Salsa dancing is a central part of Colombian culture. Almost all locals grow up listening and dancing to this and various other sorts of Latin music. This has helped Colombia gain a well deserved worldwide reputation for dancing skills and makes it the perfect place for you to give it a try.
Before getting starting with salsa, you should be aware that your abilities will be somewhere between slightly and outrageously worse than almost any local. You will be quite literally a lifetime of dancing experience behind pretty much all Colombians. To limit your initial humiliation in the salsa bars and clubs, you might do well to started with some introductory lessons.
For complete beginners, a fun way to begin is to join the free group salsa classes run by some hostels in Cali, Medellin, Bogota and elsewhere. Your classmates here will no doubt include a load of other foreigners with limited (or no) experience of the music, so you'll be in good company. These are friendly environments to practice in and are a handy way of getting used to the steps and the rhythm, and of helping build your confidence. Often the group will move onto a nearby salsa bar after class, where you will have the chance to put your new moves to the test.
A fun way to get started is to join the free group salsa classes run by some hostels
Learning in hostels is also a good option for non-Spanish speakers as instruction is invariably in English. For Spanish speakers looking for more a comprehensive induction to salsa, you may consider enrolling for one-on-one tuition at one of the numerous dance schools dotted around Colombian cities. Some of these, such as Cali’s Comparcita, are long-standing professional institutions, but the majority cater to locals and foreigners with a more casual interest in improving their dance moves.
Reaching a reasonable level will likely require a fair few classes (depending on your natural ability) and most schools sell lessons in blocs to account for this. A typical price is around 250,000 COP for 12 - 15 hours of private tuition. Some of the larger schools also offer group classes at a reduced price and hold (often free) group practice sessions for those already enrolled in the school. Participating in such activities is useful in that allows you to dance with a whole host of different partners of varying ability and thereby get used to different styles.
Some of the most enjoyable salsa clubs are located in sparsely decorated downtown locations
Formal classes will teach you most of the main steps, but the best way to improve and to enjoy the dancing is to go out and practice in the salsa clubs. Those new to the world of salsa will quickly find that the movements taught in the classes are rather different to those used by locals in the discotecas. If in doubt, try and follow what the locals do, rather than rigidly sticking to what you've been taught. Salsa is, after all, about the rhythm and feel of the music more than it is about working through a defined series of steps.
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Finding clubs which play salsa is not at all difficult. Almost all venues play either salsa exclusively, or ‘crossover’ music comprising a mixture of different Latin styles (note: each type of Latin music, which may sound largely similar to our ears, in fact has a very distinctive dance style. Even if you do know salsa moves, this does not mean you'll be covered for other sorts of Latin music you'll hear in clubs). Bogota and Medellin both have lively and extensive nightlife, featuring a number of salsa bars. Some of the most enjoyable of these are located in sparsely-decorated downtown locations, where the sole focus is the music.
It is the city of Cali which is Colombia's undisputed center of salsa
Yet it is the city of Cali which is Colombia's undisputed center of salsa. Locals are avid dancers and can often be witnessed competing informally and formally with friends and peers to out move each other. A number of the city's salsa clubs have regular slots for live music. One particularly famous spot is the Tin Tin Deo club, in a relatively upmarket area near La Sexta. Over the Cauca River is the Juanchito district; an area offering a selection of less polished, but probably more lively, salsa clubs. A renowned establishment is Chango, but there are many others nearby which are filled with equally talented revelers showing off their moves.
There are two particular times of the year when Cali is especially good for those interesting in seeing, or participating in, salsa dancing. The first is in August, when the city plays host to 8-day salsa music festival. A total of over 4,000 dancers, musicians and artists, and approximately 20 national orchestras, participate in the various shows, workshops, talks and salsa lessons held throughout the week. The other highlight is the Cali Festival which takes place in December and sees a whole host of different celebrations and events held all over the city. Almost all are accompanied by booming music and a lot of dancing.