Salsa in Spain

A few people had mentioned the Salsa in Spain holidays to me and when a friend from Liverpool said that she wanted to go, I decided to book my place. I have to say straight out that it was nothing like I expected, but that's not a bad thing. I had this idea that we would be on the outskirts of Barcelona and the days would consist of eating tapas, drinking wine, seeing the sights with a bit of Salsa thrown in. As it turned out, we were at a beach resort about an hour's drive from Barcelona and it was Salsa all day, followed by salsa all night. The week turned out to be my most intensive Salsa experience and one of the best.

In case you can't be bothered to read this whole article, I'll just say briefly why I thought it was a great holiday and why you should book a place on the next one! Quite simply, it was as if someone had asked me what would make a good Salsa event and had then planned that exact event. My main problem with most Salsa events is that they try to cram too much in (competitions, displays, fashion shows, whatever). Well, the Salsa in Spain trip got it just right. There was one lesson a day (normally from 11 to 1), then music was played until around 6 or 7. This meant that you could dance all day, chill out, chat with people or do anything else you wanted. The music played was excellent, being mostly Salsa with Hip-Hop, R&B and Reggae mixed in as the day went on. The sunshine and sea also played a large part in all this. If you've been to Pontins weekenders, then I'd make this comparison. My favourite part at Pontins is the gaps between lessons, where people just dance with each other (possibly trying out moves they've just learned, swapping moves or just dancing). Well, the Salsa in Spain holiday was like that from 1 in the afternoon until 6 or 7 in the evening, but sitting by the sea, in glorious sunshine (most of the time), with a cold drink in your hand.

Of course, no holiday is perfect, so I'll also say what I didn't enjoy about the Salsa in Spain holiday. The basic problem arose from my late booking, which meant that we were in an 'overflow' hotel, across the road from the main hotel. As a result, we couldn't mix as easily with everybody else on the holiday and we felt we were missing out on some of the social element of the trip. The other problem was that our food (we were paying for half board) was extremely bland and on some occasions, we couldn't eat any of it.

To get back to the positive, the thing that really made the holiday was the way that everyone mixed. Everyone was really friendly and I got to know a load of people who I'd seen at loads of Salsa clubs, but never really talked to. Every conversation on the first day seemed to start with "which club do I know you from?" It all meant that there was a great vibe on the holiday.

One other bonus became apparent when I got back home. When I went out dancing a few days after I got back, quite a few people commented on the improvement in my dancing. So, not only did I have a fantastic week's holiday, but my eligibility as a dance partner also went right up.

The Staff

The staff on the holiday were excellent, keeping things running smoothly, listening to what people were saying and (more importantly) acting on it and delivering excellent tuition. They also liked to party and many could be found in the clubs almost until the last track, despite having to be up to teach the next morning.

Michael is the founder of Eagle Activity Tours and was like a calming presence behind the holiday. He always seemed to be on hand to solve problems, but kept himself in the background. He isn't really a Salsa dancer, but has a dance background. In fact, when I saw him do some Jazz dance moves, he really blew me away.

Luana is a dance teacher from Casa Latina in Leeds and was involved mainly in the organisation side of things, although she also helped out with the classes. She is a great dancer, but unfortunately I didn't get to dance with her very often, since she was usually off sorting out some problem somewhere.

Nicolai is a Salsa teacher well-known across the UK. He was teaching on this holiday and was also responsible for the clubbing parts of the holiday. He has great style when he's dancing, although it was often difficult to get near him because of all the women queuing up to dance with him.

Alan was another of the Latin Quarter teachers on this holiday and was the man who always seemed to be at the heart of any fun which was going on.

Ces is also part of the Latin Quarter, a great dancer and a really nice guy. He was the quiet, understated member of the team (except when he got on stage with a mic in his hand).

Susanna Montero
Susanna has to be one of the best Salseras in the UK. I'll just quote the holiday brochure, which says it all: She is sexy, ravenous, sassy and one cool dancer who encapsulates all that Salsa represents.

Super Mario
Mario is known as the 'million moves man' and seemed to deliver loads of them in his lessons. This was his first Salsa in Spain holiday, and he fitted in perfectly, with his friendliness and laid-back approach.

Helen was teaching alongside Nicolai on the holiday. She's a great dancer and promoter in her own right. Seeing Helen and Nicolai dancing together is a real treat.

René is an amazing dancer from Leeds and is part of the dance team Las Chicas Calientes. She had incredible energy on the holiday, staying in the clubs until 5 or 6 in the morning and then getting up again after a few hours sleep to help Susanna with her lessons.

