Calí, Colombia lives and breathes salsa — period. It’s considered a salsa capital — and I’m not talking about the sauce, but the dance. You can throw Puerto Rico and Cuba into the mix, since salsa’s roots do spring from the Caribbean, but in this day and age, Colombia has modernized salsa dance so much so that they take the cake, particularly Calí.
That’s why native Calí dancers tend to win the Salsa World Championships with ease, and not for elegance and style — that too, yes of course, but more importantly, for speed, fast, and feet.
Caleños, a word used to describe the people of Calí, are such decadent dancers that they’ve even created their own techniques — and they ain’t easy. It’s admitted to be the hardest tempo to follow amongst professional salsa dancers — that’s how Caleño/a dancers get ahead of the game, not many can catch up to their flow. A form a of cheating? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn.
Salsa Dancing Is Genetic
Not scientifically proven, but if you’re Colombian, it’s a sin not knowing how to dance salsa. I don’t think there any Colombians, or Latinos for that matter, who don’t understand the rhythms of rumba.
There truly are some genetic elements, because salsa doesn’t have to be physically taught to Colombian children, it’s just forced and engrained since infantry.
Children growing up with the quick, uppity, rhythmic sounds of blasting trumpets and trombones, congos, drums, maracas and tambourines, have a higher chance at being salsa pioneers than children listening to other melodies.
Not only that, but growing up watching and feeling the energetic waves flowing through their relatives’ bouncing bodies across the middle of their living room at family gatherings also adds to the recipe. Catching a mother swaying from left to right whilst cleaning, or a sister in front of the mirror, will without a doubt induce some salsa-move flashbacks in their near adult future, without them even trying of course.
Colombian children, whether they like it or not, appreciate and sing along every salsa song to a T, not to mention, twitch and twerk their bodies while tapping their feet along to the beat. It becomes an irresisstable, unwilled urge. So if you ever wondered why some people are so damn good at dancing salsa, it’s ’cause, well, they’re technically born with it.
But You Can Too
Salsa, or any form of coordinated dance, is a relationship with the human body and oneself. It grows and moulds, similar to relationships with family and friends. Like Latino children, who build a relationship with their salsa-dancing capable selves — or like any child in general, who absorbs everything like a sponge, you too can learn the swift steps to salsa.
Where and when?
Why Calí of course!
Aside from the abrupt yet pleasant, foreign noise of salsa music blaring through Calí’s streets, convenient stores, markets, restaurants, bus stops and other public places — it’s literally everywhere you go — there are numerous dancing schools throughout Calí that’ll help open you up to the sounds and swings of salsa.
Getting accustomed to the rhythms, beats and music is definitely the first and foremost step, and this can start from the comfort of your own home. Actually taking a like to salsa music is a must. If you don’t like the music, there’s no point in learning the dance. It’s like someone trying to learn how to play guitar, but hating rock and roll. Doesn’t make any sense, I know. Well, the same goes for salsa.
Some salsa bands/artists who are particularly world famous (and personal favorites) to lend an ear to are:
- Grupo Niche (Colombian)
- Joe Arroyo (Colombian)
- Tito Puente (Cuban)
- Célia Cruz (Cuban)
- La Sonorra Carruseles (Colombian)
- Héctor Lavoe (Puerto Rican)
- Fruko y Sus Tesos (Colombian)
- Willie Colon (Puerto Rican)
- Oscar de Leon (Venezuelan)
- Gilberto Santarosa (Puerto Rican)
These are just a few musicians in the salsa world. As mentioned before, styles, rhythms, tempos, and beats vary from slow, romantic salsa sounds, to medium, swingy and fast.
Schools In Calí
Depending on your determination in learning salsa, private lessons are always better. Once you feel comfortable, group lessons can benefit you later on because you’ll get a taste of other dancers’ moves, which will eventually make you more well rounded in the dance.
Note: If you think about it, when you’re out on the dance floor, you can’t really choose who you’re going to get. Just remember, not everyone will be your teacher.
3 of the most popular schools in Calí amongst natives and tourists alike are as follows:
Son De La Luz: Cra. 28 #6-118 (metro-bus station: Manzana del saber or Estadio).
TEL: (+57) (2) 3702692
It’s situated in the neighbor of Alameda (which is close to the city center).
They specialize in private lessons that cost 3000 pesos ($17) for 1 hour.
El Manicero: Calle 5 #39-71 (metro-bus station: Tequendama)
Gives group lessons that last 2 hours and cost 3000 pesos ($17). There are deals if you buy more lessons at once.
