If you live in the U.S. and are one of the many Americans who discovered Latin music and dance, you’re probably as confused as I was.
On one hand, viva la musica! I mean, Latin music is beautiful and exciting, right? And what could be more fun than Latin dance?
On the other hand, you may have had some unpleasant experiences during your salsa journey. Maybe you got tired of the endless performances that were shoved in your face, or maybe you’ve been turned off by snotty dance pros or crappy instructors. Or maybe you just have this weird feeling that something isn’t right.
Ironically, you probably don’t have a clue what Latin dance is like in the countries where it originated. In fact, music and dance continually evolve, so the Cuban dance scene isn’t what it was before the Cuban Revolution.
The fact is, Latin dance in the U.S. and in the Western world in general is not the same as it is in Latin America. In fact, there’s a huge difference between contemporary U.S. Latin dance and traditional Latin dance. Whether the U.S. Latin scene is better or worse is a matter of opinion, and it’s an opinion you might want to keep to yourself. Criticize your local dance scene, and you may be in for a rude surprise. You may discover that the salsa scene is more or less ruled by a shadowy salsa aristocracy that doesn’t like criticism.
But who makes up the salsa aristocracy? Is it just a collection of salsa instructors and hotshot dancers, or does it include corporate executives and media whores? Is it possible that the Jews who famously control the global economy, the media, and just about everything else also have some control over Latin dance?
When I started asking questions about the salsa scene here in Gothic Seattle, the Great Seattle Salsa Clique slammed the door in my face. I had the same experience when I began posting on the website SalsaForum.com.
If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about . . . well, neither did I until years after I took my first salsa class. It took a combination of experience, researching, and pondering to even begin to figure it out. In the end, however, I discovered that I was right all along.
Before I continue, let me present Exhibit A, the video “The Politics of Rhythm,” which focuses on the dramatic changes that have shaped salsa outside its birthplace. At 3:45, a well known instructor who was known as Edie the Salsa Freak complains about the emphasis on competition. At 4:25, the narrator reminisces, “When we danced, it was part of our lives. When they’re dancing, they’re dancing to showcase themselves.” At 5:05, the famous trombonist Willie Colon opines, “The salsa that’s happening now has been homogenized, sanitized, and mass produced.”
Clash of Cultures ˆ
I grew up in rural West Dakota, where most of my relatives were farmers. I’m not talking about the small farms scattered across the Midwest; this was wide open ranch country, with farmers’ homes spaces a mile apart or more. My relatives lived near Keyapaha, which consisted of little more than a grocery store, gas station, and bar.
There was also a building in Keyapaha that served as a prairie dance club. On weekends, people from both local farms and my home town, Winner, would go there for a night of dancing to a live country music band.
Sadly, I only went there once. When I was in high school, I was extremely introverted and shy and never had the tiniest clue about dance. It wasn’t until shortly after I graduated that I visted the Keyapaha dance club and discovered what I had missed.
One of my classmates played lead guitar in the band, which was what you might call a country rock band. I can’t remember how many people were there, but it was well under 50—nothing like the crowded, impersonal crap clubs that characterize cities like Seattle.
Everyone in the club knew each other. They were neighbors, classmates, cousins, brothers and sisters. When you stepped outside, you were confronted with a night sky full of stars hanging over the prairie, not the concrete sewer crowded with yuppies and homeless people that characterizes Seattle.
Now suppose you wanted to recreate the Keyapaha dance club in a big city. You move the building itself to Chicago, Houston, or Seattle. To make it a little more authentic, you recruit that awesome band from Winner, South Dakota. You also make a rule that guys are required to wear cowboy hats or ball caps.
Of course, you know what’s going to happen. The new club will either be completely ignored or crushed under an onslaught of shallow yuppies and urbanites who don’t have a clue about farming or country music. Instead of neighbors and classmates, you will have a building full of strangers, half of whom are assholes. Instead of driving 30 miles from the nearest town, they’ll drive or take a bus or taxi a mile or two. When they leave the club after the band retires, they won’t see any horses, cattle, or even a prairie sky; the stars will be drowned out by the city lights.
The same is true of Latin music. You can’t recreate a classic dance club from Cuba, Venezuela, or Cali, Colombia in a big U.S. city. The cultures are simply too different. If you tried to create an “authentic” or traditional salsa club, you would probably be greeted with hostility by the salsa aristocracy.
And yet there are multiple Latin scenes even in Seattle. which is hardly a city with a Latin pulse. The primary scene—what we might call the mainstream scene—revolves around Century Ballroom, a club owned by a lesbian Jew with connections to the Clintons. The decor is Gothic, not Latin, and you might find posters promoting the owner’s pal, a Jewish drag queen. Another Jew hosts a Facebook group
However, there are also smaller clubs, some of which cater to a more Latino club. For example, fans of Colombian cumbia used to visit a club called China Harbor. (I have no idea if cumba is still a thing in Seattle or if China Harbor is still open.) There is also a Cuban scene in Seattle, though I’m not sure if it has a particular leader or headquarters. It’s probably just a group of Cuban dance fans who keep in touch with each other.
