It’s that time of year again, when Strictly fever mixes with the festive spirit. Come Saturday night, we’ll all be glued to our screens with sequins dancing before our eyes, discussing heel leads, arm extensions and SEV-EN! In 2014, the Strictly Come Dancing Final racked up a whopping 11.6 million viewers across the UK, and this year is set to pip the last.
Why? It’s all about the journey. Week on week, we watch a handful of celebrities become hopelessly hooked on learning a tough new skill and pour their hearts into spinning around the dance floor. Even the clompiest of beginners seem to find some secret inner grace. It’s caterpillar-to-butterfly stuff, and seeing it unfold from the edge of the sofa is nothing short of magical.
But you don’t need to be a celeb to get a glitterball experience of your own. Far from it. Do-it-yourself Strictly Come Dancing is entirely possible. Just hop on a plane over to Latin America, join a local dance school and set your feet free! You’ll come home happy, healthy and desperate to keep dancing. It’s every bit as addictive as it looks on TV.
Salsa cuts to the heart of Cuba, making it the perfect spot to find your dancing feet. Havana is dotted with dozens of salsa schools, so you can take lessons by day and hit hole-in-the-wall salsa dives by night. It’s a wonderful way to meet the locals and get a real taste of joyful Cuban culture - no Spanish necessary.
Beyond Havana, Santiago de Trinidad is the home of traditional Cuban music and, in many ways, the dancing capital of the country. Its cobbled streets are high on heady Cuban atmosphere, coupled with a lingering feeling that time has stood still. The salsa spills out of the clubs and onto the plazas, where you’ll find mojito trolleys at the ready to supply sneaky drinks between dances.
Cali is a city that runs on salsa. Sweaty, sexy and exploding with charisma, it’s the Colombian cradle of salsa. Salsa music pumps out from passing taxis, echoes along supermarket aisles and seeps from under every doorway. More than that, salsa holds the community together. In Cali, dancing is a way of life. I arrived in Cali expecting to stay for a few days. And then I got hooked. Seriously hooked. Four months and around 300 dance classes later, I was up on a stage dancing salsa in a sparkly costume in front of crowd. Nobody was more shocked about this than me…
You’ll find a colourful mix of graffitied garage salsa clubs, old-world ‘viejotecas’ with records piled up to the ceiling and hidden salsa bolt holes. There are dozens of dance studios scattered across the city and many of the hostels also double up as salsa schools. Unlike Cuban salsa, Salsa Caleña is lightning fast and full of fancy footwork, so be prepared to sweat! It’s worth every ounce of effort.
Shrug off your British stiffness, take a deep breath and dive into Latin sensuality. The Argentine tango is intense - seriously intense - and a route straight into feeling sexy. Born in the working class backstreets of Buenos Aires, there really is no better place to learn. It’s brilliant for building confidence and getting comfortable with yourself.
A medley of fast and slow, flicks and kicks, push and pull, the tango is a steamy power struggle set to music. It’s all about eye contact, control and feeling the rhythm of your partner’s body, so expect to get close - really close. Once you’ve mastered the basics, head to one of Buenos Aires’ legendary milongas and dance the night away. It’s pulse-racing stuff.
Brazil is big in size and even bigger on dancing. If you’re looking to try your hand (or feet) at a few different styles, it’s got to take the top spot. Wiggle your way into the carnival spirit by learning samba or mix it up with some capoeira, a martial art that uses aspects of dance and acrobatics. However, if you want to dance to the true beat of Brazil, you need set about learning forró (pronounced faw-HAW).
Samba might be more widely known, but forró is the real Brazilian deal. Playful, sexy and downright fun, it’s Brazil’s most popular partner dance. With roots in Brazilian folk culture, forró is danced all across the country by forrozeiros from every generation. Blending salsa-style turns with heaps of leg play and a fair bit of cheek-to-cheek action, forró is really varied and a joy to learn. Just be warned, it’s highly addictive.
Bachata is danced all over Latin America, but its birthplace - the Dominican Republic - takes the biscuit. Nowadays, the dance has morphed into many hip-popping forms - sensual bachata and bachatango to name a couple - but nothing beats the original. In the Dominican Republic, bachata is a source of national pride. Head for the Caribbean cobblestones of Santo Domingo and you’ll find hot clubs around every bend, each one beckoning you in for a bachata. Or two.
Here, bachata is a gentle, romantic and cheeky game, with loads of nifty footwork and close embraces. Alternating between soft bouncing and hip bumping, it’s sexy but lighthearted at the same time. Arguably one of the easiest Latin dances to learn, Dominican bachata is also perfect for beginners. While you’re there, have a go at merengue too - another dance emerging from the island.
If you’re inspired and think 2016 could be the year to learn to dance – and to learn in South America as part of your holiday, we can tailor-make a trip and our local suppliers can help find dance lessons. We’ll tailor-make your trip; flights, accommodation and any trips (or dancing!) entirely to fit your style and budget. And if you decide to jack in your life back home for a life of dance – don’t forget we offer a free date change service whilst you're travelling - so you can extend your flights!