Few things are as romantic as partner dancing. Alternately, partner dancing is one of the few activities that enables one to put one's hands (respectfully) on a complete stranger, twirl him or her around for several minutes and then walk away with a smile and thank-you.
Whatever your preference, Santa Fe has a style and venue for you and that special someone with whom to lock arms and sway to the music. Even if you don't have a partner, don't worry: These events are open to singles. And what better place to meet someone than a ballroom?
The Latin dances include salsa, mambo, cha-cha, merengue, rumba, samba, cumbia and more. While a great many variations and styles exist, Latin dances are typically fast and sensual, and emphasize hip movement.
Several of the best-known Latin dances—such as salsa, mambo and cha-cha—originate in Cuba and are danced to Latin music with strong African rhythmic roots. Others—such as merengue (Dominican Republic/Haiti), cumbia (Columbia) and samba (Brazil)—bear certain similarities with differences in footwork, tempo and styling throughout.
Where to dance: After a brief hiatus, Avi’s Mambo Room has returned to El Patio Café (9 pm-1 am every other Saturday. $8. 1805 Second St., 670-0612, salsasuaveonline.com) as well as the occasional other venue around town. Beer, wine and tapas are available for purchase, and a free dance lesson is provided. During the week, look for Café Mambo with DJ Sofrito (9 pm Wednesdays. $5. El Farol, 808 Canyon Road, 983-9912). Regular lessons also are available at Dance Station.
Odd Fellow’s Hall—Swing
Swing is a dance form made popular in the 1920s-'40s. The earliest forms of swing emerged, in tandem with their associated jazz styles, from African American communities on the East Coast. The name "swing dance" is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of styles such as Lindy Hop, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Charleston, collegiate shag, Balboa and jive.
While terminology and culture often vary from region to region, Santa Fe’s swing scene heavily emphasizes Lindy Hop, an eight-count style derived from partnered Charleston; East Coast Swing, a six-count style derived from the foxtrot; and ’40s Charleston, an eight-count style characterized by a walking motion and a series of low kicks.
Where to dance: Named for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and its sister organization, the Rebekahs, the Odd Fellows Hall (1125 Cerrillos Road, 473-0955) has hosted swing dances for the last 12 years (7 pm Mondays and
8 pm the first Saturday of every month. Fridays, $3 dance, $8 lesson and dance; Saturdays, prices vary). Proceeds from events at the hall benefit the Rebekahs’ South Side Music Program, which provides musical instruments and instruction free-of-charge to students in some of Santa Fe’s poorest schools. Introductory lessons are offered at the beginning of each dance. Regular instruction is also available at Dance Station and Studio East. (This article’s author, Ramón A Lovato, is one of the rotating instructors and DJs for the Odd Fellows Hall’s swing dances.)
Studio East—Argentine Tango
While technically a Latin dance in the sense that it originates from Latin America, Argentine tango (distinct from ballroom tango) is unique both in terms of the dance itself and the music to which the dance is performed.
Originating in the poor backstreet neighborhoods of Buenos Aires (a long-standing and often-challenged assertion holds that tango emerged from the brothels), Argentine tango is characterized by improvisation and slow, sensual movements in time to the music. Tango differs from most other synchronous dances in that it does not have a basic step, although some schools will teach a “tango basic” in order to ease new students into the form, which more closely resembles stylized walking than dance.
Where to dance: Studio East (332 Camino del Monte Sol, 660-0075), which houses the Tango USA community, has provided Santa Fe’s tango scene with a home since 1990. A range of classes is offered for beginners and professionals alike, as well as weekly Tango Practicas (7:30-9:30 pm Fridays. $3) and special events. Weekly tango milongas are also held at El Mesón (7:30-11 pm Tuesdays. $5 minimum purchase. 213 Washington Ave., 983-6756). Additional lessons are available at Dance Station.
While the term "ballroom dance" often extends to include any and all partner dances, it more conservatively refers to the waltz, tango (not to be confused with Argentine tango), foxtrot, quickstep and Viennese waltz. The waltz and Viennese waltz are rotary dances in which the dancers sway from side to side in time with each three-step sequence.
The foxtrot and quickstep are smooth dances with alternating rhythms of fast and slow steps. Modern ballroom tango is based on a reduction of Argentine tango that then developed independently of its Argentine counterpart.
Where to dance: Dance Station (901 W Alameda St., 989-9788, dancestationusa.com) hosts a wide mix of classes in ballroom and other dances. Class times, offerings and prices vary. Private, introductory lessons ($30) and a Drop in Introduction to Social Dance group class are offered (7:45 pm Tuesdays, $10). In addition to classes, Dance Station holds workshops with special guest instructors, as well as a number of themed dance parties for special occasions. See the website for more info.