What is Rooftop Salsa
Rooftop Salsa is a salsa social in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa that began at Arts On Main in 2011 and moved to nearby 28 Auret Street in 2016.
The core philosophy of Rooftop Salsa is that dancing has a magical effect on our mood. It's akin to meditation in that it focuses you on the moment and allows you to shut out all the noise and distractions of the outside world. Put away that smart phone, absorb the sun on your face and just boogie. When you dance, everything is reduced to making music with your body, and the focus on all your other identities fades away.
I helped kickstart salsa in Joburg by hosting a weekly salsa party at a restaurant I owned in Melville from 2006 to 2008. After I sold the restaurant, I kept on organizing salsa parties all around town. In 2011, I approached the Canteen Restaurant and launched Rooftop Salsa, Sunday afternoon dance sessions at the open air bar above the Canteen. Rooftop Salsa moved to nearby 28 Auret Street, corner of Fawcus and Jules, in June 2016.
The crowd at Rooftop Salsa is as diverse as the city of Joburg. There are a fair number of expats, but otherwise, it's a cross section of the city. We have a core of dance fans, but what makes dancing at the Rooftop especially fun is that we welcome everyone, even those who claim they have two left feet. There is no such thing! If you can walk, you can dance.
There is no better place to bring visitors to Johannesburg than the Maboneng Precinct of which Rooftop Salsa is now a big part of.
Maboneng is a particularly ideal space to host a salsa party because its urban landscape echoes the birth of salsa in the Latin barrios or neighbourhoods of New York City, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. It's loose, sassy, cosmopolitan. You throw in salsa music in the mix, and you get a sexy, chilled vibe to while away a Sunday afternoon.
hat is required to join our dance sessions? A pulse! But seriously, people can be precious about dancing. They say, Oh I can't dance! Well, do you expect to know how to play tennis without learning? Why should dance be any different? If you put in an hour or so of basic steps, you should be off and running. You don't need lessons to come and dance on the roof. Comfortable shoes and a happy spirit. We provide the music and dance partners.
When not promoting salsa, I work as a print journalist, filmmaker and video trainer at www.media-academy.co.za.
Salsa in Joburg began taking serious roots with weekly Saturday evening parties at the Melville Grill about ten years ago. Here is an oral history of how it began, as well an overview of the dance scene in the city as captured during at an interview of Rooftop Salsa creator Samson Mulugeta with Bridgitt Masinga of Kaya FM.
Rooftop Salsa on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RooftopSalsa/
Salsa Jozi on Facebook: https://goo.gl/tSN8Pz
Salsa Lessons with Leigh Nathan of Salsa Addicts: https://www.facebook.com/salsaaddictsjhb/?pnref=lhc
Kizomba with Ezra Smollan: https://www.facebook.com/groups/495445047288980/
Ahora Si!: http://www.ahorasi.co.za/ahorasi/
Kizomba with BailaAfrika: https://www.facebook.com/bailaafrika/
En Fuego Salsa Band at the Orbit: http://www.theorbit.co.za/
Story of Salsa in Joburg
My name is Samson Mulugeta, and It's the irony of my life that I barely noticed the world of Latino and salsa culture all around me while living in New York City for 20 years, but ended up, after I moved to Johannesburg, inadvertently helping kick start the salsa craze in South Africa’s largest city. It happened a decade ago when I started hosting weekly parties at a restaurant I owned in the bohemian enclave of Melville.
Year’s later, my love affair with the Latin music culture still burns strongly. I currently host Rooftop Salsa, a Sunday afternoon dance party atop a converted furniture factory turned art centre in downtown Joburg near the creative enclave of the Maboneng Precinct.
But that is just one event in a city buzzing with dance energy. Joburg is host to some sort of dance gathering almost every night.
Take Monday nights, considered one of the slowest evenings in the hospitality industry.
But don't tell that to Monica Munoz and her Cuban salsa followers who pack an otherwise deserted shopping centre in the northern suburb of Sunninghill every Monday evening.
The diminutive Chilean heads a hugely popular dance school in Joburg - Estilo Cubano - and specializes in bringing dance instructors directly from Havana, Cuba.
Tuesday nights belong to Ezra Smollan whose fluid flavor of Kizomba, the Angolan dance, is a perfect blend of the dance forms' tango roots and African accent.
