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SAN DIEGO SALSA DANCE TRIP REPORT, 2002

12-25-2002, A Travelers Quick Guide

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I was lucky enough to plan a quick trip to San Diego to check out the Salsa scene there, sample classes, and prepare this guide and travelogue for those planning a visit.  As with all my reviews, I go in “undercover”. I don’t pre-announce my visit, and I see and write about my travels from the viewpoint of the typical social dancer. My review encompasses the three most popular venues, spread over four nights. I missed the Sunday night at "Belly Up", but heard it was the place to be.

San Diego is a great place to dance; for social dancing it was a real treat, and I would put it up there as a fantastic place for dancers to visit.  Great weather, beaches, friendly people, great food and healthy salsa entertainment, all add up to a pretty stellar place to spend a few days. In comparison to other West Coast cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, it fairs quite well indeed.  There is salsa on most nights of the week, and on almost every night there are live bands.  There is more than one club to choose from on almost every night, but really just one place that is truly “happening” for the dancers (and socialites).

I arrived on a Wednesday evening, and for salsa dancers, the happening spot is the same for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Café Sevilla is located in a very nice part of town, Gastown as it’s known, in downtown San Diego.  The area is filled with brand new restaurants (some good looking fusion-food), a great deal of construction going on, and a ton of people wandering the streets, looking at the shops and eating in the many outdoor eateries.  It’s a nice place to wander, and there are a ton of fine restaurants and hotels in the area.

There’s also the Forum mall, five levels high and with a totally confusing layout.  I got lost in there and almost couldn’t find my way out. This mall is across the street from the Wyndham, US Grant. An historic hotel, and quite a deal at a $79 mid week, internet rate. It's an easy 4 star hotel, with a Holiday Inn price.  When you are downtown, everything is within walking distance (within 12 blocks or so).

Café Sevilla – Wednesday Night

Café Sevilla (http://www.CafeSevilla.com, take a "Virtual Tour" of the Nightclub) offers salsa on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays in Downtown San Diego, and it’s a fun spot.  A Spanish restaurant is on the ground floor, and the club is underneath.  It’s a fair sized club, with a good amount of seating that surrounds the floor. There is also a very nice full length bar.  The dance floor is wood, and seemed in fair shape. For those from San Francisco, I would liken it to Café du Nord, similar with the low ceilings and underground feel, but a little more upscale and quite a bit larger.  

Wednesday’s had a fair crowd and I arrived in time to catch the lessons.  The lessons are taught by a woman named Valerie, of SiempreSalsa (www.salsaca.com) who does a good job teaching large classes (40+ people). The crowd is almost entirely brand new to dance, and she teaches them how to get through the basics, without getting bogged down by the details.  This is club style salsa, and geared towards socially getting people dancing, versus technical wizardry.  The lessons were fun, and had basic footwork, a touch of rhythm explanation, a simple pattern, and one far more complex, and a touch of merengue to finish things off.  This is a slightly rowdy crowd, again similar to du nord, and Valerie did a good job keeping everyone in line, having a good time.

The lessons last from 9-10pm and the band starts right away (there was no break for a DJ).  It was time to experience some dancers!  The band was just alright this night, but I spied a nice dancer on the floor, and – wham, shot down out of the gate.  Rather rudely . . . hmmm, etiquette issues in San Diego? We shall see. Well, it was smooth sailing after that, as dance partners were plentiful, and the scene was social, fun and friendly.  The live band plays 2 sets throughout the night, and the evening ends at around 1:15.  This place is a social scene indeed, and there are plenty of dancers and socializers to go around. While there is occasionally someone on the dance floor, drink in hand, slopping beer, it was the exception rather than the rule.

