado
Cover: CUC 2-5 (unless a famous band is playing)
Perfect open air dance floor where you can shimmy the night away right by the ocean and enjoy cheap mojitos. Whether you’re salsa novice or a pro, you’ll have a good time, losing yourself to the beats of the live band on stage.
Casa de la Música de Miramar
Address: Calle 20, esquina 35, Playa
Cover: CUC 10-20
This venue was the most frequently recommended to me whenever I asked a local. The location in Miramar is THE spot for the best salsa bands and located in a palatial old Havana mansion. Go early to grab a good table at the front so you can either enjoy the live show or stake out your dance spot!