Salsa dancing has flourished in San Juan, Puerto Rico. // © 2017 Puerto Rico Tourism Company
Feature image (above): Merengue and bachata are two popular dance styles in the Dominican Republic. // © 2017 Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism
Music is everywhere in the Caribbean, pouring out from passing taxis, storefronts, beach bars, and nightclubs. Rhythm powers the music, which is made for dancing. Those who want to learn to dance merengue, salsa and bachata will luck out with many venues that teach patrons and guests the basic steps.
Probably the easiest way for your clients to delve into Caribbean dance styles is by booking a resort that includes some form of dance instruction. I’ve been to plenty of all-inclusive resorts throughout the Caribbean that feature daily afternoon dance classes by the pool. These are nonjudgmental sessions that typically take resort guests through several dance styles, imparting in them enough confidence that they’ll quickly be comfortable on the resort’s nightclub dance floor when Latin rhythms are in full swing.
If you have clients who are looking for a more immersive experience, there are two Caribbean destinations that go the extra mile: the Dominican Republic and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In the same way that reggae powers Jamaica, merengue is the motor that drives the Dominican Republic. Merengue folklore cites the origin of the dance back to the 19th century, when the Dominican Republic was fighting for its independence. At a party, a wounded, limping soldier took to the dance floor. Out of respect for the soldier’s service, the other partygoers imitated his halting steps.
It’s a relatively easy dance to learn, with a simple two-step pattern that has been likened to walking underwater. If male visitors from the U.S. want to fit in on the dance floor, they should observe their Latin counterparts. These men keep a dignified expression on their faces and make small movements, leaving the showier steps to their female partner.
A close second in popularity is bachata, a sexier and more intimate dance than merengue. It’s not as sensual as lambada, the forbidden dance, but it comes close. Like merengue, the steps are simple.
Chances are, the majority of your Dominican Republic-bound clients will be heading to Punta Cana. Tour operator ILoveDominicanRepublic offers an excursion called BachaTour, which kicks off with learning merengue and bachata in a classroom before joining locals at a Punta Cana nightclub. The price of the tour includes dance lessons, bus transportation to the nightclub of choice and the club’s cover charge.
If merengue is the main reason your clients have chosen to vacation in the Dominic Republic, suggest they book their trip during Santo Domingo’s annual late July/early August Merengue Festival, which spans two weeks. This is when the capital throbs all day and night with merengue, both in the streets and in the city’s venues. Top bands and performers are booked into the festival, which also includes a healthy serving of bachata.
While salsa’s beginnings were in Cuba, it’s Puerto Rico where it has flourished, especially for U.S. travelers. As Puerto Rican communities in the U.S. grew, salsa became part of the country’s soundtrack.
Salsa is captivating, rhythmic music pulsing with horns and percussion. Learning salsa takes a little more effort than merengue and bachata. The basic step might seem fairly simple — with the male stepping forward and the female dancer stepping back — but there’s a world of variation in this basic step.
In San Juan, the most colorful place to learn salsa is Nuyorican Cafe, located in Old San Juan. Suggest your clients head down to the club on Wednesdays around 9p.m., which is when the club offers free salsa lessons. The atmosphere is friendly, and clients will have the basic moves under their belt when the live salsa music begins.
The Old San Juan bar The Latin Roots also offers free salsa lessons on Wednesdays. Salseros and salseras (salsa experts) are passionate about the dance, and if they’re around on other nights of the week, impromptu dance lesson might be offered.
For an upscale setting, recommend that your clients head over to Blue Martini, a trendy lounge in San Juan’s Paseo Caribe neighborhood, for their Tuesday and Thursday salsa nights.
The hotel lobby at San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is another prime spot to enjoy live music and Latin dancing. Residents from the city drop in — dressed to impress in starched guayaberas and frilly dresses — to dance to live music in a sophisticated setting. Even if your clients are hesitant to dance themselves, it’s an enjoyable scene with lots of local color.
And don’t forget to remind clients of Colombian singer Shakira, who achieved world fame with her song, “Hips Don’t Lie.” As long as your dance-loving, Caribbean-bound clients keep this in mind, they’ll have a great time out on the floor.