509 S. Broadway
Baltimore, MD 21231
509 S. Broadway
509 S. Broadway
Baltimore, MD 21231
8307 Main Street
Ellicott City MD 21043
Salsa night is every Thursday, with Salsa classes starting at 8pm with dance instrutor Eileen Torres. Social dancing starts at 10pm and the party continues until 2am, there is plenty of public parking behind the building in the public lot and the surrounding streets. For more info contact La Palapa directly.
Friday, after work, I already had my duffel bags in the car, and a few pair of dancing shoes packed. So, at five o’clock, I opened my car trunk and hoisted some clothes and hangers up to the office bathroom on the seventh floor—and started making my transformation into “salsa vixen.”
Half an hour later, I emerged from the super conservative law firm in a tiny leopard print dress and some black, Givenchy fishnets. I’ll be different, I thought. Little did I know that four hours away, in the Sheraton Houston Hollowbrook Hotel, for the 8th Annual Houston Salsa Congress, I would find at least a hundred women wearing some form of fishnets, and, yes, ALL of them, donning a similar leopard-print dress.
In the Congress dressing rooms, dancers with gems-studded stockings, sequins on their satin pumps, and rhinestones in their hair, adjusted shoe straps, fastened long, fake eyelashes, and lined and re-lined eyes and lips. Faces were flawless, skin smooth and tan, and costumes sparkled with glitter.
I arrived late, and found a lone empty seat in the middle of the audience. Peering over and between heads, I tried to catch a glimpse of the dancers on stage—spinning and shaking shoulders and doing splits under the bright lights. The audience whooped and whistled as both professional and student teams displayed their talents, and by the time the performances were over, the audience was more than ready to hit the dance floor.
As volunteers and congress workers cleared the ballroom of chairs to make room for social dancing, I ordered a plastic cup of “vino tinto” from the bar and took a break on a couch in the ladies restroom. Women of all nationalities and backgrounds came in to look in the full size mirror—adjusting shirts, pulling down skirts, re-applying makeup and giving a quick peek at the rear-view. I chatted with an Italian woman and her Spanish teacher, as well as a woman from Africa, and a long-legged white girl in pink lace hot-shorts who looked like a full-blown model.
Glass of wine down, I made my way back to the dancehall just as the New Swing Sextet came out on stage, each in demure black suites, finding their respective place behind the bongos, bass, and piano. However, as the music started, it was the song of the vibraphone, and the round, satin-covered drum sticks bouncing across white keys, that filled the room with a chill yet euphoric, New York-style salsa. No loud horns and in-your-face tempo. Just laid back, smooth jazz from ages past—like music for dancing on tip toes.
One of my first dances of the night was with handsome Karisma dancer, Carlos Hernandez, of New York. Whom I met one night while commenting on his red plaid pants. His dancing is passionate and unique. He spun and swayed and brought me to complete stops. Then he broke out complicated footwork, dipped me, and turned me this way and that, until all I could do was try to follow, and watch in awe the spectacle I was observing. He comes up close to you, looks directly in your eyes, and then is off in his own world. Low to the ground, and then back above you, as if he owns you.
Later on the carpet, I watched him dance with Desiree Godsell—one of the most original, soulful and creative dancers I’ve seen. Originally from Houston, Texas, she now lives in New York and dances with Griselle Ponce in Jersey’s Finest. Together, she and Carlos twirled and twisted on the carpet, like a spontaneous freestyle rap—each one cutting the coolest line they knew, and the other responding with something even better. Their faces emoting sheer pleasure, and Desiree kicking into the air and then dropping down to the ground in guaguanco, and then spinning on one leg. The best of the best. I stood against the wall, grinning from ear to ear, enjoying my gin and tonic, and what I felt was the best seat in the house.
Saturday night, the dancers came out in their sharpest attire—cats from New York, Chicago and Dallas wearing blazers and bow ties, with tight pants and loafers. Hair slicked back and diamond earrings. The women all in small things that showed lots of leg. As the ballroom filled for the performance, seats were quickly taken, and afterward, swarms of people stood around the seating area, spilling into the hallways, drinking, talking, and having to be shushed during announcements.