The die hard dancers did show up, a group of about 5-10.  These were the only people whom occasionally danced on2 through the night. Some were quite exceptional, and very fun to watch. Especially the lead of Rumba Rica (or whom was pointed out to me as such) was pretty amazing, as he danced with another gentleman and did a little show.  Steve Meyer and David Stein, both top excellent dancers from San Diego whom are now working on a troupe called Majesty in Motion? Also, Iran, the founder of "Son y Pasos", another San Diego dance troupe. Everyone seemed open to dancing with everyone else, and there was very little dance "attitude" (at least comparatively to other cities).  It was quite pleasant, and definitely a place I would return to.

Overall, Cafe Sevilla mixes a fine Spanish restaurant (which managed to be playing the Gypsy Kings whenever I went by), with a fun and casual dance club.  A place where you can get some fine social dancing in, and meet a variety of people.  It's not the most die-hard of salsa clubs, but that may be a positive for this venue.  It's size accommodates the dancers and "minglers" well, and while it does get crowded, it never felt claustrophobic. I'll certainly be visiting again.  As a final note - the bar was excellent.

Café Sevilla – Thursday Night

Most of what I experienced on Wednesday, is also apparent on Thursday. The classes are run the same way, and the night progresses with the same schedule.  The band was far better (names to follow), and the crowd was larger, with a higher percentage of dancers.

La Jolla Mariott – Friday Night

This hotel bar seemed like a strange place for a salsa club. It doesn’t really have the salsa club vibe (more like a sports bar), but when the music started it picked up rather well.  Generally an older, more seasoned, salsa crowd, the lesson were smaller than Sevilla, and was also taught by Valerie.  The classes followed the same format as Sevilla.  The dance floor is well sized for the crowd, which at its height, I estimated at 150 people. There was always plenty of room to dance.

The music is soft (low level) the entire night, which is both good and bad. You could easily have conversations while the music was playing, however sometimes on the dance floor, you couldn’t really make out the subtleties of the tunes that were being played.  I enjoy loud music, so I could have really have used a volume adjustment, but it was danceable. This night is solely DJ, and at first I was disappointed. The music was really run-of-the-mill until later on in the evening; the DJ playing the very typical old club hits.  Later on however, he cut loose, although the club did end early, at about 1:00am.

The lighting was also a bit odd.  It was a quite bright, and stayed that way through the night. I thought the lights might go down after the lesson ended, but they kept them on throughout the evening. After the lesson, the club was still populated by mostly beginner dancers, with a sprinkling of intermediates.

Personal experience:  My first dance of the night, I opted for a lady who was right off the dance floor, moving to the music.  I was aware that she was probably a dance-trouper[1], yet I was in the mood to start off with someone slightly past the basics, and she was the only one in sight. I approached, offered my hand, and asked her to dance.  Sometimes you can just immediately tell when you make a mistake, and approach the wrong person, and I immediately knew I had.  It would prove to be a painful mistake as well . . .

She hesitated, gave me a long look up and down, began to set down her drink, grimaced a few times, started to offer me her hand, but then retracted it, all this taking what seemed to be an interminable long time of me just standing there with my hand outstretched.  I knew I had hit this girl at some personal crisis point in her life, and I wanted to get out of there, but then came the question along with that disdainful grimace again, “can you dance on 2”? Her eyes challenging, her face still locked in that challenging glare of “how dare you ask me to dance”.  I had already decided I wasn’t going to dance with her at this point, and just wanted to find someone else. I almost burst out laughing, but the episode was just too painful. I wanted out – so I said, “I’ll gladly dance on whatever you’d like”, and added the friendliest, most open smile I could muster as I decided to make a quick exit.  I leaned forward, put my arm gently on her back and said “perhaps another time, have a pleasant . . .”, I was going to add the word “night”, but she swatted my hand from her back, and said “don’t touch me”. I can’t believe it, she "swatted me" on my exit?! Now at this point, all I want is to get out of there with a shred of dignity, and semblance of respect, but she wasn’t going to afford me that – with a hand swat and a turn of the back I was left just standing there.  I just walked away, enough said.  I was just in awe of how rude she was.  I mean, personal crisis or not, why so rude?  I can shrug off a “no, thank you” as well as the next guy, but its hard not to take stuff like this personally, yes, even for me. Well, xxxxxx – I took the trouble to find out your name, so I might get the last word and excoriate you in print.