Swing Latino: Cra. 31 #7- 25 El Cendro
TEL: (+57) (2) 3742228
This school is internationally renown and probably the most expensive of the three. Prices range.
Calí’s Club Scene
Calí to the salsa scene is like Ibiza to electric music.
Hands down, the best and world-famous salsa clubs are in Calí. You can still go to other parts of Colombia like Cartagena, Baranquilla and Medellín, dance your head off and sweat your life out, but nothing — I repeat, NOTHING, beats the Calí experience. Even Colombians from around the country come to Calí for the weekend to get their salsa groove on.
Though it’s very much a person’s name (the diminutive of Juan), it’s also the name of a nearby town 30 minutes outside of Calí. This is where all the salsa smuggling goes down.
The small rural area is a bridge away and is “not considered” part of Calí (another municipality); Juanchito is still part of Valle del Cauca though, which is in the department of Santiago de Calí aka Calí.
In Calí’s hay day it was illegal for clubs and bars to stay open passed 4 a.m., so Juanchito became the place to party.
You will be surprised to find out that Juanchito is burrowed in the middle of no where — not usual for clubby-type scenes, so don’t be freaked out when you realize the taxi driver is going “away” from the city. The thought of getting kidnapped might cross your mind, but they’re really taking you to Juanchito.
It’s a scattered strip full of notorious salsa clubs that dates back to the 80s. Many popular salsa songs will mention Juanchito in their lyrics, like the song “Calí Pachanguero,” by Grupo Niche.
Two famous clubs within Juanchito are Changó and Agapito, which are considered a MUST (very, very typical and touristy). These clubs cater more toward traditional salsa and perhaps an older crowd. You might find that all of Juanchito is like that.
Note: the only way to get to Juanchito is via taxi or car. You seriously need a car in Juanchito, simply because the clubs are like 2 – 5 minute rides apart, so unless you don’t plan on staying in one club the entire night, don’t go to Juanchito.
With that said, I do hate to be the bearer of bad news. Unfortunately, although Juanchito is the most famous, it’s still considered the most unsafe.
If you’re with a big group of friends and natives then by all means go check it out, it’s worth a shot and you might as well since it’s part of Colombian salsa-dancing history.
Just remember that you’re in Calí, Colombia, not Cali, as in California, nor Miami, New York City or Ibizia.
Menga is the new Juanchito the younger generation prefers to party in now. It’s located directly on the opposite side of the city from Juanchito, and might as well be it’s rival. It’s considered more hip since certain discotecs at Menga play other genres of dancing music, such as cumbia, ranchero, bachata, and even electronic and commercial, while Juanchito is strictly salsa, heavy, heavy salsa (though I believe they may nowadays cater to other listeners, not 100% sure).
Like Juanchito, Menga is a small town with a strip of clubs scattered around just outside the northern part of Calí. Also like Juanchito, a car or taxi is a must to get there. Not to worry though, Menga is considered a much safer and “sophisticated” area.
La Sexta Avenida
If you’re looking to stay within the city’s limits, La Sexta Avenida (located in the Granada district/northern parts of Calí) is a famous avenue known for it’s clubs and bars. Here you’ll find tourists and ritzier party goers.
Note: the road to Menga is right off the Granada side of Calí.
Another Note: Within Calí’s limits, bars close and 2 a.m., while the clubs close a 4 a.m. If you’re looking to go out later than 4 a.m., Menga or Juanchito are your best bets.
And if you want to dance salsa on wheels, Calí’s got that too. Chivas, which can be found all over Colombia and in some major cities of the U.S. with large Colombian populations (like New York City), are party buses that can be rented for a night. As a single partier, they can also be hopped onto and off for the night, if the bus isn’t reserved.
Either you rent one with family and friends, dance and party for 5 hours, while making stops to other night clubs and taking in views of the city.
You can also simply buy a ticket and go with other random party goers. You dance on the bus, or stop and hop on and off into other clubs, etc. It’s a real treat.
Amongst all of the THIS, the most important thing is to not forget to get yourself a Caneca, or if with a bigger crowd, a bottle of Aguardiente. Ardent water, is what that means. Or, in laymen’s terms, fire water. Aguardiente is sugar caned liquor, and tastes a little like Annisette, Pastis, or Licorice candy. Bottom line. It’s yummy!
And that my friends, sums up salsa in Calí.
“¡Que el alma, que el alma, que el alma se me revienta!”