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December in New York

The New York Skyline
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In August 2001, a group of nine of us planned a trip to New York for December. We were all salseros with varying amounts of "on 2" experience and we wanted to experience dancing on 2 at the source. By the time the trip came round, the terrible events of September 11th had happened, and various people in the group had decided not to travel to New York, some because of those events and some for other reasons. In the end, only two of us went to New York; myself and Nicky (the Liverpool Shine Queen). We had a great time, saw some amazing dancers, met some really friendly people and went to some excellent clubs. For more about our time in New York, read on.

Saturday: Travelling and Club Pulse

Our flight was at noon, but to get to Manchester Airport in time, we needed to catch an 8.30am train from Liverpool. Everything went smoothly and we got to the check-in desk in plenty of time. We were then asked where the other five people we were travelling with were. A quick panic when we thought that we wouldn't be able to travel without the others, but the question was only to check whether we wanted any seats saved around us.

We then waited around until we were called to the gate for our first flight (to Frankfurt). As we were due to board, an announcement was made that boarding would be delayed due to a technical problem with the plane. This was not something we wanted to hear! However, we were only delayed for a few minutes and the two flights passed without event (if somewhat slowly).

We arrived in New York at around 7.30pm and got a taxi to our hotel. There's a nice scheme which means that a taxi from the airport to anywhere in Manhattan is 35 + tolls. It means you know you're not going to get ripped off on your first taxi ride. We were staying at Hotel 17 which is on E 17th Street and turned out to be very convenient for many of the clubs we visited. The Time Out Guide describes Hotel 17 as follows:

... the ultimate dive hotel ... The decor is classic shabby chic, with labyrinthine hallways leading to high-ceilinged rooms, filled with discarded dressers , gorgeous old fireplaces, velvet curtains and 1950s wallpaper.
I must say that I really liked the place with its old fittings and decoration, but Nicky said it was scary; the sort of hotel that you'd expect to find a psycho stalking the corridors. There's no way it could be called a luxury hotel (we had no en-suite bathroom, no telephone in the room and lousy reception on the TV), however it was clean and comfortable and in a pleasant area. Not to mention our room only cost us 90 a night.

  Showing your ID  
  In a lot of places we went, we were asked to show ID. This happened in some clubs, but also in the venues we went to for lessons. Americans usually use their driving license for ID, so I did the same thing. I have one of the new credit card sized UK driving licenses and that was accepted by everyone who asked me for ID. It was much more convenient than carrying around my passport (and safer if I'd lost it or had it stolen).  
We'd decided that the best plan was to go out for the evening (despite having been up for 24 hours or something) to try to get straight into the New York time zone. We had arranged to meet top Salsa DJ Henry Knowles and ex-Eddie Torres dancer Angel Ortiz during the week, but for this first night we were on our own. We decided to go to Copacabana Night at Club Pulse, since it was reasonably close. We got a taxi there (taxis turned out to be relatively cheap in New York) and went in, after showing our ID.

When we went in, it wasn't very crowded and there were a few couples dancing to the Salsa tracks which were playing. After we'd been there for a few minutes, the music switched to Merengue and then to more mainstream music. Then the band came on, which was Frankie Morales who played a storming set of old skool Mambo. We even got up and had a couple of dances.

After the band finished, the music went back to Merengue. We finished our drinks and called it a night.

Sunday: Jimmy Anton's Social

  Sunday Socials  
  Sunday socials are a way for New Yorkers to get their Salsa fix on a Sunday, but still get up for work on Monday. Because people don't want to be out at a club until 2am on a Sunday, a social takes place at a dance studio rather than at a club, and runs during the afternoon and early evening (for example Jimmy Anton's runs from 5pm until 9pm). Apart from that, it's pretty similar to a club (except the drinks are a lot cheaper).  
We woke up late on Sunday and decided to go in search of a cybercafe to check out clubs and lessons. There's an easyEverything place on 42nd Street, just off Times Square (next to Madame Tussauds). This gives Internet access for around 1 an hour (compared to 6-18 an hour at other places). So, we walked up Broadway, taking in sights like the Empire State Building and Macy's until we reached 42nd street. At the cybercafe, we got loads of information from an excellent web site called www.salsanewyork.com. We then went off for a look around Times Square and went into a super-sized Toys R Us in search of a WWF wrestler for Nicky's cousin (a model, that is, not the actual wrestler). This toy shop included a working ferris wheel and a moving, growling Tyranosaurus (surrounded by loads of screaming children).

