India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Screen + Sound + Stage
January 03, 2015

Taking the Lead

Text by Simone Louis. Photographs by Tejal Pandey

What was once considered obsolete, uptight or ‘my grandfather’s cup of tea’ is now being embraced as a gratifying social art form in our country. Verve explores the fascination with the rhythms of salsa, bachata, kizomba and more

  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
    Partners Raoul Dsouza and Sangeeta Mehta of RaSa India
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
    Perfecting your spins and turns will add oodles of flair to your partner work
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
    With the Argentine Tango, posture is key. Stay strong, sultry and light on your feet
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
    Don’t be afraid to experiment with weight balance and levels – you can create gorgeous shapes with two dancers
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
    The expressiveness of Latin dance styles comes from unique styling
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
    Every jive session deserves a bit of panache
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba
    Latin dance styles are performed at close quarters. Get ready to get intimate!
  • Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba

Almost all of us today have – at some point – experimented with a dance class or workshop, enjoyed mesmerising dance performances, and, in our own ways, discovered a love for the art form. Within this large echelon, many have invested time and toil…promising ourselves we would use our ghungroos, ballet shoes or snazzy dance outfits to fuel the consuming passion for movement. For some, there was follow-through and it became a way of life, while others found that professional commitments, limitations of time or health restraints didn’t give them the allowance to devote hours to a studio.

Enter social dancing. Not the kind that has already made its presence felt a long time ago, all over the world…the kind that sees dancers, non-dancers and, many times, folks ‘on the prowl’ throw away all inhibitions to thumping music at flashy clubs. On the contrary, for a rising number of city slickers, partying no longer entails fist-thumping, gyrating all-nighters, but rather a glamorous evening that involves partnering up and moving to the beats and melodies of sultry music. A fast-growing phenomenon in our country, social ballroom and Latin American dance nights bring aficionados of all skill levels together in one space, to partner up and, well, just dance. This social partnering in movement is informal, easy-going and practiced solely for the gratification of the dancers. More than being about how ‘correctly’ they have executed every move, what matters here is how much the partners have enjoyed the movement.

Speaking as a trained dancer, I cannot stress the significance of this principle enough. Most often, with any form of dance training – and especially with Latin ballroom – it is extremely easy to lose sight of the joy behind the movement and develop a tendency to focus a little too much on technique, precision and faultlessness. With social partner dancing, conversely, one can take to the dance floor with complete unrestraint…regardless of how long you’ve been training, how impeccable your skills are or at what level you are as a dancer. I’ve always had a great experience at these dance nights, and so have my untrained friends. The crowd is courteous and friendly; just looking to have a good time and better their dancing abilities. Over time, the regular attendees have grown familiar with each other, formed bonds and even begun their own dance ventures together. One such example is Raoul Dsouza and Sangeeta Mehta, who met at a local Salsa night in 2008 and have been dancing together ever since. Their dance partnership grew strong over the years, leading them to establish their own company together, RaSa Dance, which now regularly organises some of the most popular dance nights in the city. However, it also led them to fall in love and – in a wonderful turn of events – they will now graduate from being dance partners to being life partners, with their wedding this month!

Now, there’s no guarantee that you will end up creating your own dance company or finding the love of your life, but you can be sure that you will leave any of these dance nights having learned much more than you knew when you walked in. Right now, salsa has the monopoly on Latin dance events in the country, but you will also find other interesting styles like bachata, merengue, cha cha cha, rueda and kizomba on quite a few dance floors. No doubt, hearing these names for the first time may seem daunting but there’s really no need to be worried. The energy is absolutely palpable when you step into the club, drawing you into the groove and the beat. Watch out for the skilled instructors moving…you’ll spot them from a mile away, and they are a visual treat. The dancers who know the style will not only display some entertaining moves and tricks on the floor, but will also always help you keep pace and learn as much as you can.

Even so, most advise that you attend a class or workshop to get familiar with the basics – and then go wild experimenting at a dance night. Mary Lobo, one half of ‘Latin Twist by Mary and Derek’, opines, “We always advise and encourage beginners to take lessons and simultaneously attend social nights to further practice and understand the rhythm. Every Latin track is memorable and, essentially, you have to feel the rhythm and let the moves flow.” Trained since 2007, Lobo hosts Latin Twist nights along with Derek Spencer, one of the leading Latin disc jockeys in the country with over seven years of experience entertaining at the best dance clubs.

That being said, Latin dance styles aren’t the only ones winning hearts all over India. Especially now, in the festive and vibrant month of December, jive dance and music occupies another majority with dance enthusiasts. You will find no shortage of places to get out and spend an evening swinging to rock n roll and rockabilly music – with gymkhanas ruling the roost.

The great thing is that more and more people are finding themselves getting fitter, healthier and happier, just a few months into attending social dance nights. Attend one of these and you will find people from all walks of life: doctors, models, students, lawyers, amateurs, dancers attending to learn new styles than their own, the young, the old, some trying to shed a few pounds and others just looking to enjoy themselves. Raoul and Sangeeta elaborate, “Fifteen years ago, the social dance community was quite diminutive…now we have thousands of social dancers across India and the community keeps growing. Numerous festivals exist where social dancers from all over India gather and learn from each other, even travelling globally to represent the country at Dance Congress events and festivals. At the same time, a growing number of international Latin dancers are visiting the country to share their skills with us.” The growth in interest can also partially be explained by the explosive rise in popularity of reality television shows like So You think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, translating into such styles being televised on Indian dance shows, too.

Whatever you may like to credit it to, one can only affirm that the growing passion for new styles of movement is nothing but a good thing. India has always danced, but now we are really beginning to explore. I, for one, am wasting no more time in slipping on my favourite swirly dress and dancing shoes.

Where to dance

REN by China Garden (Khar, Mumbai)
The swanky club hosts Latino Sundays without fail every week, where you can experiment with dance styles like bachata, zouk, salsa, kizomba and rueda till the wee hours of the morning.
Organisers: RaSa Dance
Entry: Free

Hard Rock Café (Andheri, Mumbai)
The iconic pub hosts Latin Socials every Tuesday, with the best DJs spinning music for jive, salsa, rueda, bachata, merengue, chacha, zouk and kizomba. The best part — a free salsa workshop at 10 p.m.
Organisers: RaSa Dance
Entry: Free

Shiro (Lower Parel, Mumbai)
Wine, dine and boogie every Wednesday at Shiro’s Sushi Samba Nights. DJ Derek Spencer will serenade you with the beats of zouk, reggaeton, salsa, bachata, cha cha cha, merengue and more.
Organisers: Latin Twist by Mary and Derek
Entry: Free

Imperfecto (Hauz Khas Village, Delhi)
Here, every Tuesday is known to all as Hot Bachata Night. DJ Oze spins sizzling music for all to groove to. You can also get a taste of kizomba, zouk and merengue.
Organisers: iDance India
Entry: Free

No Limits (Ashoknagar, Bangalore)
Every Sunday evening is a chance to experience La Rumba, a party of dancers, by dancers and for dancers. DJ Noaman will keep you moving with an eclectic mix of salsa, cha cha cha and bachata.
Organisers: Furor Bangalore
Entry: Rs 300/- cover before 9.30 p.m.; Rs 400/- cover after 9.30 p.m.

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