Salsa: A saucy Latin passion

Lorna Marsh As Norfolk prepares to welcome the salsa world champions from Colombia in just a few weeks, Lorna Marsh looks at how the Latin dance craze has taken off in the county to such an extent that it now boasts one of the most vibrant scenes in the UK.

Lorna Marsh

If you were so inclined and had the time you could do a salsa lesson six nights of the week in Norwich alone. For a small city that's a big boast - one bolstered by the fact that fanatics of the “spicy” dance come up from the capital and elsewhere to enjoy a taste of what we have to offer here.

Six years ago the picture was different. It was then that Nad Naqvi moved to the city and found himself going down to London every weekend to indulge his love of the dance and music.

But then his favourite London club closed down, giving him the idea to start one in the seemingly unlikely setting of Keir Hardie Hall.

About 30 people turned up to the first Saturday lesson and club nights followed - and in the years since, the scene has gradually mushroomed and under the banner NorwichSalsa Nad now organises and teaches at a number of events as well as DJing in Norfolk and around the UK.

He not only now runs his Keir Hardie nights on the second and last Saturdays of the month - attracting about 100 people each time, with many going on to cram into nearby Bar Tapas after midnight to continue the party, but has also set up weekly lessons in New York style salsa in Norwich on Wednesdays with nationally renowned dancer Larisa Balogh, a Russian former professional competitor, travelling from London to teach.

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There are also classes at the Ex-Services Club in Wymondham on Mondays and the Park Hotel in Diss on Thursdays.

Nad is also one of the only teachers in the country to offer lessons in Colombian style salsa - a complex syncopated version - which take place on Tuesdays at the Garage in Norwich.

Nights run by other teachers include Cuban salsa - yet another version which sees couples moving in a circular motion as opposed to the back and forth lines of New York style - at the Forum on Mondays and the first three Fridays of the month at Keir Hardie; New York at La Tasca on Thursdays and occasional Saturday nights at Bedfords.

Also just launched are Cuban salsa nights on the second and last Fridays of the month in the Cellar Bar at 18, Bedford Street.

For salsa gods and goddesses, of course, Sunday is a day of rest. Unless you're so involved that you join the occasional beach parties and pub meets.

There is a rich seam of salsa and an associated social scene to be mined that would come as a surprise to much of the Norfolk population.

Nad runs New Year's Eve and Christmas events, themed nights and a salsa boat party at least once a year as well as group outings to see renowned performers and bands such as La 33 who are visiting Cambridge on Friday, with a guaranteed Norfolk contingent forming part of the audience.

And then there are outings to weekenders on the Isle of Wight and Pakefield, as well as visiting bands, such as Coco Express at Norwich Arts Centre on Saturday.

But the Norfolk-hosted highlight of the year has to be a flying visit by Jhon Vazquez and Judy Aguilar, the current salsa world champions, who will perform three spectacular shows at the Assembly House on July 26.

The event will raise money for Nueva Dimension, a charity giving dance opportunities to disadvantaged children in Cali, Colombia, the pair's home town which Nad himself regularly visits for dance and music inspiration.

From being a complete newcomer to salsa eight years ago, it is now his life. He has seen many others become similarly addicted and reckons the benefits of social dancing are vastly underrated. “It is not difficult to start but can be as challenging as you want it to be. It welcomes people of all ages, colours and sizes.

“You don't have to be fit to start but you will get fit if you dance regularly.

“It can be a whole lifestyle in itself. Most salsa dancing happens in bars so there is the social element as well as the dancing. I know I can go anywhere in the world on my own and go to a salsa club and meet people and no longer be on my own.”

But Nad rates the scene in Norwich as among the best in the UK.

“People come from around the country come here and organise special weekends to stay and dance.

“We've had Latin American visitors being really impressed with what we do here.

“I think it's down to the friendliness of the Norwich people. Everybody welcomes everybody.”

t For more information contact Nad on 07973 143323 or visit www.norwichsalsa.com

t Salsa world champions Jhon Vazquez and Judy Aguilar, will perform at the Assembly House in Norwich on Saturday, July 26. Nad said: “It's an excellent oppor-tunity to watch salsa danced at its best.”

Doors open at 6.45pm with an improver/inter-mediate lesson at 7pm and a beginner lesson at 8pm. Shows and social dancing will then start from about 9pm and continue until 11.30pm. Entrance at the door will be £12 (£10 concessions)