The Timetable

To put the holiday in context, I'm including the week's timetable here. As you can see, it doesn't look like much is happening during the day However, at every point where there's no scheduled activity, music was being played and people were dancing. This meant that you were often dancing for 4 or 5 hours during the day (with a similar amount of dancing in a club in the evening).

Saturday 14th       22:30-late
Arrivals Arrivals Arrivals Habana Club
Sunday 15th 10:30 12:00 - 14:00 15:00 - 17:00 22:00 - 2:00
Introduction  Lunch at Hotel  Workshops Dinner at Casa Nova
Monday 16th  11:00 - 13:00    15:00 - 16:00 22:30-late
Workshops Free time  Optional class  Habana Club
Tuesday 17th 11:00 - 13:00     22:30-late
Workshops Free time Free time Antilla Club
 Wednesday 18th    12:00 18:00 22:30-late
Barcelona Coach departs Coach returns Noche Latina at Tahiti
Thursday 19th 11:00 - 13:00   15:00 - 16:00 22:30-late
Workshops Free time Optional class Buena Vista Club
Friday 20th 11:00 - 13:00   15:00 - 16:00 22:30-late
Workshops Free time Optional class  Farewell at Casa Nova 
Saturday 21st Departures Departures Departures Departures

Saturday 14th

It was an easy trip for me, being based in Liverpool, because I could just get an easyJet flight from Liverpool Airport (10 minutes from my house) to Barcelona. Foolishly, I'd let this ease of travel lull me into a false sense of security, where I thought it would be a good idea to get into the holiday mood by going out dancing on Friday night. So, I arrived at the airport after far too few hours sleep. As it turned out, it was almost as if the holiday started at the airport. In addition to the Liverpool crew (myself, Dorothy and Mandy), I recognised Salseros from Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester.

When we arrived in Barcelona, the first problem was to find the person meeting us at the airport. As it turned out, I recognised Luana, who I'd seen at Casa Latina. Even if I hadn't recognised her, the Salsa in Spain t-shirt she was wearing also gave me a small clue. Luana took us to our coach, where we waited for a while for another plane load of Salseros, then we drove to the Santa Susana resort (about an hour away).

After eating and freshening up, it was time to visit our first club. The plan was to meet in the main hotel at 10:00 and walk down to the club. As it turned out, this was 10:00 Salsa time. This wasn't a bad thing, since it meant there was plenty of time to say "Hi" to people you already knew and to introduce yourself to everybody else. Eventually we got to our local club, Habana, and were ready to start dancing ...

... apart from the fact that nobody wanted to be the first onto the dance floor! Eventually some brave couples started things off and the Salsa holiday started in earnest. The music seemed to be mostly Cuban (I guess the name of the club had hinted at that), with the odd Merengue and Bachata thrown in. I had a great evening, dancing with my friends and dancing with new partners. I even got my first dance with a local Salsera. I eventually left at around 5am (leaving behind some people from our group who were still partying).

Sunday 15th

Amazingly, I was up for breakfast on Sunday morning (although this habit faded very quickly) and made it to the 10:30 welcome meeting, where we were introduced to the instructors, given some information about the area and told generally what the week had in store for us. We were also given the opportunity to buy some CDs and some Salsa in Spain t-shirts. Now, without meaning to disrespect anybody, I have to say that the t-shirts weren't the most stylish articles of clothing I've ever seen! Perhaps next time a more stylish, more subtle design could be produced?

The introductory meeting was also where you decided which of the four levels of workshops you fitted. This was done simply on your decision (you said how good you were), which seemed to work reasonably well. I personally found it difficult to do this, since I didn't know a lot of the other dancers and didn't know how I stacked up against them. As I said though, it all seemed to work out okay.

Mario says ...
Mario made a couple of points in his lesson. His first was the contentious statement that it's the woman's fault that men don't lead properly. Basically, he said that in a lesson, the women make things too easy for the man by doing the move, regardless of how good (or bad) the lead is. The man's lead will only improve when women refuse to follow bad leads in lessons.

His second point was that the men should always keep the women guessing as to what the next move will be. The women should never be in the position where they can anticipate what will happen next. The men should always be mixing things up, to keep it interesting for the women.

After lunch we got our first lesson. My group got Super-Mario, who wasted no time in getting us tied into knots in one of his trademarked twisty-armed, dislocated-shoulder moves. It was a great start, because you got a load of moves in a short period of time. Mario is an excellent teacher who totally understands the technical side of what he's teaching, but manages to present it in a fun way.

