Leave the wallflowers behind and learn from the professionals in these hometowns of high-energy dances.
Flamenco: Andalucía, Spain
Few parts of Europe are as romantic as Andalucía, with its mountains and
whitewashed villages, and the Spanish region is also home to one of the most
beguiling dances. Flamenco conjures up images of olive-skinned beauties
swirling to a percussively played guitar, clicking castanets and clapping. In
cities such as Seville, Cádiz and Granada, you can learn how to flick your
ruffled dress like a proud senorita or stomp your feet like a Córdoban
hat-wearing hunk. The schools cater to all levels of interest – from flamenco
fanatics to travellers who are equally interested in sampling the local jamón (ham).
Do not miss Granada's
famous Moorish fortress, the Alhambra.
Seville's Feria de Abril (spring fair) begins two weeks after Semana
Santa (Easter holy week).
Tango: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina is justifiably beloved for its mix of old-world melancholy and Latin
passion, and the national dance form is certainly no exception. Tango
originated in the working-class neighbourhoods of the Argentinean capital,
which is a great place to learn some dance steps. With Buenos Aires' porteños (residents) cruising along the city's
avenues during the day, most classes take place in the evening. Follow the
accordion music to a milonga (tango venue or event) to learn moves
including the giro (turn)
and ocho (figure
eight traced with the feet). There are usually dozens on offer, catering to the
throngs of dance-loving milongueros.
Aires' Tango Festival and World Cup takes place in August; the City Dance
Championship is in May.
Breakdance: New York, United States
In the more than 30 years
since New York's b-boys broke out the first hip hop moves, breakdance has
entered the mainstream and courses have started. Many classes are geared
towards locals rather than tourists, although the NYC Hip Hop
Dance Company welcomes walk-ins at its weekly lessons near Times Square. It takes a
lot of practice and press-ups to master the key manoeuvres – toprock, downrock,
power moves, freezes and suicides – but what a city to study the art of
breaking. Nightly inspiration is found in the clubs, where you might see legs
and arms flying in a breakdance battle.
Explore New York's hip hop
history with a Hush tour or lunch at Queens' Hollis
Famous Burgers and Hip Hop Museum (20103
Capoeira: Bahia, Brazil
Capoeira has spread around the world from northeast Brazil, where African
slaves developed the fusion of dance and martial arts, but Bahia remains its
heartland. Workshops, run by capoeira mestres (masters) in state capital Salvador da
Bahia, are just one way the city is keeping its Afro-Brazilian heritage alive.
Capoeira circles form on the plazas at night, and the action intensifies during
festivals, when the colonial buildings act as a backdrop for frenzied drum
circles. If the martial arts aspect sounds off-putting, do not worry. The
sparring is generally playful and little physical contact is involved.
Salvador da Bahia (often
shortened to plain old Bahia) is connected to Rio de Janeiro, some 1,300km
southwest, by bus and plane.
Hula: Hawaii, United States
As if anyone needed another reason to go to Hawaii, the home of atolls, coral reefs, beaches
and sunworshippers, it is also the birthplace of hula. Popular culture is full
of saccharine images of island princesses swaying beneath the palms, but hula
began as an accompaniment to chants containing oral history. At a halau hula (school), a kumu hula (teacher) will instruct you in the
Polynesian dance form's various moves, which symbolise aspects of Hawaiian life
such as ocean voyages and volcanic eruptions. Though many male visitors may be
reluctant to wear a loincloth, hula is also performed by men.
Hawaiian hula events include
the Merrie Monarch Festival in April and the World Invitational Hula Festival in November.
Waltz: Vienna, Austria
Developed by Austrian and Bavarian peasants and picked up by the Habsburg
royals before spreading to France and beyond, waltz remains important in Vienna
during its ball season. If you feel like donning a ballgown or tailcoat and
dancing this sensual style of ballroom dance, the season's fixtures include the
lavish Opera Ball in the 19th-century
Opera House. Fear not, novices do not have to humiliate themselves in front of
Austrian society. Schools offer tuition to individuals and couples who want to
learn to dance in three-quarter time. The fabulous classrooms include the
Pallavicini Palace, where Mozart and Beethoven performed, and a baroque hall.
There's a list of
dance classes in Vienna and the ball season starts on New Year's Eve and
runs for three months.
Ceilidh: Edinburgh, Scotland
Most people have a brush with ceilidh dancing at some point in their life;
whether the wedding's taking place among the heather in Scotland, or far away
in the Celtic culture–loving New World. The partner-swinging dance began at
social gatherings in Scotland and Ireland, so what better place for some
coaching than the picturesque Scottish capital. Not only does Edinburgh boast a
castle on a volcanic mound, but there are dance classes and ceilidhs for all
levels of experience. In fact, ceilidhs are by definition welcoming, sociable
affairs, and even the clumsiest of novices are normally encouraged to try their
Dance Base offers drop-in beginners' classes at the Grassmarket. Visit Scotland has a list of upcoming ceilidhs.
Forget cigars and Che Guevara. Salsa, a sizzling mix of Latin and
Afro-Caribbean rhythms, perfectly encapsulates sultry, multicultural Cuba. It is
a sexy, hip-shaking dance, and teachers on the island happily show beginners
how to move to the Cuban beat. The internet is awash with two-week,
all-inclusive salsa packages, but, if you want some time to cruise in a
clapped-out Buick, shorter courses are also available. When it is time to show
off your skills, or to pick up some free tips, hit Havana's nightspots with a
friend. There are usually half a dozen salsa nights happening; ask your hotel
concierge or another local.
Cuba's alluring spots
include Santa Clara, dedicated to all things Che, Havana's waterfront and
Baracoa, a windswept town on the Atlantic coast.
Belly dance: Istanbul, Turkey
Exuding all the exoticism of the Middle East, belly dance has fascinated the
West ever since Turkey was the centre of the Ottoman Empire. A fun place to
learn the shimmying dance is the city where the Middle East meets Europe, and
the Ottomans built palaces: Istanbul. Although many performances are
touristy, göbek dans (belly dance) goes back centuries in Turkey, where it is more energetic
and playful than in countries like Egypt.
Serious instruction is
available. There is a list of teachers at Bellydanceclasses.net; a recommended company is Les Arts Turcs, which offers private lessons.
Mandinka dance, West Africa
Wielding instruments such as the kora (21-stringed harp) and djembe drum, West
Africa's griots, the descendants of court musicians, rightfully sit at the
forefront of world music. While visiting the region to see, say, Toumani
Diabaté play in Bamako, Mali would be remarkable enough, you can also learn to
groove like the folk at the clubs and festivals. A cultural or community centre
is a good place to find a teacher who can show you some traditional Mandinka
dances, which involve a lot of drama and rituals.
Outfits such as Senegal's Jamo Jamo
Arts also run
dance-focused trips. Arguably the best West African dancing destinations are
Senegal, with Dakar and its Atlantic coastline, and Mali, for the Sahara, River
Niger and Bamako.
The article 'Best places to get dance fever' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.