What’s to Like? ˆ
So, what is it about the U.S. Latin dance scene that sucks? As discussed above, many fans would argue that it doesn’t suck at all, and if you think it does suck, you must be an idiot or an asshole.
In fact, many people have complaints about the U.S. Latin dance scene. Just ask the people who drop out after their first class. When I took salsa classes at Century Ballroom, I was stuck by the fact that I almost never saw the same person twice. They take one class and throw in the towel.
Of course, there are many reasons for dropping out. Some people might simply prefer swing dancing to Latin dance, or maybe they prefer soccer or gardening to dance, period. Other people simply lack the time or money for Latin dance classes.
Nevertheless, even people who stick with it may have some complaints. I’ve talked to Latin dance fans in Seattle who had complaints about the local salsa scene, and I’ve seen people vent on online forums. I’m endlessly amazed at the rudeness and hostility exhibited by the salsa elitists who routinely cut them down or simply ignore them.
10 Reasons the U.S. Latin Dance Scene Sucks ˆ
Below is my tentative list of top 10 complaints about the U.S. Latin dance scene.
- Urban Scene
- No Culture
- Corporate Music
- Performance Oriented
- Too Many Assholes
- Lack of Good Instructors
- Salsa Mafia
- No Traction
Urban Scene ˆ
Disclaimer: I haven’t conducted any surveys let alone visited small towns across America in search of salsa clubs. However, given the shallowness of the Latin dance scene in Seattle, the biggest city in the Pacific Northwest, I don’t think you’re going to find much happening in smaller cities.
The farther away you get from Hispanic population centers, the worse it gets. Is there a single salsa club in my native South Dakota? Nuff said.
If you’re a U.S. citizen who’s addicted to Latin dance, you’re almost forced to live in or near a big city. That means, you’re going to miss out on all the charm offered by small dance clubs in Keyapaha, South Dakota, and rural Mexico.
No Culture ˆ
If you’re a typical American who could give a rat’s ass about other people’s cultures, then feel to skip ahead to my next complaint.
I love exploring other people’s cultures. I love tasting their foods and attempting to learn their languages. In the same spirit, I love tracking down the origins of Latin songs and the meanings of their lyrics.
Oddly, I don’t think I’ve ever discovered another person in the U.S. who shares my interest in Latin songs. For most people, Latin songs are fun to dance to, end of story.
Corporate Music ˆ
Ever hear the maxim “Music died in the 70s”? There are many people who disagree, but if you grew up in the 1960s, then you can’t help but notice a difference. During the 60s, revolution was in the air. Music was powerful, meaningful, and sometimes obscene, but often in a good way. Think of Jimi Hendrix’ version of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Suddenly, the war in Vietnam was over, and folk rock and protest songs gave way to meaningless disco, punk, and new wave. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, anyone who cared was simply ignored by an army of media whores. Was the silence on the music scene just a logical corollary, or did powerful forces actively conspire to squelch any signs of protest?
When modern salsa was minted by the Puerto Rican community in New York City, it was part of the revolution. Rubén Blades’s album Siembra took the message to Latin America, where millions of impoverished, exploited people were only to happy to protest yankee imperialism.
However, hard salsa (salsa dura) was later widely replaced by salsa romantica. I like romantic music, but I like relevant protest music, too. I also like traditional Latin music, with its stories about life on distant shores. Today’s salsa music often sounds watered down, and there may be some very powerful people who like it that way.
Performance Oriented ˆ
All veteran salsa dancers know the difference between social dancing and performing. Social dancing involves dancing with a partner(s) and focusing on a partner. Performing involves dancing in front of an audience, with or without a partner.
The problem, for many people, is that performance has mushroomed to the point where you can’t get away from it. Salsa was originally organic, with the dancers oblivious to an audience, real or imaginary. People might move in a circular direction. Today, one of the most familiar salsa moves is the cross-body lead. If I’m not mistaken, it was borrowed from ballroom dance and is used largely to keep dancers in a plane parallel to an audience or camera. It’s as if you’re subconsciously performing even while social dancing.
Salsa instructors love performing because it’s a great way to earn extra money. Students who want to perform are going to take more classes, maybe even more higher-priced private lessons. They will also spend money on costumes, transportation, and event fees.
There’s nothing wrong with performing in front of an audience. In fact, it can be a good thing. However, it isn’t for everyone, and even performers might prefer a little moderation. I remember going to Century Ballroom and having to clear the floor for one performance after another, many of which were insipid at best. It was a big yawn, to put it politely.
