“Look at this,” Polo, my Haitian-French friend signals with his open hand. His slow head-shake makes his short dreads sway.
We were sharing the edge of a lounge chair by the pool, chatting, taking a break from all of the dancing under the Miami sun that was only tempered by stationary, translucent clouds and an iced cocktail.
The scene he was referring to was of many couples dancing, hitting that concrete and stone poolside floor. I can imagine that that rocky floor has never felt the human energy of that many people loving the ground with their feet and with such energy until DJ Mike’s Latin rooftop socials brought the party to town.
The water, the chance to dance out in the open air, food ‘n’ drink, the luxurious lounge chairs and cabanas of the Mayfair Hotel, and, of course, the great music, drove the dancers to a sort of pleasant frenzy, jamming for hours and hours, song after song.
“This is so international. I love that about Salsa. You know Atlanta is still so divided…” Polo continued.
I interrupt him mid-sentence to agree: “The racial divide there is creepy! They don’t want to admit that it exists, but it’s just so blatant!”
Polo continues his thought “…except for the Salsa scene. In Atlanta, on the dance floor there were all kinds of people from everywhere. It was so cosmopolitan…”
“Dance floors are like that around the world, really,” inserting my nomadic dance experience to his thought.
“You should write about how cosmopolitan the dancer floors are,” Polo said confidently.
“Oh, that would make such a great article!” inside my head a firework goes off as I think: “He’s brilliant!”
Out loud: “I want us to write it together! And I’ll add a survey that asks the readers:
‘Where are you from?’ “see the poll below
Polo’s normally relaxed eyelids pop open: “Yes!“
… Aren’t the behind-the-scenes stories as interesting as the actual production? In this case, it’s not just interesting; it hits a point on the nail. So I conducted an interview with Paul Emile Brice and are asking you:
TAKE THE SURVEY BELOW! ¡SACA TU BANDERA!
Why Does Latin Dance Bring People Together?
Polo has his theory: “Each music has it’s color. For example, I like electronic music, but it’s mostly ‘white.’ Country = ‘white.’ Hip Hop = ‘black.’ Especially in the South. But Latin dancing has only become popular relatively recently… and it has no color.”
Polo uses 20 succulent expressions to express himself an hour and the statement that Latin music has no color is only one of the many examples.
Asians have their side, the blacks live in their neighborhoods, and the whites in theirs, Polo laments about Atlanta. Although we come from different backgrounds (Polo, from Haiti and me, a Puerto Rican military brat) both agree how odd it is to walk around a city completely divided like Atlanta.
Polo protests that there’s not even integration among minorities! There’s a black gay club right next to a white gay club, and never the twain shall meet. “I like electronic music, but that’s mostly a ‘white’ scene.”
The dance floor on a Latin dance night, even in Atlanta, he states, is strikingly diverse. And that is so liberating. The diversity goes beyond just race. You encounter all ages, economic levels, political leanings, religions, nationalities, upbringings.
If one finds that level of diversity at a Latin night in Atlanta, can you imagine comparing that to Miami or Broward? Miami is atypical for a city in the South. Our beloved oasis is more like “Little Latin America,” meets “Little Russia” and “Little Haiti” and “Pletzi Yiddish.”
Can the answer lie partly in DNA? Latin Americans undeniably have a very mixed ethnic background. African, Indigenous Americans, European and Asian traces manifest themselves physically on our skin and facial characteristics. It’s ludicrous to be bigoted and xenophobic when your own family is intensely mixed. Sure, there is still racism and preference for lighter-skinned people in Latin America, however, it’s not as bifurcated as in the South of the U.S.
Can it be also, that, relatively speaking on a global scale, Latin Americans also tend to, literally, be more touchy-feely? We’re already used to physical contact, so to go from that to a dance floor for some is not that huge of a jump. And of course, anecdotally on a global scale, Latin Americans are known as being on the friendlier side.
It seems that the friendlier Latin Americans have done a good job of representing and exporting Latin dances. They’ve emigrated to countries seeking a better life. Whether it’s Cubans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, etc. they brought their happy music with them.
Latin music and dance popularized in the clubs where the ’50s big bands played in New York City, like the Palladium, was brought into ballroom dance studios and eventually talented street dancers like Eddie Torres made Latin dances explode. Slowly but surely, the appeal of this happy music and friendly dancing entered all of the major cities around the world in a ripple effect.
Today you can dance Salsa and Bachata in any major city on the globe. For instance…
Latin Dance in World Capitals
I first really started dancing Salsa in Cairo. Yes, Egypt. As in the land of the pyramids and pharaohs and currently a Muslim country.