When the lesson finished, Mario carried on playing Salsa and people carried on dancing. Gradually, people from the other lessons arrived (our group's lesson was on the beach outside the main hotel) and we started showing each other the moves we'd learned. This set the tone for the whole week, with everyone mixing with everybody else.

That evening, we went for the welcome dinner at a local restaurant, called Casa Nova. We basically took over the restaurant, filling all the tables and setting up our own sound system. We then moved on to Habana, where we danced until 5am again.

Monday 16th

I woke up at 1pm ... obviously the late nights were taking their toll! I went across to the main hotel, met up with my friends for lunch and then spent the rest of the day dancing, chatting and chilling. Susanna took the optional class in the afternoon, teaching some styling. I sat that one out, then carried on dancing for a while.

In the evening, it was back to Habana. In addition to the usual great music and dancing, a Brasilian show was laid on with a Samba display and a Capoeira display. For those of you who haven't seen Capoeira, it's incredible to watch. It's a martial art, developed by African slaves in Brasil and disguised as a dance. As well as jumping, spinning kicks, there are all sorts of acrobatic moves like backflips and handstands. It was an amazing display.


Tuesday 17th

Tuesday was our first evening out in Barcelona. We were taken by coach to a club called Antilla, where we were promised an evening of dancing together with performances by a Cuban band. When we got into the club, there were a few couples dancing rueda. Apart from them and the DJ, the place was pretty empty.

Not long after we arrived, the guy who was calling the rueda started organising people into lines and started leading bunches of shines. In fact, all through the evening (particularly when the band was playing), he'd start off some shines and it wouldn't take long before a load of people were following him.

Next, he started off another session of rueda, this time including the more adventurous of our group (I remember seeing Helen and Nicolai in there and a couple of dancers from Edinburgh). It looked like a lot of fun, but a bit tricky for someone like me with only a few rueda moves under their belt.

The club was now starting to fill up a bit, but our group was still in the majority. I guess this was to do with it being a Tuesday night. The dance floor was pretty full though, with the music seeming to be mainly Cuban style Salsa.

The band was excellent and they dragged up a number of people to dance on stage with them during one number. This included René from our group and Bill, to celebrate his birthday.

Towards the end of our evening, Susanna was told that she was needed on the dance floor to translate something into Spanish. She came rushing out, only to find the dance floor empty, with everybody standing around in a big circle. Before she could make her escape, we were told that it was her birthday and so she was going to dance with as many men as possible during one track. The high point was when two members of the band made their way into the centre and did some really neat footwork, in total synchronisation! After that, Susanna's partner, Tony, was dragged into the circle since it was also his birthday and was made to dance with as many women as possible (including Mario).

Not long after, just as I was really starting to enjoy myself, we were told it was time to leave and we all had to get back on the coach to go back to our hotels.


Wednesday 18th

Wednesday was our day out in Barcelona. We were picked up at noon and taken by coach into Barcelona for a day of culture. A group of five of us hooked up and decided on a plan of action. We had already ruled out doing a mad sightseeing trip and thought we would first address our immediate need ... food ... and then decide on some choice sights to visit.

We started off by going down Ramblas looking for banks to cash travellers cheques and also for tapas bars. We were partially successful with the banks, and then found a tapas bar and sat down to order food and wine and to decide what to do next.

After many plates of food, a couple of bottles of wine and much gossip, we emerged with no more idea about what to do. Someone said it was nice down at the harbour and we decided to wander down there. After looking at some very expensive boats we decided that the best way to do the harbour justice was to find a bar that sold Irish coffees.

With that mission accomplished, we realised that it wasn't long until we were due to be picked up by the coach again, so we hurried back to the pick-up point, where we met the rest of our group, all fresh from their cultural experiences. I have to say that this was the day that had felt most like being on holiday and was most enjoyable, despite completely failing to see anything by Gaudi!!

The evening event was a party at a local hotel called Tahiti. This (obviously) involved Salsa, but was also to include a number of "special" events, which the organisers went to great pains to keep secret.

The first event was a panel discussion, where a panel of Salsa experts made pronouncements on burning issues. I have to say that this fell a little flat. Part of the problem was (as far as I was concerned) that I initially thought it was meant to be a comedy item. By the time I realised it was serious (and they were asking for questions from the audience), I think it was too late to recover it. Perhaps, if they want to do this again, they should think about announcing it ahead of time and obtain the questions in advance.

