Dancing in Cartagena, Colombia – Crazy Salsa!
*Warning – This post is rated PG-13
After all the Afro-Colombian dancing I saw in the streets of Cartagena, I was inspired to dance. I knew there had to be dance studio in this city, so when I got home from the last performance, I turned to Google. The internet slowly loaded and translated my search. That’s when I found Crazy Salsa. Clicking on the link, my computer screen danced as one letter at a time popped up making their logo. I happily discovered an icon to translate their website to Spanish or English. I learned they not only taught Salsa but, Afro-Colombian and Colombian too! I figured they must have spoken English because of the icon, and it seemed meant to be; I needed to take class there. In no time, I composed an email about my project, crossed my fingers, and pressed send.
A day passed, and no response. My excitement began to fade into nervousness. Why I hadn’t heard from them? I shouldn’t have assumed they spoke English just because of a translate button on their website… My Dad always told me never to “assume” because “it only makes an ass out of u and me.” Damn… he was right again! Or maybe they hated my project. Seriously, I was making myself crazy! But, in the late afternoon, the following day, I received an email. Turns out they were excited about my project. They recommended two different classes. Since I was leaving for Peru in the morning, my only choice was limited. I had to take the Colombian dance class, and it started in two hours! Ready or not, tonight I was going to dance.
I reached the studio about fifteen minutes early to introduce myself. The entrance was well marked, but I was a surprised to see how different this studio was from the ones back home. It was small, had tile floors, a few mirrors, and a simple sound system. I sat in the lobby area and waited for my class to start. As the minutes ticked away, my stomach started to knot, I was still sitting there all alone. That’s when I realized the group class was just going to be me. My leg began to nervously shake… I was dreading taking class all alone.
Soon the receptionist introduced me to the teacher. To my surprise, they didn’t cancel or shorten the class since I was the only one. That’s pretty much unheard of in the States. Yet, I could tell from the body language of the teacher, he wasn’t thrilled about teaching just me. Plus he seemed even more put off when he learned my Spanish was very elementary. I think my only saving grace was that he seemed to gain some interest and respect when the receptionist told him about my project. His mood turned and he was excited to share the dances of his country with me.
Although I had a hard time understanding verbally what was going on, I understood the movement and the instructor’s body language. As we warmed up, I was surprised how similar it was to the isolation warm-ups in a Fosse class. The only difference was they were much faster and often required you to do several at the same time. I learned two major Colombian dances; one was called Champeta and the other the Vallenato. I learned two forms of Champeta one reminded me a lot of the Afro-Caribbean classes I took as a teen. I enjoyed this movement. Maybe this was because it was familiar or because it was exactly what I expected. The other form was with a partner and, to tell you the truth, wasn’t my favorite. This form is a very popular in the clubs of Colombia. The whole time I was learning it, I thought of the class description, “a very expressive dance.” With a BFA in dance, I was thinking “expressive” in a very different light. This dance seemed to be expressing, for lack of a better answer, sex.
Just as my comfort zone hit uncomfortable, the instructor switched and began teaching me the Vallenato. There wasn’t much time to learn this dance, but I accomplished a fair amount. This dance was also done with a partner and slightly reminded me of Salsa but, with less flair. After a few toes were stepped on, I began to picked up the basic steps. Soon the instructor had me dancing up a storm as he moved me across the floor.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t have any video of my class. However, I did find a few videos on youtube. This first video merges the two forms of Champeta I learned. When the dancers are in a line, it reflects the movements from the first form I learned. The movements where the dancers are very close together (They look like they’re hugging.) reflects the movements from the partnered form.
This second video gives you an idea of the basic step of the second dance I learned, the Vallenato.
If you’re ever in Cartagena, Colombia, I totally recommend trying a class. Even though the class wasn’t completely what I expected, I learned a lot about the Colombian culture, dance, and how to approach teaching a little differently. It showed me how many of our classically taught dance forms: ballet, jazz, modern (aka contemporary), and hip hop, are connected. I feel like it gave me a deeper understanding of the movement… not just how to do it correctly but how to perform. In so many dance classes, we focus only on technique and breaking down each step to perfection. We end up making our students look like zombies. In this class, I was encouraged to let the whole package come together. When I was done, not only had I felt like I perfected the steps, but I was confident to show them off. I’m thankful for my little Colombian dance token. I will try to channel it’s energy next time I get too caught up in technique.
About the Studio:
“Crazy Salsa offers you a wide spectrum of Latin Dance Classes, giving you the right feeling and moves for the music – to enable you to develop your taste of the passion! The majority of our classes and workshops are specially designed for beginners who want to learn to distinguish the different music styles, feel the different rhythms and learn the basic steps to be able to dance at the various venues in Cartagena and around.”
Address: Center (Barrio San Diego), Calle 38 “Tumba muertos”, #8-55