Wednesday, 30 October 2013


With Strictly Come dancing back on TV, I was reminded of a wonderful Caribbean experience in Puerto Rico's old San Juan

‘If you can walk you can dance,’ said Raffi the salsa instructor although he looked sceptical as our group shuffled in. Raffi teaches salsa   to’ anyone and everyone’ from judges and accountants to students, tourists, locals and visitors alike, and he claims it can change lives. The power of the dance can, he says, turn the friendless into party animals and the lonely into Red hot lovers. An eco-lawyer by day, he has taught hundreds of people to salsa, and our group was his latest challenge.

Although the debate still rages as to who invented the salsa, the Cubans or the New York Puerto Ricans, (Nuyoricans)there’s no getting away from it in the streets of Old San Juan,  Puerto Rico, and with the beat pulsating from every doorway, its impossible to keep your feet from tapping.

 Our first salsa session took place upstairs at old San Juan’s Noyorican café which is tucked in an alleyway of San Francisco Street. Many a famous face has  shaken a leg here , including the Rolling Stones who apparently inisted on coming here to experience the laid back atmosphere, the great music and, of course, the dancing.
For those who are beginners to the world of dance, Salsa is  said to be one of the more accessible forms of partner dance  and is the salsa dance is, in essence, no more than a step forward and a step back, with a rock in between.  Raffi mades it look effortless as he spun his lithe partner around the room.

After this mesmerising demonstration, Raffi started to put us through our paces. The dance is done with three weight changes (or steps) in each four-beat measure. The beat on which one does not step might contain a tap or kick,.. One of the steps is called a "break," which involves a change in direction. When we reach this point,
Raffi shouted ‘prepare’ as a cue for us to be ready for the turn. Desperately trying to mimic his smooth moves and effortless twirls, we lurched gracelessly around the room. But Raffi allows us some false moves and, taking each of us in turn, passes on a little of his stylish kno-how. By the end of our lesson, we can execute a passable salsa.

 It hadn’t changed our life, but we left with slightly more rhythm than we arrived with and headed downstairs to see how it really should be done. In the Nuyorican, dozens of gyrating bodies were hitting the floor at the famous café, The live music is infectious and the salsa party continues well into the small hours.
If you can walk you can dance, claims Raffi. But after an evening of salsa dancing  at The Nuyorican, you cant necessarily walk that well. We stumbled home to bed and dreamt in Latino.


We were experiencing a taster session, but to learn to salsa in style Raffi’s classes come in  a series of 10 sessions which typically last 1 hour 45 minutes.


Nuyorican Café

312 San Francisco

San Juan

Puerto Rico



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