My first night in Egypt I went to a medium-sized yacht on the Nile, where a female professional Cuban band in white boy shorts was dancing as they were singing and playing instruments. The dance floor was lit and I discovered that there were Lebanese, Egyptians, Jordanians, British, French, and many other nationalities dancing to Marc Anthony covers and reggaeton played from cars in the streets.
I’ve since travelled to about 15-20 cities and have occupied the dance floor with Angolans, Cape Verdians, Haitians, Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese, Brazilians, Lebanese, Egyptian, Jordanian, American, Argentines, Uruguayans, Israelis, Palestinians, Koreans, Japanese, Australians, Finnish, Scottish…. you get the picture.
If it wasn’t for Latin culture’s seeming openness, however, Latin American music may have been limited to just Latin America.
Why Would a Latin American Community Accept Anyone That is “Other?”
Latin Americans could just stick to themselves, as some communities tend to do. So why are they so outgoing?
Statistically, in fact, Puerto Ricans intermarry the most! And it’s a wonderfully messy mix: religious, ethnic, racial, national.
So, whether you are Philippine, Greek, British, American or Tibetan and you marry a Puerto Rican… you will become Puerto Rican.
Side note: Have you ever felt like this guy from the little-known cult classic original film, “Shall We Dance?”
Across Latin America we are used to seeing the full spectrum of colors and Asian traces in society, including the dance floor, etc. No matter where you, the reader, are from, you’re more likely to mesh right in. Even if you stand out, there’s no sense that you don’t belong. Everyone is too busy dancing, drinking and having a good time to go out of their way to make you feel unwelcome.
Todo el mundo: ¡bienvenido!Pitbull
The Immigrant Experience, Integration and Dancing
Indeed, even in Miami there are some pockets of Hispanics that only know fellow countrymen and barely speak English. But Polo makes an intriguing observation as we are chatting away – in Spanish, mind you:
“¡Los Latinos en la pista de baile son bilingues!”
Translation: “Latin Americans on the dance floor are bilingual!”
Whether social dancing increases the learning of another language, or, conversely, if social dancing attracts more cosmopolitan/polyglot types would be an interesting scientific investigation. But for these purposes, there are obvious positives. This story highlights one of those positives.
Polo had an unpleasant experience that was a wake up call to how people think of race in the U.S.
In Atlanta, someone asked him how he felt being one of only four black people in his small class of 56. This stunned him because he hadn’t noticed how starkly obvious it was to everyone else that he was in a minority. It hadn’t even crossed his mind to do a head count.
To put it another way: from his diverse and open-arms standpoint, the numbers was a complete non-issue. Until someone pointed it out.
From that day on he compulsively counted the number of blacks and ethnic minorities whenever he entered a room. Particularly high-end venues that implied some kind of privileged status. It turns out his small department was a proportional reflection of society in Atlanta.
Take one guess what the exception was…
The only time Polo didn’t do a head count in Atlanta was when he stepped onto a Latin dance floor. The diversity was so obvious it was pointless to count.
Another side note: Polo recommends Luca Luna in Midtown, as “the most diverse” Latin club.
Furthermore, the level of acceptance on the dance floor is what makes a Latin dance night so special. We all want to dance with everyone. The goal is never economic. Nor is it possible for this goal to be completely self-centered. In order to have a good time, dancers need to do two things.
- Dance with many people – and that means anyone from any background.
- Dancers must make an effort to help make their dance partner have a good time by smiling and being jovial.
Latin dance, unites everyone: Americans, foreigners, and all for NEUTRAL common interests.Polo
Are All Dance Communities This Friendly Around the World?
Dance communities can be different in each city, depending on the characteristics of the people of that city. But for the most part, yes, they will be friendlier than their society tends to be.
In some cities, the society is very competitive and distrustful. However, you will find that on the dance floor in Latin clubs in those cities the people will be friendlier than the general population. Again, though, socially those same dancers will still display some of the characteristics of their society when they are off of the dance floor and back into circulation in their normal lives. It’s to be expected.
In Miami and Fort Lauderdale there are a variety of academies and their respective students have very different dynamics.
Some dance academies have next to no relation outside of dance classes. This is perfect if you feel uncomfortable mixing with people socially and prefer to compartmentalize each part of your life and keep them separate.
For the most part though, you can reach out and be part of the friendlier gang in your academy. If, aside from dancing, you also seek to connect in a meaningful manner in your personal life with the friendly dancers you’ve met, there are dance academies whose students have formed tight social bonds outside of the studio.
Polo describes his dance studio:
We help each other a lot, we go out dancing together, we give each other tips, we’re there for the love of dance and not to make money. Like, when you go to school from kindergarten to university the whole goal is to be better off economically. As students of a dance academy we want to grow together. The goal is to get that joy from dancing.Paul Emile Brice