Henry Knowles
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We arranged to meet Henry Knowles in the early evening and he took us to a great little restaurant called Cafe con Leche, which served Latin-Caribbean food. I had a great meal of chicken and rice and peas, with fried plantain.

After eating, Henry took us to a "social" run by Jimmy Anton. I'd heard of socials before, mainly from people who had started them up in London, but a description doesn't do justice to the actual event. We got out of the elevator. Through the door, you could hear Salsa. However, when you opened the door, instead of the small dance studio I was expecting, I was confronted by what seemed to be the entire floor of the building, filled with hundreds of people dancing. An incredible sight!

We were only in time for the last couple of hours of the social, but had a great time. Henry was an excellent host, introducing us to plenty of people, including some dancers from Caribbean Soul, a really nice couple called Bernard and Sonyo Martinez who were really friendly to us all week and a lovely dancer called Winsome who I had some great dances with.

Henry also had a surprise for Jimmy, doing a special guest DJ spot. This was a special treat because Henry hadn't mentioned to Jimmy that he would even be there that night.

It also made me realise how small the UK Salsa scene is, since all the UK people who were mentioned to us by the New York dancers were people we know, notably Supermario (who I was told was the Caribbean Soul representative in the UK), Jean and Robert of Mambo City and Neil of salsadj.com.

We took advantage of the early finish to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Monday: Hush Club

Dancing at Hush
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Monday evening we hooked up with Henry again and he took us to Hush Club where he ran his Monday night Salsa club. He introduced us to Frankie Martinez who is the latest hot Salsa dancer to come out of New York and who was leaving for the UK with Henry on the Wednesday.

Hush is a really nice club, nicely decorated with a good dance floor and split into two rooms. When we arrived, there was some dancing going on in the main room and Frankie was waiting to start a beginners lesson. The beginners started in the smaller back room, with dancing continuing in the main room. However, it was quickly clear that the lesson was too big for the back room, so things were switched with the dancing in the back room and the lesson in the main room.

After the lesson, the dancing started in earnest in the main room and Nicky started to shine. She was really in demand, representing well for the UK in New York. In fact, by the end of the evening she was lying half asleep on one of the seats in the club, having danced so much. The music was great all night, courtesy of Henry Knowles and his co-DJ, Nelson Torres.

Again Henry was the perfect host, making all sorts of introductions for me, including introducing me to Nancy from the Eddie Torres Dancers, who I had an amazing dance with. He also hooked me up with some other fabulous dancers during the evening. Once again, Bernard and Sonyo were there and were really friendly to us. Nicky also had a killer dance with Frankie Martinez.

It was also a special evening, because Frankie and his partner Aisha performed their new routine for the first time. It was an excellent routine and very well-performed. They were dressed as mimes and did an excellent clown/Mambo routine. It went down brilliantly and those of you who saw it on their UK tour will understand why.

After the evening finished, a small group of us (including Henry, Nelson and another dance teacher called Franklin Ayala) went to eat and hang out at a diner uptown. We ended up doing what we do at home - discussing what was happening on the local Salsa scene, catching up with nights which had closed down or opened up and generally taking the mick out of each other. Nelson Torres, for example, kept telling us stories about people who thought he was Nelson Flores (a dance teacher/dance group leader from New York). Franklin was really funny during the whole meal. He was also really friendly, offering us free entry to his dance school (which we unfortunately didn't have time to take him up on).

Afterwards, Franklin drove us back to our hotel, which was really completely out of his way. After everyone had warned me how unfriendly New Yorkers were, I was totally surprised by the friendliness and warmth shown to us. I mentioned it to a few people and they all said similar things. The tragic events of 11th September had made people look at their priorities in life and re-examine their attitudes to other people.