The energy was high and only continued to escalate as Boston performers turned out to represent in true style. Masacote gave a high-class performance to Latin Funk, with an organic feel—cool and modern, and different from what you normally see on the stage. Instead of sequins and spandex, Ana Masacote in her tan sheath dress and fur rimmed collar was like Salsa on Saks Fifth Avenue.
Later, Hacha Y Machete performed one of my favorite routines— with a powerful, dark and sultry piece of music that combines perfectly with their raw energy and leg-shaking, fist-pumping choreography. By the end of their performance, you were ready to jump up and holler, and the audience did just that.
After all of the performances were over and the chairs were cleared for social dancing, I grabbed Darlin Garcia, and walked in on his sharply-suited arm, happy and ready to dance. Mr. Darlin is a smooth and perfect lead—one who dances with you at the level you can handle but always pushes you to do things you never did before. A true gentleman, he dances with all sorts of women, not just professionals. I see him on the dance floor grinning and getting down with any level of dancer, and one can see him dancing not just with his partner, but more with the music itself, as if the clave and tambor were the only thing that mattered, and all else was secondary.
By the time four o’clock rolled around, I had already taped and re-taped my blisters. The Band-Aids that I had wrapped around my toes had fallen off somewhere. The water jugs all empty and bar closed, I sat in the hallway waiting for my ride until the dance floor was cleared. Hallways stood empty, and ballroom doors were locked. Flyers from upcoming salsa congresses were strewn about like confetti, and everywhere were night pass wristbands, hair ties, and an odd dance shoe—lying around in the aftermath. My ears ringing and body completely dehydrated there were energy drink posters with hot Latin babes on the walls, and the Bachata room vacant when it had been so thick and heavy with sweat and sensuality. I felt like back in the days when I went to raves and there was always that side jungle room—all dark and earthy. These Congresses are the Latin version of those raves that young American kids used to do. But whether your musical taste is House music and Trance, or Salsa and Bachata, I think people everywhere will always find a place to go out and dance until the sun comes up. It’s just something we dancers do.
by Christina Gates
So one day in July of last year, I was sitting at my computer on Facebook reading some funny posts. And I get a phone call from one of my friends asking me if I heard the news that Skybar was closing. I laughed and I said “no way that place is always packed”, then asked him if he was crazy. So for my piece of mind I called one of the staff and asked if it was true, and to my horror he confirmed my worst nightmare. Skybar had always been my favorite place to go and dance Salsa. Hearing that it closed was like hearing that your childhood school burned down. That place was the one spot in Houston that felt like you were partying in a penthouse club in LA or New York. And I had been going to Skybar since the first week they offered a Salsa night on Thursdays. It was a place that you could go to and always have a good time. And I was always made to feel at home and got the royal treatment from the, Managers, Security, Bartenders, Johnny the Elevator Operator, David Cruz the house DJ, and the house Salsa band Salmerum. Even Scott Gertner himself always shook my hand and asked me if I was enjoying myself. If you had never had the pleasure to go to the original Skybar, let me paint a picture for you. It was a penthouse nite club on the top of a 10-story office building off Montrose and Westheimer. It had a long glass wall that allowed you to see the city skyline from the dance floor and the tables. It had two outdoor patios on each side of the club, one with an outdoor bar. It was one of the best places in Houston to view fireworks on the fourth of July or to just go out on a cool night and look at the stars and the city melt together. You knew you were in the right spot when you drove up and looked to the top floor. Because there you would see the white lights that surrounded the roof of the building and the colored lasers, strobe lights, and sounds that came pulsating through the windows. Well that is what you missed, and that’s what all the regulars will miss. Apparently Skybar had to close because the building’s owners failed to make needed repairs and didn’t keep the building up to code. Scott was maintaining some of the buildings