Another event during the evening was a Singled Out spot (I hope that MTV's lawyers aren't reading this). For those not familiar with the idea, one person is the "picker" and all the people of the opposite sex stand in a big bunch. The picker is then asked an X or Y type of question (tall or short, fat or thin) and the people who don't match their preference have then "got to go". Pretty quickly, this leaves one person who is then introduced to the picker. In the case of the female picker, the man who was left was Delroy, a friend of Michael's. He then treated us to a pretty amazing display of Jazz dancing.

The highlight of the evening, for many, was the Salsa dance display which consisted of a number of men dressed as women, dancing with a number of women who were dressed as men. The image that sticks in many people's mind (and which is still being talked about after the holiday is over), is that of Nicolai in a dress. In fact, it made such an impression on the night, that it got a special mention by Delroy, when he was freestyling at the end of the evening.

Thursday 19th

Susanna says ...
In her lesson, in addition to teaching shines and moves, Susanna took some time to discuss how to interpret a Salsa track. This was an excellent idea and one which I hope is repeated elsewhere. She was saying that it's no use being able to do hundreds of moves if you don't know how to make them look good in the track that you're dancing to. She then played a track (Sube by Eddie Palmieri, I think it was) and discussed how the music changed throughout the track and how the way you'd dance should change too. Then she got people to dance to that track, to put the ideas into practice.
Thursday was the first (and in fact the only) time, I managed to get to an 11am workshop. This was one of Susanna's workshops. Obviously I'd seen her dance and do displays, but I'd never seen her teach. She's a great teacher, who didn't just teach moves, but also talked a lot about style.

After Susanna's lesson, the day progressed pretty much as usual, with music being played all afternoon and people dancing. At one point, an impromptu rueda session sprung up (driven by a couple of people from Edinburgh) and involving about a dozen of us. The other thing which happened was an optional class, showing a variety of drops. That's not really my thing, so I sat it out, but it looked really interesting. Straight after the lesson, Susanna and Tony had to leave for the UK, so a load of goodbyes were said (like leaving a normal Salsa club, but taking about ten times as long).

In the evening, we went to our second Barcelona club, a place called Buena Vista. Again, the emphasis was on Cuban style Salsa, with a bit of Timba thrown into the mix. This seemed to be a bigger club than Antilla and I had a really great evening (although again, we had to leave too early).

The bloke who was leading the dancing in Antilla was there, so it was good to see a face we knew. At one point, he was calling a rueda and Helen came over to me, grabbed me and next thing I knew, I was in the rueda. I could cope with dame and enchufla (and even enchufla doble). Unfortunately, for anything else all I could do was make sure that I was in the right place at the right time! I did have loads of fun though.

Friday 20th

By the time Friday rolled round, I'd exhausted all my reserves of energy and spent a large part of the day dozing (in chairs on the beach, on the steps of the hotel and anywhere else I could find). I did see part of the optional lesson, which was a rueda lesson. It was interesting to see all the different names people had for the same moves!

The evening saw us going back to Casa Nova, for the farewell dinner. This was really nice, since loads of people had really bonded over the week and a few people got up to share some of their thoughts. One guy explained how he'd come on the holiday by himself, but quickly found loads of people being really friendly to him.

We then went on to Habana for our last visit of the week. You could see how much the week had taken out of people, since the energy levels were definitely on the low side. However, it was still a great evening, with many more local dancers there than I'd seen during the week.

I stayed until I could barely move and left at around 4:30. One of the Leeds crowd who left at the same time had an early morning flight. Her plan was to just go back to the hotel, pack, shower and then leave for the airport. I couldn't decide whether that was a really sensible thing to do or really foolish.

Saturday 21st

Saturday was "going home" day and was spent saying goodbye to everyone and the organisers driving everyone to Barcelona Airport in time for their flights. This must have been a really long day for them, considering that the earliest flights were around 6am and the latest were at 11pm.

The holiday spirit kept going all the way home, since many people were on the same flight as us back to Liverpool and the wait for the plane was passed by chatting to people from the holiday (actually going on longer than planned due to the plane being delayed for two hours).

Final goodbyes were said in the taxi rank at Liverpool airport as everybody made their way home (ready for a week's recovery after the holiday).

The Next Eagle Activity / Latin Quarter Salsa in Spain Holiday

19th - 26th May 2001

Useful Addresses

Eagle Activity Tours
6 Wellhouse Crescent,
Phone: 0113 217 0588
 0794 114 3537
The Latin Quarter
19 Roxholme Grove,
Phone: Nicolai - 0113 239 2586
 Alan - 0973 346641
 Ces - 07855 026250
Calle Aragon, 141
Phone: 93 451 2151
Paseo Maritimo
Centro Comercial
Santa Susana
Buena Vista
Calle Rosellon, 217
Phone: 93 237 6528