Tuesday: Lesson with Frankie Martinez and Club Exit

Frankie Martinez
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On Tuesday, Henry had arranged for me and Nicky to take a private with Frankie. Henry drove us to the dance studio where it would take place (on 7th or 8th avenue, I think, at a place where Bruce Lee used to train, apparently). We spent an hour doing the lesson, until we were kicked out by the next couple who were booked to use the studio. Frankie taught me a neat routine, sharpened up my leads and taught me some new, really subtle leads. Unfortunately, we didn't really have time to move on to Nicky's footwork and styling before our studio time was up. Again, showing how friendly everyone was, Frankie drove us back to our hotel.

We'd asked where to go in the evening, but nobody had been really positive about anywhere. Everyone mentioned a place called Club Exit though, so we went there. According to my Lonely Planet guide:

You'll get lost in the maze of theme rooms on every floor, each equipped with leopard-patterned sofas and its own DJ playing speciality music.
I can only assume that things have changed drastically since that guide was written because Exit was a big, empty warehouse of a space, playing Merengue when we arrived. Not long after we arrived, a band came on - Nino Segarra - who were reasonable. After the band finished, the music went back to Merengue and we decided to call it quits.

Wednesday: Nells

At Nells
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On Wednesday, we arranged to meet up with Angel Ortiz for something to eat and then to go on to Nells; a club which everyone had recommended to us. Angel treated us to a meal at an Italian seafood restaurant, called Frutti del Mari, not far from our hotel. It was an excellent choice and served wonderful food.

Angel had just returned from teaching at the Brean Sands Pontins weekend in the UK and filled us in on what it was like. Angel is also a detective with the NYPD and he gave us some feeling for what the events of 11th September had been like, from someone who was actually there. We also got an idea of how harrowing the days and weeks afterwards had been too.

After eating, we went on to Nells. I really liked Nells. According to my Time Out Guide, Notorious B.I.G. shot a video here and Tupac received certain sexual favours on the dance floor. However, we had to make do with loads of dancing on 2. Nells is on two floors, with a band on the ground floor, playing slower Cuban-style music while the on 2 crowd are in the basement dancing to music from the excellent DJ, Elvira. I spent the evening in the basement!

On the Monday at Hush, my dancing had been pretty erratic, but tonight at Nells, it all clicked and I had some excellent dances. I don't know whether I'd just had a bad night on Monday or whether I'd been suffering after the flight or whether I'd simply been a bit out of practice. Whatever the reason, I was much happier with my dancing at Nells (and during the remainder of the stay).

Again Bernard and Sonyo were here and we spent some time chatting to them. They also told us that they were holding a social on the Saturday, so we decided to go to that. This seemed to be the way our week went. We met some people, they told us places to go, introduced us to other people and so our circle of activities grew.

Thursday: Nelson Flores's class, Bistro Latino and Babalu

Thursday we decided to take a class with Nelson Flores on Supermario's recommendation. Unfortunately, due to midtown traffic, we arrived half an hour late for the first class (the shines class), so I sat down to watch. Nicky joined in and managed to get it all sussed by the end of the class.

We then paid up for the next class, which was a partnerwork class. Unfortunately, the speed with which the class progressed was too much for me and I had to drop out. However, I have to say that Nelson was an excellent teacher, combining his teaching with exactly the right amount of fun and he had an excellent relationship with his students.

Again demonstrating how friendly everyone was, a guy called Efrain started chatting to us and when we said we were interested in taking a class with Eddie Torres, gave us his phone number and told us to ring him when we get back to the hotel and he'd give us the info about Eddie's classes. He also commented on my "James Bond" accent, which anyone who has met me will realise is a long way from the truth!

As far as clubs go, nobody had been completely sure where we should go and there were two suggestions: Bistro Latino and Club Babalu. We decided to try both.

Bistro Latino was like a 1960's Latin dinner club. There was a stage in a corner, surrounded by a dance floor, with tiers of tables around the dance floor (where I assume people could eat). When we went in, there was a band playing (Tito Puente's Horn section, we were told) and a few people dancing. However, there was nobody we really recognised and so we stayed for a short while and then made our way to Babalu.