upkeep, especially the parking garage, out of his own pocket so he could remain open. His staff would walk the entire four-story parking garage and lobby to clean it each night after the club closed. They would also wipe the windows, and clean the elevators which all of this was supposed to be the buildings owners responsibility. But that effort on Scott’s part didn’t stop the orange City of Houston stickers that were appearing on all doors listing the the violations and expired permits. All of that plus several visits from the fire marshals about the building were the final straw. So in July enough was enough and he closed the doors to a Houston legend forever. Keep in mind Skybar wasn’t just a place for Salsa dancing, as a matter of fact they primarily played R&B and Jazz every other night. And It has had many famous entertainers on its stage, people like Luther Vandross, Patti Labelle, the Ojays, Brian McKnight, Chick Corea, Bob James, and even Comedian Steve Harvey. And of course Scott being a three time Grammy nominee himself, would perform there also. And not just entertainers came to Skybar but a lot of local professional athletes from the Rockets, Astros, Comets, and Dynamos would go to hang out, as well as out of town athletes. Any night you could walk through the door and maybe rub elbows with athletes like Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Shaq, Mutombo, Jose Lima, and many others, they all made Skybar their regular hangout. It truly was the end of a Houston legend, but all was not lost Scott already had plans for a new Skybar. Plus he had already open Scott Gertners Sports bar at 3100 Fountainview a few years back to give his patrons a second place to hangout. They even brought the Salsa crowd there for a short time, but the rough floor proved to be a problem for the Salsa dancers. So ultimately it remained just a Sports bar, and the best place for the avid sports fans to enjoy a drink, watch a game and listen to live music. So after months and months of rumors and waiting and hoping the NEW Skybar was finally opened. Its proper name now is ”Scott Gertners at the Houston Pavilion”, but myself and all my fellow Salseros still call it Skybar. It’s located at 1201 Fannin, suite 300 (corner of Dallas and Fannin) on the third floor of the Downtown Pavilion complex. And it is a even greater more chic place to party than the original Skybar. It has a huge dance floor, an awesome stage, a VIP area, and several bars scattered throughout the club. Plus two sets of restrooms, an outdoor patio, and a full service kitchen that serves many types of food during club hours. The new club has an occupancy of 700 people and is 13,000 square feet, that’s much larger than the old Skybar that was only 10,000 square feet. And guess what is not even done yet, Scott is still working to complete It. When its completely done it will be a bi-level club featuring three outdoor patios, a green room for performers, and various VIP areas. The rooftop will feature an outside bar, couches, cabanas and its own DJ for a separate party experience. This new club in Scott’s own words “is an extension of the Skybar, only on the next level”. And what else is new you may ask? There is a new house band right now, Grupo Kache, featuring local Houston legend Rudy Rincon. And you can see occasional Samba performances from Lucia Dargam’s LD dance company. And they have new lovely ladies serving food and drinks, plus two beautiful Salsa/hip hop gogo dancers, dancing above the main stage. New security staff, cashiers, and managers. But not everyone is new, there are still lots of familiar faces that make this new Skybar still feel like home. Edgar Lefort my favorite bartender is still there and a few of the others made the transition as well. DJ David Cruz is still spinning the hits, Ruby and Darnell are still teaching the free Salsa class. Even my good buddy Vern is still hooking us up with cologne and other stuff in the mens restroom. Just like all of them I have made this new Skybar my home and I will watch it grow and become the new legendary spot to dance Salsa on Thursdays, its already off to a great start, the only thing missing is for the rest of you to come and join us.
by Anthony Hombrebailador
Have you ever done this? You’re on the floor, the music is pulsing, perhaps you’ve had a bit of liquid courage and your body seemingly moves instinctually to the beat. Suddenly, you consciously think to yourself, “This is really odd; why am I doing this? Why do any of us do this?” If so, you are asking a question that has managed to elude anthropologists and archaeologists and remains a continuing mystery.
