17 april 2019 – Cali, colombia


It is a hot and sultry night in tropical Cali. I lower myself into the front site of a small yellow korean-made taxi and greet the driver with a firm ‘buenas nochas’. He grumbles a non-descript response. Meanwhile Susan and Christine wiggle themselves into the back seat. For Christine, a tall dark-haired german girl, this certainly takes some of effort. Now we just need our guide to join us.
To our amazement we him see on the sidewalk, walking away from us. This local guy with curly dark brown hair had invited Susan and Christine to go to a salsa club with him. He had even hailed this very taxi, but now he was bailing without even looking back? Even in the small taxi there was plenty space for him on the back seat. Or did he count on an exclusive data with the girls? They didn’t consult him when they invited me. We looked at each other and shrugged and decided to go on with his plan anyway.

Several minutes later (and nine blocks farther into the city) we get out at the club: a big building sporting a large bright neon sign with just the word ‘Salsa’. There are fences and and approach route, apparently meant to contain large crowd of visitors but we seen no one there except for a whole squad of security guards. As I try to enter the refuse me and point to a small square hole, barely more than a hand wide, in a large gleaming white glass. We approach and bend down to see the lady of the ticket office at the other side and are allowed in after buying our tickets.

Inside the club were are greeted by a welcome blast of cool air and the sight of dozens of circular tables and seats all clustered around a central dance floor with an adjoining video screen. Most seats were empty and only a few couples danced. One of a dozen of waiters led us to an empty table next to the dance floor and we sit down. Tough looking security guards patrol the floor and smile affably at us as they pass.

The music in the club is loud: the bass is so intense that I feel my organs moving inside my body along with the rhythm. The rest of the crowd is composed of well-dressed wealthy looking people. Most of the men look rather, well, corpulent. They women that clung to their arms were often considerably younger. Bottles of rum and other strong liquor adorn the round tables before them. The whole crowd makes me feel undressed in my old faded black shorts.

I take the girls out on the floor for a couple of spins. Susan, a former Chinese investment banker, and Christine both dance full of energy and enthusiasm but with little skill. They had taken just one lesson in their lives after all. Christine especially often glues her body to mine, turning the dance into something more like an intimate bachata than a proper salsa. Additionally, she has a penchant for making funny faces while dancing: easily matching my own antics.

I enjoy the dancing but I also want to try and dance with some of the Calenos. I did notice that the other guests of the club only dance with people from their own table though. Nobody is asking anyone outside of their little circle, not at all what I’m used to from salsa parties in Holland. So I feel a bit apprehensive of approaching anyone.

The girls happily assist me in choosing a likely target. We are foiled once when a man protectively puts his arm around the target lady we decided on just as I was about to make my approach. Finally I spot a good opportunity, walk over and extend my open hand. The woman’s eyes got wide with shock and she briefly flips her gaze to her friends. No help there though: they only grin and wave her on.

The dance is challenging but not decent enough, I manage to show off a little of my new fancy footwork but mostly dance Cuban salsa. After this first dance do a couple of more approaches and get a positive response each time. At that point the social ice seems to break at this club. The men that accompany the ladies shake my hand vigorously after each dance, clap me on the back, compliment me on my style and give me shots of rum. One of them even brings over his woman for a second dance, although she had looked somewhat aghast during our first time on the dance floor.

To their delight, the men also started asking Susan and Christine for a dance. At some point even a women approaches me and asks for a dance. The dance floor grows fuller even though the crowd has not grown bigger and the atmosphere changes from the separate dancing clusters to a more of a joint experience. Even the security guards start hanging at our spot in the club, eager to join in the festivities.

All in all, it was a fun evening out and the three of us left satisfied at 2 AM.

Related stories