Get your dance on!

The bass booms, the walls vibrate, you can’t hear yourself think …
Your heart pounds a little faster, you can feel the blood running through your body, excitement kicks in and then before you know it, your feet and hips are moving to the music.

Not everyone loves to dance, but I for one, do. And, I don’t have to be drunk to do it! In fact, I don’t really like drinking that much so I rarely bother (once or twice a year is enough for me!). Thankfully, I’m not easily embarrassed, so I’ll head out on the dance floor to wiggle wiggle wiggle without any liquid courage at all!.

When I was in Punta Cana in April, my new friend Emily asked if I would like to go off resort and go out salsa dancing one night. That sounded like a lot of fun to me and I hadn’t really been off resort as we had been busy getting settled after the fire, then I was doing photographs and then photographing the wedding that I was there for. So, by Friday, after all of my work was done, I was ready to be adventurous! Of course, I didn’t want to be dangerously adventurous!

Emily had the idea that we could ask some of the locals who were working at the resort to go with us. We had been talking with staff on and off all week, so there were a few that we (meaning Emily lol) would approach and ask. She also had the advantage of being able to speak pretty decent Spanish for a white girl, so that helped!

The idea was that if we went with locals who worked at the resort, they would know the best places in town to go and they have to work the next day, so they wouldn’t want to kill us … that might get their bosses a little angry.

Further than that, Emily and I agreed that in order to be safe, we’d stick together and we wouldn’t drink. First of all, getting drunk off resort could possibly make us sick because of the use of local water. And, second of all, we both knew it was better to think straight than blurry! Our goal was to go out dancing and have a good time, but neither of us required liquor to do this.

Our plan was to head to a big hot spot for dancing called Mangu. We had heard that it had both American style music as well as lots of salsa dancing which was what Emily was most excited about. Me? I had no idea how to dance salsa, but I was up for trying!

Yes, yes, I know that many of you out there (including my parents) are cringing at this situation, but you just have to remember that I don’t travel to see a resort and be waited on. I travel to get a feel for what the local area is like, what the locals are like and get to know them.

Being two mature adults, we made the best choices we could in order to make the adventure out to a local club as safe as possible so that we could see what it was really like in Punta Cana, rather than what the disco at the resort with all the foreigners was like.

The group of us took a taxi off the resort and in to Punta Cana where we stopped first at The Drink. It was packed inside and out of this little bar right along the main street in Punta Cana. It seemed like a friendly place, mixed with locals and tourists. There were chairs and tables outside on the patio, a small dance floor inside and lots of people milling around in the courtyard / parking lot in front of the bar. We stayed here for about an hour or so, and then we headed off to another bar called Areito. Here they were playing a mixture of latino pop, bachata and a little bit of salsa. It wasn’t really very crowded, which made it nice. We weren’t bumping into people or pushing our way through like you would at the bars in Halifax. The dance floor was a good size and everyone seemed to have just enough space.

We stayed here for the rest of the night and never actually got to go to Mangu. We had heard it was a $10 cover charge. That was normal for us, but since we were traveling with our new local friends, we suspected that $10 US might be a bit pricey for them. So, we stayed at Areito’s.

Now, Emily already knew how to dance salsa, so no problem for her to get out on the dance floor, although the local guys surprisingly did not know how to dance salsa like we expected!

I picked up Merengue really quickly, but Bachata, that was a different story! Bachata is a dance that is very well known in the Dominican … and although I didn’t know then, come to find out, it is a very sexy dance! I got passed around between guys like a little white hot potato, each of them trying to teach me the Bachata with no luck. It didn’t help that none of them spoke English, so communication was basically nil. Then, the lady bartenders took a crack at it too and they tried to teach me to Bachata. No luck! I couldn’t be led by the men or the women! None of them (men or women) attempted anything inappropriate. I guess because I couldn’t even get the basic steps right, maybe they thought they had no hope of teaching me to be sexy and do the dance! ha ha ha This cracks me up! Despite my lack of alcohol and my lack of coordination I had a fantastic time trying to learn as well as watching the people who did know what they were doing.

When I returned home and started watching you tube to find out what the bachata was really all about, I came across this video. It is choreographed, but this is what it looks like! oooow! oooow!

Back in Nova Scotia, with plans to return to the Dominican to learn Spanish, I was determined to learn how to dance before I went back.

I checked out Halifax’s Salseraros, but they didn’t have openings for beginners until September. That would be a little too late for me! I checked out a couple of others, but no luck for lessons in the summer. Finally, I came across Latin Dance nights at Pipa and that seemed to be the perfect fit.

Pipa is a lovely little Portugese / Brazilian Restaurant in the heart of downtown Halifax. In the back and down the stairs it has a gem of an atrium where there is a bar and dance floor. Every Friday night from 9pm – 10pm the atrium hosts, Amanda Huska for a beginner Latin dance class covering the very basics of Merengue, Bachata and Salsa.

I went to classes at Pipa regularly, as well as at the Sea Port Farmer’s Market from May until July when I returned to the Dominican for the summer to learn Spanish. I got past the basics and started feeling pretty good about all three types of dance- merengue, bachata and salsa.

I was excited to show my friends from Punta Cana what I had learned so we met up and went out dancing in Santo Domingo a couple weeks after I arrived. I was the first person on the dance floor, causing quite a stir with the locals who were all looking at the ‘gordita rubia’. Not long after I started dancing, lots of others joined in. My guy friends weren’t so excited to be the first ones on the dance floor, but I didn’t care. I wanted to dance!