Dance exists in all cultures throughout the world. Almost everyone, some more than others, enjoy this most basic human behavior. There seems to be some mental satisfaction gained from moving rhythmically to music. This begs the question, if it is instinctual, does this mean we evolved to enjoy this behavior? Universal behaviors are not randomly acquired; we must have inherited this peculiarity through some need that pre-dates written history.
Evidence through illustrations on ceramic fragments found in Pakistan and the Danube Basin suggest that dance may have originated approximately 5000-9000 years ago. The world’s earliest definitive evidence of dance is a bronze figurine of a dancing girl discovered in the 4,000-year-old ruin of Mohenjo-Daro, an archaeological site situated in the province of Sindh, Pakistan. Scientists have also extrapolated information from the preserved ritual dances of preliterate societies. However, I wonder if it goes further back in history to a time before homo-sapiens even walked the Earth.
Though numerous cultures could be used as examples to discuss the evolution of dance, for the sake of brevity, I will only briefly discuss the Native American cultures. Their dances offer some of the best illustrations of dance as a form of communication. They used it to tell stories about war, tribal history and celestial events and other tribal concerns. Also, dance was used to give thanks to the gods or call on them for their blessings and guidance in fertility, sowing of crops, and hunting. As illustrated in the Ghost Dance, a trance like state is achieved which is characteristic of Asian and African cultural dances can be witnessed. Were the Native Americans influenced by another ancient people? Until recently, it is believed that the first people to inhabit North America were the Clovis people some 13,100 years ago. However, recent archaeological discoveries in the Paisley Caves of Oregon, pre- date this to 14,300. DNA that is closely related to the Native Americans has been discovered which has ties to Siberia and Asia. We know that those people came from the Middle East and from there, Mitochondrial DNA is traced to Human origins in Africa. Why did I deviate from the original topic of dance to genetic lineage? To establish that all persons originated from Africa and we all come from the same genetic pool. Hence, do genes play a role in the development of dance and how it evolved?
Scientists studied a large population of dancers and non-dancers and found that only the dancer population possessed two genes that are strongly associated with good social communication. Along with this, two other physical characteristics were also found in dancers. Serotonin levels tend to be higher which boost the moods in humans. Also, dancers tend to be more symmetrical which is associated with health and beauty. These three factors may be part of the answer as to why dancing in humans is culturally universal.
Let’s start with social communication. The ability to communicate effectively was essential and necessary for survival in prehistoric times. Those who could effectively communicate were more successful when hunting and gathering so they were healthier and stronger. Also, successfully reading the physical cues of others would give rise to better cooperation and less conflict within a social group. Did prehistoric people ostracize those that did not benefit their colony? This would certainly decrease the number of offspring that did not possess that genetic quality.
People with higher Serotonin levels tend to be more social, happier and well adjusted. They suffer from far less anxiety and tend to adapt well. One can see that those characteristics would have been beneficial if not almost essential to co-exist in any population be it human or otherwise.
Lastly, symmetry in humans is largely associated with beauty. Numerous studies have been performed that prove both males and females are attracted to faces and bodies that are proportionate and symmetrical. But it’s not only beauty that is at play here. Many genetic deformities and diseases are associated with asymmetry. It stands to reason that this attraction evolved as a way to keep the population healthy and strong.
Without a doubt, most humans love to dance; some more than others. Even though the experts may not have a definite answer as to when dance first came into existence, it is a distinct possibility that contemporary society inherited the ability and desire from our ancient ancestors. There is no longer a need for dance as a means of communication and survival and dance has now evolved to an art form as well as just a social past time . However, the group of women on the dance floor at their favorite hotspot, or, the couple dancing Salsa may seemingly be meaningless to many. Though, I would argue that their movements are more than just a way to entertain or call attention to their selves. They hearken back to our prehistoric ancestral need for physical communication as a means to survive. Many dancers would say that dance, even in contemporary society, is still necessary to their existence.
by Robin Clark
by Anthony Hombrebailador