The Dance Lifestyle in Colombia

Colombia is well-known for its parties or rumbas, 7 day a week, 24 hours a day, which means that the lifestyle that most Colombians and expats are used to came to a screeching halt when the country was put on lockdown in March due to Covid-19. Colombia also happens to be in the running for one of the worlds longest (and strictest) quarantines, and every business and industry has had to adapt.

As you can probably imagine tourism was one of the hardest hit industries, since the country quickly banned all international travel. Not to be all doom and gloom, but with the estimated peak of the virus not expected until October, who knows if the projected reopening of the borders for November is even realistic: my best guess is things will slowly return to “normal” next year. In the meantime, the Colombain people have shown much resilience, and like many worldwide, have moved their parties from the traditional face-to-face setting into virtual zoom rumbas.

Let’s talk more about what rumba is. If you are a fan of “crossover” music, you may have heard the song “Medellín” a collaboration between the Queen of Pop, Madonna, and one of Colombias most famous pop stars, Maluma. In this catchy bilingual song, Maluma raps: “Que estamos en Colombia, aquí hay rumba en cada esquina” – which translates to: we’re in Colombia and there is a party on every street corner. This couldn’t be more true (pre-quarantine), whichever city you are in, you will find different styles of music blasting, and people dancing in the streets.

Being a California girl, it has been interesting to learn about the music and dance scene in Colombia. I think we can all relate to the club scene in the states, too many drinks and not enough dancing, unless of course someone is looking to score. Maybe you remember the song from the 90’s, “Help, I’m White and I Can’t Get Down,” well the opposite is true in Colombia. Everyone gets down!

I often think that Colombians have dance in their blood, and those of us that are Shakira fans can verify that her hips don’t lie. Shakira is from Barranquilla, a port city on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia known for its yearly Carnival. The Carnaval de Barranquilla is the second largest in the world, drawing in an average of 1.5 million visitors for this four-day rumba with some 25,000 performers. Dance and music abound in this tropical fiesta that according to Colombia’s tourism bureau celebrates “everything it means to be Colombian.”

Carnaval is one of thousands of festivals, ferias or fiestas in Colombia each year, many centered around music, dance, and the myriad of cultures that makeup this incredibly biodiverse country. Those I have experienced include the Ferias de Manizales, a week long celebration of the coffee region, and the Ferias de Cali, a week long celebration of Salsa music and dancing. Some that are on my bucket list include the Feria de las Flores (festival of flowers) in Medellin, the Fiestas Novembrinas in Cartagena, and the Carnaval de Negos y Blancos, Colombia’s second largest carnival in Pasto. It will be interesting to see how these festivals adapt as we go online in these unprecedented times.

Whether you are into festivals, clubbing, or more folkloric dancing, in Colombia there is something for everyone looking to shake their groove thing. Besides its outdated reputation of being one of the world’s most dangerous cities, Santiago de Cali (Cali for short) is famous for being the World Capital of Salsa Dancing. There are several neighborhoods in Cali where you can find salsa clubs or discotecas open into the wee hours of the morning. Or if late night dancing isn’t your thing, you can check out the viejotecas which play more classic type music and attract the 60 plus crowd. Viejo means old and you will find these viejo-discotecas all over the country. You can even expect to find some open earlier in the evenings, as well as on Sunday afternoons.

Speaking of dancing in the afternoons, the Calle de Tango in Manizales is the only Tango Street in the world. But with the closure of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, the Tango industry in Manizales is taking a huge hit. Traditionally, you could visit this steep street in the heart of the Centro Histórico and find folks dancing a variety of Tango, Milonga, and Bolero. According to Erin Donaldson in her article “The Evocative Dance Lifestyle of Colombia”

“The people of Colombian Tango live their music in the midnight rush of aguardiente or rum, combined with intense dance and social interaction.”

Dance is a lifestyle in Colombia, so clubbing in Colombia as a foreigner can be awkward, dancing with strangers with moves you can’t replicate, listening to music that plays way too loud, while the Colombians seem to know the words to every song by heart and are not shy to belt them at the top of their lungs. The women dance flawlessly with anyone who invites them on the dance floor, and the men are not shy to ask a stranger for a dance, something that may seem very intimate for those of us from Western cultures. Speaking of other cultures, Colombia has an expat population of close to 1.5 million people from all over the world. Many come for love, whether it is a love of music, dance, or culture, but they stay because of the lifestyle. 

Prior to Covid there was a new dance experience in town, Dance tourism. Popular with experience and education oriented travelers who really want to immerse themselves in the culture while they experience a new country, and Colombia is the perfect place to do it (or at least it was before Covid paralyzed the local tourism and dance industries). I spoke to Graham Anderson from Salsa Classes Colombia about what they were offering before Covid and how things have changed.

“A typical dance package with Salsa Classes Colombia before covid was a personal holiday experience that allowed our students to travel around Colombia and be matched with a dance instructor in each city they visited. Our community is made up of instructors of all sorts of Latin dance styles and our students loved to share something so culturally significant with their instructors. Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba, Urban, Tango, you name it, we have instructors that not only give lessons, but will also take you to the best dance spots in town on a ‘Salsa Night Tour’ and ensure you have a fun, safe experience. 

Before Covid our instructors were not only spending 4+ hours a day working with students, but also training with their partners and groups for national and international competitions, now that’s all been put on hold, and dancers are faced with frustrating technological challenges as they attempt to continue to hone and share their art. Of course we are all eagerly awaiting the re-opening of clubs and dance venues, and for tourism to return so our students can join us again.”

If you want a taste of the Latin flavor offered by Salsa Classes Colombia, they have been working to help their instructors open a platform and curriculum that will have leveled dance classes in a variety of styles. Follow the link below as the community works to share dance with the world! 

Salsa Classes Colombia on Patreon

The long and the short of it is, if you like dancing (24 hours a day), and music ranging from Andean wind instruments and congos to the funky horns in salsa and jazz, then Colombia should be on your list of places to visit. Each region has their own variety of music and unique style of dance: El porro en Medellín, Champeta in the Caribbean, Salsa Choke in the Pacific, Tango in Manizales, Vallenato, Cumbia, Bachata, Reggaeton, Bambuco, Joropo, Salsa, and a wealth of traditional indigenous dances or bailes. There are a million reasons why Colombia should be on your bucket list, but if you love dancing, then I think it is time to check it off of your list!

I can help you plan your Colombian vacation, contact me today.

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