Some salsa dancers complain about the “ballroomization” of salsa. Ballroom dancers can be fantastically talented, but they also tend to be whores. They wear the most outrageous costumes, are practically welded to cameras, and their seemingly synchronized moves can be a little creepy. They often look like talented robots rather than people.
Then there are the salsa congresses, annual salsa extravaganzas held in major cities around the world. They can be a great venue for networking with other salsa dancers, and you can dance the night away. However, they’re heavily performance oriented, and you may spend half your time watching one dance company after another do their thing. Some people also complain about the celebrities and dance pros dancing with each other, leaving beginners out in the cold.
If you’ve never attended a salsa congress or bachata festival, I recommend it. If you enjoy it, fantastic. If, on the other hand, your experience is similar to my fling with the Seattle Salsa Congress, you can save a lot of money by not repeating that mistake.
Even the pros are mystified by the social side of the salsa scene. Are you there to dance or to meet people? Or is it all the above? Is it wise to date a fellow dancer? And why do so few instructors and celebrities seem to have stable relationships?
In fact, the U.S. salsa scene can be amazingly impersonal. In Latin countries, there are clubs that cater to couples, but that is apparently fairly rare in the U.S. Here, salsa clubs are collections of swinging singles. You just dance with someone, then dance with someone else, continually rotating partners along with the songs. It’s obviously difficult to talk to someone while you’re dancing, especially when you’re competing with that loud music. One can easily dance with a dozen people and not even learn one of their names.
It gets worse. When I took classes at Century Ballroom, I learned that it was virtually impossible to strike up a friendship with a new dancer for the simple reason that you would never see them again. Most take one introductory class and never come back. The more established dancers, on the other hand, are often reluctant to dance with beginners, leaving you stuck in a limbo known as “Beginner’s Hell.”
Not surprisingly, some have dubbed salsa clubss “robot conventions.”
At the same time, some describe a competely different scene among more elitist dancers. There are stories about salsa stars and instructors swapping partners, hitting on their students, groping dance partners, and engaging in virtual orgies. A bimbo who calls herself Sabrosura boasted about sleeping with one of the world’s most famous salsa dancers on an online forum before exposing him as a creep. Another forum member said he had groped her one time.
In summary, the U.S. salsa scene seems to manifest itself in two dimenstions, the robot convention and the orgy room—both of which are amazingly impersonal. Some salsa veterans have fabulously stable relationships, but they appear to be the exception.
Too Many Assholes ˆ
Once you become more familiar with your local salsa scene, you might have second thoughts about turning your dance hobby into a personal experience. As they say, be careful what you wish for.
I quickly discovered that the Seattle salsa scene is studded with assholes. Yes, there are nice people, too, but most of them don’t last long.
When I started blogging about the Seattle salsa scene, I discovered two or three women who were also blogging about it. Two of them were arrogant assholes who started sniping at me after I blew the whistle on a notoriously crappy local salsa instructor.
One was a Christian kook who turned every post into a sermon. (“I am the follow, and God is my lead!”) Later, she announced on Facebook that she had discovered she’s actually a “fierce Mongolian Jew,” whatever the hell that means. Fortunately, she moved to Chicago, then Austin, Texas, before settling on the other side of the country in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (I hear that’s a great place for fierce Mongolian Jews.)
The other is an incredibly obnoxious Amazon retiree and charter schools whore who got hired as an instructor at Century Ballroom—not necessarily an honor, considering the caliber of their instructors.
Some of the women I encountered in beginning salsa classes were amazingly rude. If you don’t nail a move on the first try, they’ll practically spit in your face. I struck up a friendship with one lady who said she liked dancing with me at Belltown Dance Studio. Unfortunately, the instructor treated her like shit, and she dropped out. (I later met a lady who told me she bailed out after the same instructor treated her boyfriend like shit.) I headed for the exit after the same instructor went postal on me.
While checking out Seattle’s salsa classes and clubs, I came across a number of corporate whores, including Microsofties who appeared to be lobbyists intent on buying favors from salsa instructors and club owners. (One former instructor works in IT security and is a hard core Microsoftie; I saw a picture of him with Bill Gates. He appears to be the same guy who posted as “Salsa Student” on a salsa forum. He likes to perform, and some of his performances are frankly bizarre.) Century Ballroom apparently has a cozy relationship with the Clintons. Of course, Seattle is a cesspool of crooked politicians, dirty lawyers, media whores, corporate scum, and pedophiles, and you’re inevitably going to cross paths with some of these creeps in the city’s dance clubs. There’s also an army of shallow yuppies who may comprise the majority of the city’s veteran salsa dancers. If you’re looking for something wholesome, like Keyapaha, South Dakota, or a beachside village in the Caribbean, you aren’t going to find it in Gothic Seattle.