Club Babalu was a similar layout to Bistro Latino, but with very modern decor. Again there was a live band, Conjunto Libre, but very few dancers. Caribbean Soul was out in force, celebrating a birthday, but not many other people I recognised. Talking to people afterwards, I think we got there too late. We arrived around midnight, but the doors open at 6pm and I think people arrive earlier than in the UK and also leave earlier. We had a few dances, saw the birthday dance (where the birthday girl, in this case, dances with as many men as possible) and Nicky had more dances with some of her new admirers.

Friday: Eddie Torres's Class

  Taxi Drivers  
  Friday was the day we met the most incompetent taxi driver in New York! Nicky had a private lesson with Bernard Martinez and the taxi who was taking us there managed to get lost (in an area where the streets are arranged in a grid and given numbers not names). When he "arrived" he'd managed to take us to the wrong avenue (1st instead of 5th), then he got lost going to the correct address. He even turned the meter off and started again at one point!  
We had to take a class with Eddie Torres while we were in New York. Unfortunately, we'd chosen a bad time because Eddie had just lost his studio and wasn't due to move into his new studio until early 2002. In the mean time, he was using a dance studio in Carnegie Hall. It also meant his class schedule had changed, so we didn't get to do the shines class we wanted to. Instead, we did a partner work class. Because my confidence had taken a knock with Nelson's class, I decided to do both the level 1 and level 2 classes. Nicky said that level 1 would be ridiculously easy for me and as it turned out, she was right. However, it meant that I took the class led by Maria Torres, who was an excellent teacher.

Eddie turned up at 8.30pm and started the level 2 class. He began with turn drills, first for the women and then for the men. The women's looked tricky, because he was shouting out different types of turns and the women were doing loads of fast spins and stuff. Nicky kept up easily, but I was dreading the men's turn drills. I need not have worried. In comparison to the women's drills, the men's were straightforward. I didn't know any of the names and some of the turns were new to me, but I got them all after watching the other guys do them a couple of times.

Then Eddie put some music on and everyone just danced for a couple of tracks. Then Eddie moved on to demonstrate the turn pattern. It was something he'd taught on the Wednesday, which he said he'd go over and then add some stuff to the end. He is a very good teacher, watching what everyone was doing, making sure everyone got one part of the pattern before moving on to the next. He was also determined to finish the pattern, meaning that we ended up finishing the class some time after 11pm, rather than at 10.30pm.

Shawn tries to get arrested
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Just like everywhere else, after the lesson everyone stood around chatting. We asked about places to go that evening and also tried to suss out who was going to Bernard and Sonyo's social the next evening. We got chatting to a guy called Shawn, who was a professional dancer (danced in shows, trained in ballet and jazz) and ended up hanging out with him for a while. He showed us some of the sights around Carnegie Hall, got chased off a fountain by a security guard and gave Nicky her first Swing lesson in the doorway of a cinema, in front of two amused members of staff.

We decided not to go to a club that evening (it was past midnight by then), but to save ourselves for the following night. Instead, we decided to find a film to watch. The only one still showing was Sidewalks of New York, which seemed appropriate and turned out to be a good film.

Saturday: Bernard Martinez's Social

Bernard Martinez
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All week, the weather had been very pleasant. For New York in December, it had been outstanding. Apparently, one of the days we'd been there had been the hottest ever recorded December day in New York. That all changed on the Saturday, when during the afternoon, it started raining really heavily and didn't stop!

In the evening, the rain was still very heavy and we decided to phone out for a takeaway, instead of going out to eat. We found a Japanese menu in the pile the hotel receptionist gave us and rang them up and ordered. Then we had to keep ringing back to check up on where our food was, found they'd tried to deliver it to the wrong address, correct them, ring them back when it still didn't turn up and so on. Eventually we got our food two hours after we'd ordered it (from a restaurant about five streets away).

Milton Cobo
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After eating and getting changed, we grabbed a cab and went to the social. It wasn't as busy as had been hoped, because the rain had put some people off. But we had a great time. The music was good, the floor was good (maybe a bit slick) and there were plenty of people to dance with. We saw a show by the Revelation Dancers and got in some good dances ourselves. I had one dance with Winsome, where she lost one of her shoes halfway through the dance, tried to dance like that, then kicked off her other shoe. Then people standing around started throwing her shoes back at us while we were dancing! Nicky had a couple of great dances with Milton Cobo from the Cobo Brothers.

