Find Yourself in Salsa - Quito Recommended read

For many, discovery is an accident. The hypothetical non-Latino steps into a Latino club in Milwaukee or Prague just for kicks or flies off to some part of Latin America and ends up going out dancing. He or she suddenly realizes with a jolt of jealousy that Salsa is no improvisational hippie dance, no arbitrary, arm-swinging, head-bopping night of rump-shaking. Salsa is sensual and hypnotic, racing with an undercurrent that urges one to dance. Yet, you need rhythm and a partner, and the more moves you know, the more fun it is.

To newbies, Salsa seems as time-honored and pan-Latin American as futball. Why else would Cali be the World Salsa Capital? Why do so many Latinos know how to dance Salsa? Why the Dominican, Cuban, Peruvian, Argentinean Salsa stars?

Surprisingly, though, Salsa, the buoyant medley of bongos, trombones, and Spanish lyrics that currently has fans stamping out four step patterns from Tokyo to New York, is said to have been developed as a musical style in the 1960s and '70s by Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants in New York City.

It gained wide-spread recognition as a genre shortly after 1967, when Dominican Johnny Pacheco founded Fania Records, a Manhattan Recording Studio which broadcasted the music of virtuosos Larry Harlow, Willie Colon, and Hector Lavoe, among others. From there, it spread quickly to Miami, the Caribbean, and South America, becoming a source of Latin pride and identity.

Of course, some claim that it is in fact a timeless musical form, appropriated and commercialized by recording studios in the United States. As musical legend Tito Puente claims, “The only salsa I know comes in a bottle. I play Cuban music.”

To the extent that Salsa can be defined, though, it is a close relative of the Cuban musical genre called Son. As with Son, a typical Salsa number begins as a soft song that breaks into a vibrant beat, punctuated by call and response lyrics, and instrumental solos. Salsa’s soul is the four beat baseline and multiple layers of percussion—struck out on instruments such as the cowbell, the bongo, and the cajón—which reveal a heavy African influence.

Relative to Salsa in other Latin American countries, Salsa is not that popular in Ecuador; and Salsa is less popular in Quito than it is in Guayaquil. That does not mean, however, that Quito is void of salseros, Salsa clubs, and Salsa gurus.

There are a plethora of Salsa clubs. Seseribó (Veintimill 325 and 12 de Octubre) has large dance floors and patrons with phenomenal dancing skills, La Bodeguita de Cuba (Reina Victoria 1721) is actually a restaurant but has live Salsa on Thursday nights, San Diego Bar (Av. Brasil 45 -221 and Av. América in front of the Washington English Institute) specializes in Columbian Salsa, Mayo 68 (Lizardo García 662 y Juan León Mera) doesn’t have much dancing space but it’s packed with Salsa dancers every night but Monday, Varadaro (Reina Victoria 265 y Pinto Esquinais) has live music and tasty mojitos from Thursday to Saturday.

For those who want to learn to emulate the dancers they see in these clubs, Salsa gurus bestow their wisdom at Son Latino Dancing School (Reina Victoria 1225 and Lizardo Garcia), Ritmo Tropical (Edificio Santa Rosa, office 108, 10 de Agosto 1792 and Jorge Washington), Mayo 68, and Seseribó.

Short of falling in love with a Latino or Latina, learning to dance Salsa is surely the best way to experience Latin culture on a personal level; and who knows, one may lead to the other. If it doesn’t completely suck you in, though, a night spent feeling the rhythm and watching dancers who know how to move is guaranteed to inspire your admiration.

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