As I sit in my living room on a warm, but rainy winter evening, listening to my Spanish music play list, it reminds me that I really need to make an effort to get out to dance classes again.

These are three of my favourite Spanish songs … they make me want to DANCE!

Dandole – Omega

Incondicional – Prince Royce

Promise – Romeo Santos Featuring Usher

Ojo Bar Review

I went to Ojo’s on three separate Thursday nights during August 2012 for Latin Dance. The first night, arriving at 9pm was a mistake as there was no one on the dance floor … or even at the bar at all. By 10:30 a few people will start to make their way to the dance floor and by 11:30, the dance floor was usually packed with a good mixture of locals and tourists. Generally speaking, mostly young local men (19 – 35) and mostly tourist women (19 – 50) … however, certainly some couples (local and tourist) were showing off their moves too.

The drinks here were strong (Cuba libre or Santa Libre) and reasonably priced. The bar staff were always pleasant and if you are a fan of Bachata and Merengue music, this is the best place to be for a Thursday night.

It was a great atmosphere for dancing and I was comfortable dancing with my girl friends or with friendly locals. Solo women travelers should be wary of the intentions of the locals at this bar (or any bar) as often they are looking for their ‘sugar momma’s’. Return week after week and you’ll see the same guys courting various different women, sometimes within the same evening. However, if you are just looking to dance the night away, you’ll have no shortage of offers to hit the dance floor from local men … most of whom are good dancers and will make you feel like a star even if your dance skills are beginner. Be cautious of their requests for ‘Just one kiss’, your phone number or them offering to make sure you get home safely.

Need to take a break? Head upstairs to the open-air rooftop, Salsa section of the bar. You can have a seat on some comfy couches in the fresh ocean air and grab a drink from one of the two bars. And then, once you’ve rested, you can show off your Salsa moves on the huge rooftop dance floor. The best part about it is that most nights there is a refreshing breeze, which is greatly welcomed in the middle of summer in the Dominican when you are out dancing.

Overall, Ojo’s was my favorite bar in Cabarete, specifically for Thursday nights. I made a special effort to go out every week for Latin Dance to meet and dance with locals rather than always heading to the other bars with the North American / European style dance beats.

Enjoy! Be cautious!

The Dancing Barber Shop

This past weekend I got to hang out with my friend Kelly and his nephew Alberto. It was exactly the kind of local experience that I love. We headed to the outskirts of this huge city, but still within the city limits. It is kind of like Dartmouth is to Halifax, but a little further away. It took us about an hour in rush hour traffic to get there. It took only 20-30 minutes to return to the city later that night.

The entire time I was crammed in the middle of a tiny little red stick-shift truck that really only had room for two. I’m sure in true Dominican fashion that you could fit four in it though. As long as you lock the doors so that no one falls out!

Both of the guys speak a little English, but not much. So, I spoke to them in Spanish most of the time. Once in awhile they would translate a word for me in English and thankfully they were both pretty good about speaking slowly in Spanish to me. However, conversations between each other and other people were faster than the speed of lightening and I was often still trying to figure out the meaning of the first sentence when they had already moved on to a different topic.

All I’ve been able to talk about for the couple of days before the weekend was going dancing. I had been here nearly a week and hadn’t had the opportunity to go dancing yet. When we got to Alberto’s parents house and I was talking about dancing, he told me I could go dancing at the Barber Shop.

Seriously? Dancing at the Barber Shop? This made no sense to me, but apparently it’s normal here. The local barber shops are known for their loud music and dancing.

So, off we went to a Barber shop a few blocks away from Alberto’s house. There were several men there waiting for hair cuts or beard trims, all in a small little shop with only one barber chair. When the three of us arrived, that brought the total to seven people in a room smaller than a spare bedroom.

My friends asked the Barber to put on music and he quickly turned it up loud. The walls were shaking, you couldn’t talk and you could feel the beat through your whole body.

I didn’t understand much of the conversation between all of the locals, but Kelly and Alberto proceeded to explain to them that the ‘rubia’ (blonde girl) wanted to dance. And dance, I did. In the tiny little spot that was free, I danced to my first merengue and bachata songs! Oh I forgot how wonderful it is to dance with locals who also love their music and love to dance! It is so different than dancing at home in Canada at a bar where everyone is just bopping around. Partner dancing is so much fun (at least I think so).

After a few dances, I had thoroughly impressed the locals with the fact that this white girl knew how to dance pretty good! (Thanks Amanda Huska, the instructor for Latin Dance on Friday nights at Pipa and Sunday afternoon at the Seaport Farmer’s Market in Halifax!)

Then came the salsa …. that one didn’t go as well. Unfortunately, come to find out, although many locals here love salsa music, not many of them actually know how to dance salsa!

After the salsa dancing failed, they brought out some musical instruments to play. A cow bell, moroccos and a cheese grater like thing with a stick.

Alberto and Kelly playing music at the Barber Shop
Alberto and Kelly playing music at the Barber Shop
Alberto and Kelly playing music at the Barber Shop
Alberto and Kelly playing music at the Barber Shop
Shari and Kelly at the Barber Shop
Shari and Kelly at the Barber Shop

Alberto got a clean shave, we played musical instruments and waited for the torrential rains to stop. Then we headed back out for our next little adventure in the little red truck.