This weekend, put some spice into your step

by Beacon Staff • November 8, 2006

Red roses and chocolate kisses line rows of tables surrounding the worn, wooden dance floor and a disco ball lights up the room, casting tiny, glowing dots on dancers.,The Havana Club looks like anything but a salsa club on the outside, but walk through the door on a Friday or Saturday night and you'll see couples swaying back and forth to the beat of merengue.

Red roses and chocolate kisses line rows of tables surrounding the worn, wooden dance floor and a disco ball lights up the room, casting tiny, glowing dots on dancers.

Instructors stand in front of 400 beginner dancers teaching the basic salsa steps as couples try to mimic the moves and dodge their partner's toes.

For almost two years, the Havana Club has been a haven for salsa, and the traditional Latin dance continues to entice those in search of a new hobby.

Havana Club owner and salsa instructor Jeff Robinson started hosting weekend salsa nights in 2004. The Massachusetts native has been salsa dancing for six years.

"What attracted me to salsa was I saw the way people were interacting, and it looked like a very real party. It looked like a real group of people who were getting high off each other's company opposed to alcohol or drugs," Robinson said. "To me that was a cool thing-sort of people connecting to each other with really great music and great dancing."

Robinson first discovered salsa outside of Boston. "I'm half Cuban, and I was on a business trip in San Diego and a colleague of mine said 'Man, you don't dance salsa, you have to learn from me!'" Robinson said.

After his first encounter, Robinson started taking private lessons, but once the lessons stopped he started hosting salsa nights on Mondays at the Havana Club. The event quickly expanded to Friday and Saturday nights offering lessons and free burritos in a beginner-friendly atmosphere for $12 per person.

Freshman broadcast journalism major Kim Dohner frequents the Havana Club almost every Friday. Dohner learned how to salsa in high school and took her skills to a club in her hometown of Houston, Texas, but when she moved to Boston to attend Emerson she had to find a new place to dance.

"I really liked the Havana Club because it wasn't like a typical club. It was really clean and you didn't feel like you had to be on your guard all the time. That was nice," Dohner said. Although she's only been to the Havana Club four times, she enjoys learning new steps and bringing friends to try salsa dancing.

"I think I really like the beat and it's something I was naturally good at. I picked it up really fast," Dohner said. "You can pretty much do anything, and I love making up new moves."

Freshman animation and motion media major Alec Cummings and junior new media major Ali Mulcahy have also joined in on the craze.

Like Dohner, Cummings learned to salsa in high school. He joined a dance company in need of males during his senior year of high school, and soon picked up the basic steps.

Cummings took Mulcahy to Havana Club at the beginning of the semester. "I just really like learning different parts of the dance and being able to dance with my partner.

It's really fun," Mulcahy said. "I've danced with people that I don't know, but it's so much fun because they can lead you and it's really cool. I like how social it is."

Cummings continues to go back to the Havana Club to improve his salsa skills.

"I'm not that good at it, it's just really, really fun every time I do go back I learn something new and that's awesome. I'm at that point now where I can be a leader, but I'm not as good as I want to be," he said.

"So, that's why I want to keep doing it and pick up any girl who's sitting down and say 'do you want to dance' and just lead her."

Unlike many 21+ clubs in Boston, Havana Club is 18+ with a college I.D., allowing students to enjoy the nightlife scene.

Robinson noted that the location of Havana Club attracts many undergrads and grad students, especially from MIT and Harvard, but even in the largest college town in the nation, the age group extends to people in their '40s, '50s, and '60s.

"I always wanted to throw a community party. I wanted to keep a dancehall feel and atmosphere," Robinson said.

The inside of the Havana Club is far from the typical club atmosphere-a tiny bar located on the right side of the dance floor is surrounded by a few sideliners drinking Corona Extras, but the main focus of the night is learning how to salsa.

Hundreds of dancers listen to instructors shout out the eight counts to the seven basic steps, moving their bodies in time with the beat.

"I think what makes salsa great is that it's a very cool way for people to meet with friends and meet new people and celebrate life without having to drink or eat too much. It's a nice way for people to spend a Friday or Saturday night," Robinson said.

Before you go...

Read these beginner's tips on where to take lessons, the proper salsa dancing attire and the best places to eat after your lesson.

Where to go:

Havana Club

288 Green St., Cambridge

18 + with college I.D.

Admission $12

Located only two blocks from the Central Square T-Stop, the beginner-friendly Havana Club Salsa Fridays and Saturdays offers beginner and advanced rueda and salsa lessons starting at 8:30 p.m.

Mojito's Lounge

48 Winter St., Boston

19+ women, 21+ men

Cover charge $10

The swanky two floor lounge offers salsa lessons and their signature mojitos Thursdays through Sundays, all within minutes from the Emerson College campus in Downtown Crossing.

An Tua Nua

835 Beacon St, Boston

Cover Charge: $10

An Tua Nua invites salsa beginners to dance the night away on Salsa Wednesdays and Sundays starting at 8 p.m.

What to wear:

Women: Wear comfortable heels that you can dance in without hurting your feet (you'll be learning new steps so prepare to move!) If you aren't used to dancing in heels, grab a pair of flats to try out on the floor.

Once you pick up the basics, try wearing a pair of heels the next time you go out dancing. Robinson recommends wearing "smart casual" at the Havana Club. Pick a flowing skirt or dress that will twirl in the air when your date takes you for a spin.

Optional attire: A flower tucked behind your ear is the ultimate accessory for a night of salsa dancing.

Men: Skip out on those sneakers and gym shoes, and leave those baseball caps behind. Wear a nice dress shirt or polo, khakis or black pants. Some clubs do allow jeans, but double check the dress code before you head to a club.

Where to eat:

If you're heading to.

Mojitos Lounge:

Stop by Fajitas and 'Ritas, located on 25 West St., a few blocks from Downtown Crossing. Their sizzling fajita platters and liter margaritas in strawberry, raspberry or original will set the mood for a night of salsa dancing.

Havana Club:

Check out Picante Mexican Grill, located at 735 Mass. Ave., a few steps from the Central Square T-stop. The smal

l restaurant boasts authentic Mexican fare at reasonable prices. Or stay on the T and ride to the Harvard Stop. Head to Border Caf