Lack of Good Instructors ˆ
Good salsa instructors can be hard to find, especially when you have to wade through so much bullshit to track them down. Some of the worst instructors on the planet can be public relations pros, while good instructors might be too shy or simply haven’t established themselves yet. Seattle’s Century Ballroom may be the ultimate equal opportunity employer, apparently not giving a damn about prospective employee’s credentials. The local joke is that if you take classes at Century Ballroom for two weeks, there’s a good chance they’ll hire you as an instructor.
Unfortunately, tracking down a good instructor might not be enough. Some of the better instructors are too busy searching for beautiful, talented bodies for their performance groups to pay much attention to ordinary social dancers. And what about your classmates?
There is a lot of controversy regarding the wisdom of learning with a partner. Many dancers say it’s better to rotate partners, but that surely depends on the quality of your classmates. If I was going to do it over, I would definitely want a partner.
Another question you might want to ask regards culture. Anyone can master dance with sufficient effort, but a Latin instructor is probably a good choice if you’re looking for a cultural experience. In fact, most instructors don’t seem to give a damn about Latin culture. In fairness, the same can probably be said of their students.
Salsa fans like to boast that their hobby is dirt cheap. After all, you can take a series of classes for $100-$200, and the cover charge at most clubs isn’t too steep.
That’s great advice for yuppies, but it really doesn’t apply to normal people. Let’s face it, the U.S. economy has been crap for a long time, and it’s going to continue going downhill. Take a break from Century Ballroom to get some fresh air, and you may glimpse some homeless people. In fact, I recently read that Seattle’s army of homeless people is still growing, even with the pandemic and George Floyd protests behind us. With automation on the horizon and the U.S. government’s deranged trade war against China constantly blowing up in its face, a situation that is already shitty is only going to get worse.
So, yes, $100-$200 for salsa classes isn’t bad if you have the money, but many U.S. citizens don’t. Of course, there are a few other expenses to consider. Are you going to spend any money on clothing? Dance shoes? What about miscellaneous social expenses, ranging from pizza to a bottle of champagne? Transportation? If you want to get into performing, you’ll definitely be spending more money.
Ironically, the real probably may be time, not money. With so many people working two or three jobs to pay the bills, how can they find the time for salsa classes, let alone the practice one needs to really master the dance?
In Latin America, what we call Latin dance was often associated with slaves and poor and exploited people. In the U.S., that relationship has been inverted, with Latin dance transformed into a drug for the yuppie class.
Salsa Mafia ˆ
Salsa dancers obviously don’t have much control over their local dance scenes. So who, if anyone, does? Do salsa instructors call the shots? Club owners? Or is there a higher power that manipulates the Latin dance scene?
Much has been written about the power corporations have over salsa music, which is the foundation of dance. But what is the nature of this corporate influence? Do corporations simply encourage the production of music they think will maximize their profits? Or do they go a little farther and engage in mind control? Do they steer musicians and club owners away from music with a political theme?
And what about the Jews who control the global economy, the media, U.S. government, and so many other things? Members of the black community have complained about the Jews playing games with rap music. Believe it or not, Jews have had a sizeable influence on country music as well. But what about Latin music?
When I worked as a teacher for the Seattle School District, I was blown away by the corruption and tyranny in public education. Not until some 15 years after I got laid off did I discover that Seattle’s public schools are effectively controlled by Jews. The same may be true of Seattle’s salsa scene. How much control do Jews have over Latin music and dance in general?
Just recently, I learned that some of the Seattle School District’s biggest tyrants were trained by Eli Broad, a Jewish billionaire who lived in Los Angeles, the unofficial salsa capital of the West Coast. Broad invested most of his money in education and the arts. His goal in education was to destroy public education, replacing it with charter schools. Did he play similar games with the arts?
Before you dismiss this line of thought as wacko conspiracy mongering, stop and think. The U.S. has long controlled and cruelly exploited Latin America.There is also an enormous Hispanic population in the U.S. that needs to be brainwashed and mainstreamed.
In fact, propaganda is one of the most powerful tools in Uncle Sam’s arsenal, and it permeates every facet of society.
No Traction ˆ
Although Latin dance is firmly embedded in ballroom dance, the salsa club scene faces a more precarious existence. Salsa addicts frequently ask for advice on how to keep their salsa scene alive on forums.
Obviously, a certain number of dancers is required to keep a club running. Since most salsa dancers inevitably move on to other things—other hobbies, family, or relocation—salsa scenes need fresh blood to maintain their momentum. With the vast majority of prospective salseros dropping out after their first class, it’s a tough slog.
This begs the question does America really have an authentic salsa scene, or is it just a corporate freak show masquerading as a salsa scene?