At the end of the evening, we stood around saying goodbye to our new friends and telling them how we were coming back in early 2002. We then went down to the car of the guy behind Mambo Fateegz who makes those "on 2" t-shirts, bags, bandanas, etc. We bought some clothes and CDs and stood around chatting. Milton Cobo was also with us, together with a friend called Heidi. He suggested that we go to a diner to hang out, so we did. Just having normal conversations and not talking about Salsa! I think we eventually got back to the hotel around 5am.

Times Square     Street Performers
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Nicky tries to pack
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In Summary

We had a great time in New York. Just about every negative thing we'd been told, we found not to be true. The people were friendly, we didn't feel unsafe at any time (although obviously you need to keep your wits about you all the time and be extra observant in some areas). Even the weather was freakishly warm, instead of being bitingly cold. We also managed to spend less money than we thought.

The dancing was amazing and I spent ages just watching people dance. I guess that the best way to describe the style is "cool". No matter how complicated the moves, the guys make it look effortless and smooth.

The other comment I should make is that we were specifically focussed on dancing on 2. The clubs we visited catered mainly for on 2 dancers (although at Nells, people were dancing on 1 upstairs) and the lessons we took were for on 2 dancers. Everyone seemed to assume that you'd be dancing on 2. I understand, though, that there are also many "on 1" venues.

My advice is to try New York. If you dance on 2, then you've just got to visit. If you don't dance on 2, try visiting New York, going to some of the on 1 places (like upstairs at Nells) and take some beginners lessons on 2. And don't forget to experience New York itself: See Times Square, take in a show, go for a walk in Central Park, see the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, watch people arguing in the street, get stuck in midtown traffic jams.

Further Information

Clubs / Socials:     Club Pulse
Copacabana nights are held at Club Pulse on Tuesdays (from 6pm) and Saturdays (10pm to 5am).

Jimmy Anton's Socials
Jimmy's socials are held on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month, from 5pm to 9pm. You should phone in advance, just in case the schedule changes.

Hush
Salsa at Hush runs from 6pm on Mondays, with a lesson with Frankie Martinez and music by Henry Knowles and Nelson Torres.

Club Exit

Nells
Salsa at Nells happens on Wednesdays from 9pm to 3am, with an on 2 crowd downstairs and a Cuban crowd upstairs.

Bistro Latino
You want to go to Bistro Latino on most Thursdays. There's free admission before 8pm, happy hour between 6pm and 7pm, a free salsa lesson from 7pm to 8pm and dancing from 8pm. Bands sometimes play at 9pm amd 11pm.

Club Babalu

Bernard and Sonyo's Socials
Bernard and Sonyo's Mambo Caliente nights are held on the 2nd and 4th (or sometimes 5th) Saturday of the month, running from 9pm to 2am.

 
Lessons:     Nelson Flores
Nelson runs classes on Mondays and Thursdays (at 5th Avenue and 104th Street) and on Tuesdays (at East 91st Street).

Eddie Torres
When we visited, Eddie Torres's lessons were in temporary studios in Carnegie Hall, since he was waiting for his new studios to be completed. He should move into his new studios early in 2002 and his new lesson schedule will be sorted out. In the mean time, it's best to ring to check when lessons are.

 
People:     Henry Knowles
Phone:  914-381-3912
Web:  www.lamusica.com/henryknowles

Frankie Martinez
Web:  www.abakuadancers.com

Winsome Lee
Phone:  212-714-8269
Web:  www.go-winsome.com

Bernard Martinez
Phone:  212-726-3090
Web:  www.mambocaliente.com

The Cobo Brothers
Milton:  919-454-3539
James:  919-244-3156
Web:  www.cobobrothers.com

 
Resources:     Salsa New York
www.salsanewyork.com is the number one site for info about the New York "on 2" scene. It's got an extensive calendar, info about all the clubs, articles and loads more.

Mambo Fateegz
www.mambofateegz.com is where you need to go, to get all your "on 2" branded clothing and CD's of classic Salsa.

Mambo On 2
To get a feel for the New York on 2 clubs, check out the gallery section of Pablo Munoz's site at www.mambon2.com.

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