I first became interested in Latin dance forms while visiting a nightclub in Havana, Cuba, roughly two decades ago.
I cannot tell you exactly what dances or dance forms I witnessed that night, in a nightclub on a hot summer night that was only cooled by slow moving overhead fans, open windows and open doors.
What I can tell you was that the experience was that there was more heat in the air than just the still warm air of the day. There was palpable passion in the air, generated by the dancers and their dance moves.
Many women were dressed in form fitting dresses in brilliant shades of red or yellow or blue, often trimmed in black that made the color pop and accentuated their curves and moving parts.
The men were often dressed in tight fitting slacks or jeans, with shirts meant to draw attention to their best features or chosen to allow them the freedom of movement that might help them win the competition for attention and dance partners. Looking good standing on a dance floor is one thing. More importantly, how one looks once the music starts will usually win the day…and possibly the night.
That night the dancers were often in close contact, with bodies pressed up against bodies, moving as one. In the course of dancing women often wrapped a leg around their partner or draped their bodies against whatever many they were dancing with, as if in the throws of passion. It was mesmerizing, unlike anything I had seen before. Bodies glistened. Eyes grew big as women signaled their pleasure or displease with how the man lead or responded to their moves and styling. Shiny black hair flung about wildly as moves accelerated, while in other cases it barely moved as some chose hairstyles that accentuated other features . Hips, invariably swayed or were thrust forward and back in unison. Ability was on display.
Was it Salsa dancing that I observed that night?
In retrospect, the answer is “mostly, no”. Salsa was in the mix, but I have since learned that in the course of that night I was awed by the intensity of Tango and Bachata (and possibly other dance forms).
There are introductions to Latin dance that take place in dance studios and ballrooms. There are videos that offer an introduction to Latin dance. Then there there is the first night you enter a nightclub where Latin dance isn’t just a passing dance on the dance card but a mandate. I can think of no better introduction to Latin dance than to witness those who do it well…just for the fun or passion of the dance…preferably in a place where the heat is on.