Also Tuesday nights is when Full Stop Cafe in Parktown North opens its doors to dancers who come to learn from instructor Leigh Nathan of the Salsa Addicts school. Leigh is one of the most elegant and cerebral instructors in the South African dance scene. She is mesmerizing to watch, and no one deconstructs dance moves as precisely and incisively as she does.
If Wednesday is your night, you can head over to BailaAfrika workshops in Illovo led by the effervescent husband and wife team of Natasha and Edd Wyatt who acquired their skills in stints in London and dance festivals around the world.
Thursdays bring bachata lessons with Leigh Nathan at her studio in Parkhurst. Bachata is the deceptively simple but addictive dance form from the Dominican Republic known for its soulful tunes and sensuous body movements. The biggest name in bachata is Romeo Santos, New Yorker worshiped by millions as he otherwise remains a super star barely known by the mainstream music culture.
If it's Friday night, it means Joburg dancers are headed to Dance Cafe in Rivonia, one of the most resourceful and best-organized dance schools in Joburg where you can learn every type of dance imaginable.
Saturday nights are established as the main showcase parties for the city's salsa lovers. Different schools and community leaders take turns hosting Saturday night parties.
They include Emmanuel Sowah of Salsa Spirit, one of the most active teachers and DJs in the city who hosts several parties each month, including one in Rivonia and another one in Melville. Emmanuel also makes occasional forays to Pretoria where there is a huge demand for dance classes and dance socials.
Other Saturday hosts include Vicky Smith of HNS Salsa, Thabo Moloto of Come Salsa, and BailaAfrika.
On Sundays, Rooftop Salsa is where dancers have come for the past six years to spend their afternoons and take advantage of Joburg's lovely weather. Even in the dead of winter when the sun is weak, it is strong enough for dancers who keep warm by while getting their dance fix.
In the evening of the last Sunday of the month, the best and most dedicated salsa dancers in the city head to the Bannister Hotel in Braamfontein to the"Underground Mambo" party hosted by Ahora Si, the name for a small collective of salsa fanatics dedicated to catering to salsa devotees who crave the best and most authentic dance experience. Ahora Si! prides itself in not charging entrance fees for its events.
Dance as an Active Lifestyle
The reason to join the dance community, in case they are not self evident, include pleasurable and not too strenuous exercise, meeting a lot of locals and expats, and being part of an Afro Latino musical and cultural tradition that has deep roots and has the power to move your soul.
The three styles of dance with an avid following in Joburg are salsa, bachata and kizomba.
Kizomba is the new entrant on the scene and the style that currently arouses the most passion. That is because it can be picked up easily at a social without taking a lesson. Most people can pick up the side to side two step very easily and will be content to do that for the rest of the evening. Because of that, kizomba has brought a lot of new dancers to the community who are unfamiliar with the other dance forms.
Secondly, bachata has a smaller but passionate following. Bachata originates from the Dominican Republic and its side to side to steps are tied to a very specific style of Dominican country music. Many dancers in Joburg can do basic bachata while students of Leigh Nathan of SalsaAddicts and HNS Salsa take it to a more sophisticated level.
Salsa has two major styles: Crossbody and Cuban.
A majority of salsa dancers around the world - and in Joburg - adhere to crossbody which is danced in a straight line.
Cuban salsa, which has fanatical adherents around the world, is danced in a circle.
In Joburg, Leigh Nathan of SalsaAddicts is the strongest proponent of crossbody salsa, while Estilo Cubano has hundreds of students attracted by the direct-from-Cuba instructors the school imports.
How to Enter the Joburg Dance World
If you are intrigued by the world described here, but don’t feel comfortable jumping into it immediately, it is possible to visit all of the classes to observe without having to join. The Tuesday night lessons at Full Stop Cafe are an ideal way to observe a group class while having a meal or a drink at a nearby table.
You don’t need to bring a partner to join classes. There are always people like you who are there by themselves and may not have friends or partners who are keen to join.
Lessons often begin with line dances led by the instructor. Dancers stand behind the teacher in lines and follow the steps as well as they can. Everyone watches the teachers like a hawk and hang to dear life as they follow the steps which start very simple and get more adventurous as the high energy song goes along. But everybody is in the same boat and everyone is trying to match their own steps and not watching others. So you are safe to follow at your own pace.
