As a man without any formal training, my relationship with dance can be called “optimistic” at best. While I certainly enjoy dance, making a move onto a new dance floor has always proven a challenge. I’ll usually opt for a good movie.
But, having just moved to Medellin, my friends insisted upon taking me out (and out of my comfort zone) to experience “la pura vida,” or the real culture.
The saying goes:
‘To know Colombia is to know salsa dancing.’
This in mind, I took it upon myself learn a bit more about salsa, and what my options were in Medellin.
Fortunately, for novices and experts alike, there are quite a diverse range of salsa styles and locations to accommodate any preferences.
Named for the city of Cali, la “Capital de la Salsa,” this is the true form of dance in Colombia. In the original Latin form, the forward/backward motion is done in diagonal or sideways, taking three steps within every four beats of music. It takes 8 beats of music to loop back to a new sequence of steps – so you can dance salsa to most music.
Cali Style is an “On-1” movement pattern: the lead dancer moves their foot at the first downbeat (as in: “One, two, three, four…repeat).
“On-2” styles are traditionally more difficult, as the lead moves on the less prominent upbeat, and thus, this is the type of dance most professionals dance.
This is basically free-form, three step dance. Don’t be intimidated. Instead, dancers keep their upper body still, poised and relaxed while the feet execute.
Cuban Casino Style
The name Casino is derived from the Spanish term for the dance halls, “Casinos Deportivos.” This type of salsa dancing involves significant movement above the waist, with up-and-down shoulder movements and shifting of the ribcage. Casino dancers will frequently improvise, integrating movements, gestures, and references to other dance styles.
As a result of its variability, Casino style is also popular in Europe, North America, even the Middle East and Israel.
This salsa style borrows extensively from the musical culture early 1900’s Los Angeles. Swing, argentine tango, latin ballroom and hustle elements all are incorporated in this flashy iteration. Emphasizing theatrics and acrobatics, LA style dancers dance closely and in slot-line formation when breaking form contact. Danced “On-1,” this style necessitates much practice and familiarity with specific types of dance moves.
New York Style
Descended of Cuban Mambo and Puerto Rican rhythms, New York style is danced on the second beat of the music, “On-2.” In this form, dancers remain within a close dancing space, spinning, turning, styling with a great emphasis upon “shines” – when dancers separate themselves and dance alone with their own intricate footwork and styling for some time. This version of salsa is thought to take its origins from New York tap and swing.
Are you feeling as ready yet? Here’s a breakdown of salsa by neighborhood:
Cuchitril Club Bar – Envigado
Located in Envigado, this is essentially two clubs in one. One side plays rock and roll, hosts the occasional hip-hop DJ, and has a swanky lounge vibe. Walk to the other side and it’s all salsa. With a red-lit, red brick and sultry interior, this places hosts a sensual vibe for those looking for a bit of everything.
Eslabon Prendido – Downtown
Tuesday is the best night here and the band plays to a packed bar. On these nights, expect a 5,000 peso cover ($2) and try to get there a little early if you want to grab a table. The inside is decked out in blue, yellow, and red memorabilia celebrating Colombia.
Son Havana – Laureles
You can’t miss this flashy yellow building. Son Havana is your go-to for Cuban Casino style salsa and rhumba of all types. Semi-pro salsa dancers from everywhere flock here on Thursdays for the live salsa bands (many of whom are famous themselves). This places serves terrific array of tropical cocktails as well.
This is your “underground spot.” Painted ceilings, walls covered with famous dance personalities, and a bandstand at the end of the long corridior give Tibiri an intimate, visceral feeling that only salsa can provide. Sometimes there will be a reggae night, jazz, or flamenco night. They host classes all week during the early evenings as well.
Dancefree – Lleras
Here, Dancefree is both a name and a reputation. There are free bachata classes offered on Wednesdays and free salsa classes on Thursdays. The rest of the week has a full schedule – sometimes lead by professional dancers.
Mi Habana – Lleras
The walls of Mi Habana see lots of variety. Right off Parque Lleras, this three story discoteque hosts electronic music on the first floor, salsa on the third, and reggaeton on the third. Downstairs also has a pleasant outdoor patio section with food.
A note about going out in Medellin: it’s a family (or group) affair. This means it can be difficult casually meeting single people. Instead, a casual meeting during the day can make for a great evening rendezvous.
Or Take a Seat
As I alluded to above, what if you don’t want to dance? Maybe your feet are tired of the dance floor. Maybe… You just want to relax.
Fortunately, Medellin offers a handful of independent movie theaters to accommodate a change of pace. Of course, Medellin offers mainstream Hollywood movies at Cinemark, Cine Colombia, Cinemas Procinal, Cinépolis, and Royal Films. But what about something a bit more cultured?
As an offshoot of Cinemas Procinal, Cine Independiente is a great resource for alternative movie entertainment. Offering a diverse selection of international titles from festivals both within and away from the Americas, the most highly acclaimed titles will come through Cine Independiente.
While most films are subtitled in English, be sure to double check on the website. Some films are dubbed, which can prove to be a less than satisfying moviegoing experience.
Located within the Colombo Americano cultural center, the independent screenings hosted at this theater cater to those hungry for rare and quality contemporary titles. This is a rotating showcase of five titles, with eight showtimes a day (including matinees). While at Cine Colombo Americano, grab a bite or a drink at Cafe Colombo, inspect the modern art gallery, peruse the library, or enroll in English classes.
Cine Cartelera @ Medellin Museum of Modern Art
This state-of-the-art showspace provides eclectic and award-winning films from around the world. If it hosts a ‘best of’ appearance or won an award, expect it here. While the movie-going is a treat, the website is confusing. So giving a call to confirm what times movies start is recommended.
That’s a Wrap!
When you come to Medellín, be sure to appreciate the vitality of the culture by enjoying a night out with some salsa dancing. As a rich and expressive cultural pastime, it is tremendous fun for all involved. And if you’re feeling a slower pace, help yourself to the city’s rich cultural palette of internationally celebrated films. With a variety of options in the cinematic realm, it will be easy to find an entertaining night out. Whether you’re in your seat or on the dance floor, Medellín does cater to all tastes.