December in New York
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.
|The New York Skyline|
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.
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
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
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).
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
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
We took advantage of the early finish to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
Monday: Hush Club
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
|Shawn tries to get arrested|
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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
|Clubs / Socials:
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.
Salsa at Hush runs from 6pm on Mondays, with a lesson with Frankie Martinez
and music by Henry Knowles and Nelson Torres.
Salsa at Nells happens on Wednesdays from 9pm to 3am, with an on 2 crowd
downstairs and a Cuban crowd upstairs.
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.
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.
Nelson runs classes on Mondays and Thursdays (at 5th Avenue and 104th Street)
and on Tuesdays (at East 91st Street).
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.
The Cobo Brothers
Salsa New York
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
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