Lessons are open to everyone without an age limit, but children are rare in classes. Ages range from 18 to above 60. The pace is not too strenuous and can be managed by everyone who can walk a kilometer or two without much trouble.
Classes are informal and do not require special attire or shoes. Many people come dressed for the office, while others feel comfortable dressed in what they would wear for a stroll in the park. Takkies or dress shoes are fine. But wearing platform shoes and stilettos is not advisable.
Most people want to know how long it takes to learn to dance. You may not feel comfortable to jump on the social dance floor after your first lesson, but you will be able to learn the basic steps, turns and crossbody leads after a one-hour class. You will be able to dance with a fellow beginner and manage all the basic steps after your first lesson.
But that is like being able to hit a tennis ball across the net after a tennis lesson. That doesn’t make you a tennis player. You will have to put in a minimum of four lessons and ideally 12 classes to step out of the total beginner space.
The most important concept you need to take to heart is the concept of recognizing the beat of the music. If you get the beat, you are halfway there, but it is not easy to grasp. Some people get it immediately while others have to work hard to learn to find the beat.
Here is a video to help you learn to follow the beat of the music.
If you want to make fast progress, a private lesson with someone like Leigh Nathan of SalsaAddicts, is invaluable. A combination of private and group classes is ideal.
The most frequent question to Rooftop Salsa is, "Do you give lessons?" We do. Join us for an hour of salsa and a half hour of Kizomba lesson every Monday starting at 6:30 PM at a location to be announced. Details: Lessons come in sets of four over four Mondays at R498 pp. After you're done with the first complete beginner set of 4 lessons, you have the option of moving up to Level 2. Booking is essential: email@example.com
Salsa at Six
What we offer at Salsa at Six on Sundays:
Music that moves us
Going out for morning people
A non-night club experience
A nice mix of salsa, bachata and Kizomba (with a sprinkling of merengue, cha cha cha and reggaeton)
Pizza, pasta and everything in between
More males dancers than females! (For some strange reason, most of the time)
A place to step outside for a bit of fresh air
Free off-street parking
A rarity in Joburg - a vibrant Main Street (7th Street) - with interesting shops, from bookstores to Thai massage.
An early (8PM) finish so you can go home and prepare for Monday
Consistency - we’re there every Sunday rain or shine.
Chronology of Salsa in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban
From Croatia to LA.
Who's Who in Salsa in SA
So you want to learn salsa
Salsa A to Z.
Relationship Lessons from the Dance Floor
In my more than a decade of dancing, one moment of wisdom imparted by one of my instructors sticks out. Treat each three or four minute song like a relationship, the teacher had said. Approach your partner with confidence and pizzazz, peacock your way in with a couple of dramatic steps before moving in gently to impress your partner with a series of gradually complicated steps.
That advice has come in handy as I have followed my passion several times a week. In fact, I have found the dance floor to be a veritable microcosm of relationship drama encapsulated within individual songs or dance evenings.
Before every dance, I can imagine what’s going on through the mind of my new partner: does this guy know what he is doing? Is he going to make me look like a fool? Is he going to fling me around like a rag doll? Is he going to show off with needlessly complicated routines that exhaust me physically and leave me no room to feel the music? Is he looking at me with a smile as we dance or is he grim-faced or checking out the other ladies on the dance floor? Is his touch rough and forceful or is it gentle but firm? Does he escalate to physical intimacy immediately or does he take me on a ladder of increasing closeness in tune with the music?
All these questions apply to a woman contemplating a romantic relationship with a new partner. So here are some insights about romantic relationships that I’ve gleaned from the dance floor:
Take turns to lead and follow
While we live in an era of gender equality, things work out better if there is a clear leader and follower. It takes as much skill and concentration to follow as it is to lead, many dancers discover. A fine balance is created between the initiation of an action and its execution, and the follower needs Zen-like concentration to help create beautiful movements, while a good leader leads by transmitting his intentions with strong, clear movements that allow the follower to understand effortlessly. Things work better in relationships if you and your partner take turns taking the lead in different arenas of your life.
Leadership is Earned
On the dance floor as well as in life, knowledge and expertise is paramount. In order to lead, you must know your stuff. Many times you have to have broad and detailed knowledge in order to inspire confidence in your partner.
