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November 2002

Movers & Shakers

Salsa, African or Eastern dance-here's where to learn

What better way is there to get fit than by dancing? Especially if it involves embracing not only a partner, but a whole new culture. No longer is salsa exclusively for Latinos, African dance only for tribal Africans or Eastern dancing for Levantine ladies with well-developed stomach muscles. Munich is experiencing a wave of ethnic dance classes for beginners and advanced, young and old, and all nationalities. Notably, as opposed to our Western-idealized body-styling classes or highly technical ballet, they don’t strive to make you fit a body type, but do make your body fit.

Salsa is hot right now. Indeed, salsa guru and teacher Rafael Muñoz ([089] 123 63 30, [0179] 696 08 59) says that the scene has really grown over the last five years. But what exactly is salsa? “It is a hybrid,” he says, “which came from Puerto Rico, was danced in the New York barrios in the 1960s and eventually drew in a broad spectrum of Latino dances.” Nowadays you’ll find differences in the styles of Los Angeles, Cuba and even European cities, because each has adapted and invented their own steps and figures. Muñoz aims to teach a basic technique so that students can go out and dance in other groups and nightclubs and feel comfortable whatever the steps. At higher levels students learn more complicated moves, such as the intricate footwork of “Cuban knots.” Many newcomers are not aware that salsa dancing usually requires a partner of the opposite sex. However, this shouldn’t worry anyone as teachers often find students from other classes who welcome the extra practice. Because the scene has become so large, there are also plenty of advertisements for dance partners in magazines and on the Internet. Another popular salsa instructor is Hakan ([089] 431 64 66), who teaches salsa in three different locations and at all levels. On Friday evenings he offers a free “Schnupperkurs” at the Munich Beach Club (Kunstpark Ost). Both teachers organize regular dance evenings.

The great thing about Eastern dance is that though it requires strong, toned muscles, they’re not expected to show. In fact, plumpness is desirable. Thus, it has been called a dance for the “whole woman,” as it also allows her to express her femininity and eroticism, anger, sadness and coquettishness. Originally a dance “for women by women,” it later became a form of entertainment for both sexes, albeit one ensuring plenty of exercise. The circular movements of the hips and the wavelike swaying of the arms are typical features of this style of dance. The Zentrum für Orientalischen Tanz ([089] 59 34 50) specializes in the Egyptian style. As well as a glamorous costume (leotards and jingly scarf around the hips), accessories include the veil, the baton, finger cymbals and the saber. The oriental décor, the tea that is served, the velvety cushions and the informal atmosphere make this school, at which the teachers strive for authenticity, the most sensual in town. The dance studio Moving Point ([089] 43 98 82 40, 201 62 45) also offers “belly dancing,” a misleading term given to the dance style by Westerners in the 19th century who were fascinated by the gyrating stomachs. Their belly dancing class is energetic and fun. The advantage of this studio is the variety of dance styles taught so that with a 10 or 20-session ticket one can also take, for example, several African dance classes.

Anyone who is looking for freedom rather than technique in dance may like to try an African dance class. Massaer Diouf, a Senegalese dance teacher at Moving Point, has participants stand in a circle and imitate his movements. No one worries about making the wrong move because there aren’t any. The object of the exercise is to free the body and soul by means of isolated body movements, especially shaking, accompanied by polymetric rhythms, that is, several drum accompaniments beating different rhythms. Original choreographies tell stories about people, nature or animals. Since expression is left to the individual, African dance is more accessible than it might seem. “If you can walk you can dance,” proclaims the Web site of Mamadou Fall ([089] 725 88 61), a highly respected West African dance teacher who has a following of dedicated, long-term students. His spirited classes are accompanied by live percussion and include chanting, essential elements of African dance. At the Freies Musik Zentrum ([089] 41 42 47 50) one can learn a cultural variant of African dance called Danza Negra. This Afro-Brazilian dance is taught by Roxana Jaffé. To avoid injuries, she makes sure that exercises are done correctly, by explaining the movements as often as necessary. “I am not looking for perfection but for the expression of humanness,” she says. It is a concept she has developed over many years of teaching. For those of us not born with the sun in our bodies, the class is a real boost. Incidentally, the FMZ has a long list of specialty courses, including Eastern dance. The friendly Studio Martins ([089] 70 51 20) also offers Afro-Brazilian dance and samba classes four times a week. Teacher Martinho Fiuza, trained in Salvador da Bahia, has performed as a solo dancer, worked as a choreographer and taught for many years. Samba is a carnival street dance from Brazil. No special outfit is needed in these classes.

One of the main things to consider when choosing a dance course is what kind of music you like and which culture you feel drawn to. There is no point in signing up for a class in African dance if you prefer violins to the djembé!

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