Anyway, back to the evening – after I strengthened my resolve with a Long Island Iced Tea, things got much better . . . quickly! At around 10pm, the place started filling up with people beyond the class, and there were some really fun dancers.  I was asked to dance several times, as with most places on this visit, the women outnumbered the men and they wanted to dance.  It's not completely out of whack, but it did seem that at most places, there were quite a few women (whom showed up later - not early, for class). As usual, the early part of the evening was heavily weighted towards men.

The hotel is the typical Mariott - $70 rooms if booked through the Internet.

The music continues with a nice mix of salsa and even a cha-cha or two. I found my salvation in a corner of the club[2] – about three tables filled with fantastic dancers.  That was it – dancing heaven for the rest of the night, and plenty of people whom would join me at Catamaran – our next stop.

Catamaran Resort - Saturday Night

It just gets better and better! This is my favorite place of the trip.  A pleasant resort, gorgeous bar area, spacious floor, raised stage, nice setting, good music (although very fast – too fast), this place gets my vote. Lots of seating surrounds the dance floor, and the whole place comes together as a salsa venue quite nicely.

First, an overview of the lesson.  There were about 15-20 people in the lesson, all absolutely rote beginners.  I danced with the teacher a bit later in the night, her name was Anna or Annie (I believe), and she was a lot of fun.  The class was also fun and people enjoyed it. She taught a mind-dizzying pattern which had people in stitches.  All in all, a good lesson, well taught, but a bit too much for the beginners to grasp.

In the early part of the evening, when people weren’t crowding the floor, she asked a brand new person in her class to come out and dance with her.  A rarity for many dance teachers, especially on an empty floor, and something that should be applauded.  The entire room was dancing soon after that, and she deserves kudos for getting the party started.  She also obviously had a good attitude about dance in general, emphasizing the fun and social aspects.

The party starts, and the place fills up quickly. I was told often that it was a light crowd, but the place was filled.  I’m not sure how a larger crowd would have done in the location.  This night was Yari More’s CD release party, and there was cake (brought by a fantastic dancer – whom shall remain anonymous), and the band played multiple sets, with packed floors.

Edie and Al were also there – which was a surprise to me, and it was nice to see them, as always. They dazzled the floor with their trademark unique style, and as usual, were dancing with everyone in sight.  The place has a very positive energy, and huge fans help to keep you rather cool (although the place can get quite warm).

So, what about info for San Diego? I found my initial information at, http://www.salsasandiego.net, and it was a perfect guide to getting started. For all those whom can't see past Los Angeles, it's worth the trip down. San Diego has a lot to offer the salsa dancer!

=====================

Besos go out to Jin (my San Diego Guide Girl, SDDG), Jaunita y Maria (for many fabulous dances, sore feet, and strong desire to return), Alexa (for everything), Jessica (whom missed out this time) and . . .Frank (because I feel like a jerk only naming a bunch of ladies). ;)


[1] Dance-Trouper: Dance Troupes have become very prominent in Salsa, and are a terrific means to increase your skills at dance.  However, this term is used to describe those “troops” who have come to know salsa dance as a technical exercise versus a social dance.  Usually these “dancers” have less than one year experience, and very limited social dance skills, yet have joined the “Salsa Mafia” and developed attitudes that are rarely justified based on their skills (can a bad attitude, or rude behavior, every be justified?). It does not apply to everyone who belongs to a dance troupe. Approach these "Dance-Trouper" dancers at your own risk, for few will dance with you out of their own cliques.  Read our upcoming article on the State of Salsa Dancing, in SalsaCrazy.Com Features Section!

[2] Always look in the corners for good dancers.  Not necessarily on the rims of the floor, where people will congregate whom generally “want to be seen”. In the same breath, it should be noted though that all salsaholics like to dance on the edge of the floor on crowded dance floors, so you only have to worry about flailing bodies from one side.

 

SC (SalsaCrazy)

 

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