Your uniqueness is your biggest selling point. There will always be better dancers, but none will be like you. Your personality and quirks are you and you must take possession of them. Appreciate yourself and the world, or your partner, will come around to celebrating you and your style.
It’s not about you
Although the male gets the mantle of leader in salsa dancing, his sole raison d’être is to make his partner look good. The man frames, twirls and escorts his partner to different poses and moves to show off his queen to the world. All eyes should be on her. His reward is the look of joy in her eyes. In dance, as in real life, the secret to people’s heart is to make them feel good about themselves.
Patience is a virtue
The world is not revealed in an instant. Sometimes it takes a while, and several dances, to get to know people. People go to great lengths to present a façade to the world and it is easy to be swept off one’s feet by this image. Wait. It takes a while for their true color to show. You will be in for a nasty surprise when a deal-breaker behavior rears its ugly ahead. If you’re already invested emotionally and physically from the get-go, it is harder to extricate yourself.
Some match ups in dance and in life catch fire quickly but also peter out quickly. Be patient. As obvious as it may sound, you can’t always judge someone by your initial impression. Give them a chance to grow on you. Some people need time to fully blossom.
First impressions do matter
That doesn’t mean you should slack off when a special person comes into your life. As contradictory as it may sound, sometimes special connections are recognizable immediately and you have to go for it.
Keep your Options Open and Be Ready to walk Away
In dance as in life, it is easy to get used to a particular partner and stop growing. You have to try out what the world has to offer before you make your final selection. You learn something new from every person you dance with. It makes you more versatile and flexible. Even if you have a particular partner, you must not stop engaging with the world. Despite Hollywood’s romantic comedy fantasies, there is more than one soul mate for you out there. If you value yourself, there will always be someone who will appreciate it. The issue is not about “love” but the essence of yourself and your potential partner. There are unaccountable combinations for relationship happiness and not a single road to that destination.
Beauty IS Skin Deep
Some people are pretty on the outside and ugly in the inside. And vice versa. The way a person looks often has no bearing in the way they dance or the way they handle life. If you only go by looks, you’re facing a lifetime of unhappiness. But don’t fool yourself by trying to force attraction either. If you don’t find someone attractive, there is precious little you can do to change your feelings.
One of my regular dance partners never comes to class but tries to learn moves and routines from me during social dancing sessions. A beautiful person inside and out, she picks up my cues very quickly and is always asking “do you have something new?” So I have to be up on my game all the time and never stand still. You must never allow yourself to get dull. You must be creative and must constantly renew yourself by learning new things. Most relationships and marriages fall into a rut because the partners take each other for granted. You must be full of funny tricks and surprises.
Have Fun, Be Fun
Attitude is everything, and approaching your dance partner with verve and joy usually brings forth a mirrored response. Nobody wants a sourpuss, neither on the dance floor nor in life. Studies have shown the physical act of smiling actually sends chemicals to the brain that induce happiness. Be playful and refuse to take too many things seriously. You’d be surprised how many people you could sweep into your joyful ride.
Everybody likes the chase. So give others a chance to chase you, on the dance floor as well as in relationships. Being always available for someone’s beck and call lessens your value. Keep busy and circulate. Your market value shoots up when you are validated by those around you.
Stand Out from the Crowd
When you dress in a distinctive and stylish manner, and your body language conveys confidence and physical fitness, you send the message you are in love with life, that you take pleasure in the smallest detail of life and that you have your act together. Almost everyone loves beauty, symmetry and cleanliness so make yourself beautiful and thus desirable.
Make Friends of Both Sexes
Oftentimes men I have met on the dance floor many times look right through me and neglect to greet me as they scan the room for female forms. But some of my most rewarding salsa friendships have been with men who share my passion for dancing. Don’t let romantic interests stop you from developing and nurturing platonic friendships. They tend to be the most enduring types of friendships.
Learn to play well with others
Like family, people in a dancing community seldom go away permanently. So with the understanding that you’re stuck with each other, you have to be careful not to commit acts or words that are irreversible (like telling a woman she could afford to lose a few kilos.) The message is that sometimes people, including you, are not in the best of moods. When someone is cranky, ornery or in a mood to pick a fight, walk away. They will be sweet as pie next time, for no discernible reason. Don’t try to understand because there is nothing to understand because you yourself are like that sometimes. Go home and sleep.
You will live to dance – and love - another day.