Social dancing not only keeps us fit and gives us a reliable Friday night serotonin boost, but it also proves to be a traveller’s golden ticket to a warm and welcoming embrace in any new city and country. There are quite literally tonnes of dancers worldwide sharing our passion in backstreet bars, trendy clubs, parks and social clubs. You name a place, and I guarantee there is a scene and there are people dancing on it. We are all part of a larger dancing global community, and when you dare to dance outside the geographical box, arms and hearts are opened to welcome in foreign fellow members.
My recent backpacking trip in Asia was enriched by the connections I made simply through a shared loved of salsa. Not only did I learn a few new moves, I enhanced my understanding culturally of the countries I was visiting, was treated like a royal guest and invited like a family member to partake in all things local.
My first dose of International dancing outside of Europe was in New Delhi, India. A city I had been told by fellow travelers to avoid, a place not worth the hassle. My desire for a dance however, too strong to be deterred by the apparent dirty and overpopulated mayhem I was pre-warned to find. My view of Delhi could not be any more different and an initial planned weekend turned into 10 days turned into a returning 2-week venture and a few months later, a third fortnight trip. I couldn’t get enough. I was welcomed with such friendliness, openness and kindness, I felt almost immediately like part of their dancing family.
I was instantaneously sucked into Delhi’s underground world of salsa parties and after parties, post session chais and 24-hour restaurant feasts. For a prime spot on the dancing in Delhi map, I was situated in GK1 in the south of the city. An affluent and trendy suburb that was fabulous not only for its proximity to the dance parties, but also for its shopping and café scene. Most of the socials can be found in the south of the city and all post hunger pangs can be treated at Horn OK, a well-known 24-hour restaurant which does surprisingly yummy Indian food. Failing that, an all-night roadside Indian snack and tea stall does the job and there will always be a starving salsero willing and wanting to accompany.
I was invited to dinners, coffees and celebrations and even a Bollywood style wedding. As well as quite ridiculously lengthening my Facebook friend list with an overabundance of new dancing buddies, I also formed genuine connections with people who I now call my friends. Being exposed to the city in this way is something I am forever grateful for. Admittedly it gives me the slight smug feeling that I have experienced a magical side to the city that the average non-dancing traveller misses out upon.
What I love about dancing in India is the pure passion of the people. Latin dancing and particularly Kizomba in this part of the world is somewhat lagging Europe in terms of longevity and professional exposure. The level is therefore arguably lower, yet India undeniably oozes an energy and lust found only in the honeymoon stages of a budding new romance. Eager to learn, develop and attract more international artists, it’s joyous to be on a dancefloor where the desire and love of the art is truly alive. You can dance nearly every night of the week, although unfortunately only ever until around 1am, and as a lady, you will never find yourself short of a dance as in a bizarre role of reversal to the west, it’s the women that are in short supply.
My first and favourite spot to dance in Delhi is Summer House Cafe, located in the Hauz Khas district. A Sunday night favourite amongst the locals, it attracts a decent crowd of salsa, bachata and kizomba dancers and with a huge open dancefloor, plenty of willing movers and functioning aircon, it’s hard to stay off the floor. There is a bar serving alcohol, obvious you would think however being in India, this isn’t always a given luxury for a dancing venue and the free entrance fee is a big magnet. There is also a Summerhouse Sunday salsa night in Mumbai but if you find yourself dying for a superior quality dance, the Raasta Bombay on a Tuesday has an electric atmosphere and some amazing dancers.
They love a themed party in Delhi and it’s great to see most people love to get involved. One Saturday night I got my cowboy hat on for one of the infamous noche sensual fancy dress parties that are held every Saturday night at No Filter in Hauz Khas, there were prizes and freebies galore and although the venue was quite small and dark, the atmosphere was fun and friendly. Circus on a Tuesday is a spacious venue that also love to put on a theme night every now and again and have a great dance floor, bar and free entry.
Another city I was made to feel at home through the love of dance, was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was connected digitally by Indian friends to kind hearted salseros offering me advice, information and help, all before I had even stepped off the plane. From my first night out, I was in fact very well looked after. Friendly faces always ensured I had lifts to and from every party, a drink in my hand, and a full stomach post night out, which was pretty much every night I was there, and I was there on 3 separate occasions. Each time I came to the city a bed was offered and on one lucky visit, a whole flat to myself.
The dancers on the KL scene are a friendly bunch, a multicultural mix of Malaysians and people from all over the world. There are social nights on almost every night of the week but unfortunately the venues tend to be outside of the city centre. Making friends with wheels is therefore crucial, but not a challenging task given the kindness and generosity of the people.
A great central city spot however with no entrance fee and a 3am kick out time is Havana Bar & Grill in Bukit Bintang, pleasantly packed on a Sunday evening with a mix of salsa, bachata and kizomba. They also have a Tuesday night kizomba night that gets quite busy.
Serious salseros head to Friendscinos on a Saturday night, although it’s a bit of a mission from the centre and the venue is not particularly special. My favourite spot to boogie is Liquidity also located a 30-minute drive from the city but well worth the journey to dance with a fab atmosphere in a beautifully furbished rooftop bar. Friday nights are very busy playing a mix of dance styles whilst Wednesday is purely kizomba. The resident DJ, Deejay Selva is a popular name on the Malaysian dance scene, providing new and quality music in most of the festivals across Asia.
Kuala Lumpur is a top choice for a city break holiday with much to marvel at. The lively dancing scene will keep you grooving all night every night with the friendly and fun vibe of the city notoriously reflected on the dance floor.
Despite Asia being physically larger than Europe in terms of size, the scale changes on the dance world map. I attended the small, yet fabulous ALIA festival located just outside Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo that attracted not only the Malaysian crowd but also drew in dancers from various countries in Asia and even Australia. It happens every year around the end of July in various locations around Malaysia. It was incredible to reconnect with people I had danced with only recently from different cities across the continent. The feeling was truly familial and intimate, something somewhat lacking in the fantastic yet huge festivals in Europe I’m accustomed to. The local people of Borneo were so humble and happy to have international dancers on their turf, a real effort was made to incorporate us into their culture with displays of the local dance and plenty of under the table Borneo home brew. For an intimate feeling festival with some big names, a holiday vibe and a lot of lovely international folk, ALIA festival is a perfect dose of dance wrapped up in a fun and sunny unforgettable weekend.
One of many beautiful things I learned from my travels is that people are tremendously proud of their country. They want nothing more than for guests to have a good time, both on and off the dance-floor. As dancers we are exceptionally lucky to have a readymade global family, willingly eager to temporarily adopt us and make us feel at home. I urge everyone to take advantage and dance outside the time zone, connect with these brothers and sisters all over the world and use the shared love of dance to gain a new perspective about our passion and about the world.
Want to read more of Helen’s travel adventures? Visit her blog at Joyful Overlander.