Smitten with salsa in Barcelona

by Nicki.Grihault

On a dance holiday in Barcelona, you can sample sightseeing and shopping in between salsa-ing to hot Latin beats

'Un, dos, tres, quatro, counted Catalin, our Cuban dance teacher, as we followed his rubbery legs through a salsa warm-up. Having left London that Friday morning, we were already revving up for a two-hour salsa class in Barcelona by mid afternoon. Done properly, salsa looks as spicy as its name. 'When I saw my friend Becky doing salsa,' said Jenny, a photographer in the group, 'I thought, I want to dance like that, and persuaded her to come.'

'Un, dos, tres, quatro.' Most of our group were beginners and with pained concentration tried to move to the rhythm - hip out opposite their stepping leg, and arms up in a camp position. 'Don’t think,' Diego was telling Wendy, a feisty middle-aged solicitor, as he led her through the basic moves. 'I think for you.'
As there were only four men in the group, Club Dance Holidays had drafted in some extras. David, in denim dungarees, looked as if he was straight out of The Dreamboys, which made it hard to concentrate as he twisted my arms in and out of knots. 'This is number 70 – complicated,' he said, while I imagined ordering it off the salsa menu in London.
Salsa may not have been born in Barcelona, but there were a few hot dancers on the wooden floors at the unpretentious Agua de Luna that evening. Led by one of the extra boys, Jenny now looked as if she'd been dancing for weeks. As I hung 'non molestar' (do not disturb) on my door at the Hotel Rialto in the wee hours, the upbeat strains of salsa were still playing in my head.
Next day, Barcelonans were wrapped in scarves and woolly tights as we stepped out onto Las Ramblas in T-shirts, into a bright spring morning. This buzzing central walkway is the pulse of the city and lined with flower stalls, newsagents and pet shops. Here, body-pierced teenagers with pink dreadlocks mingle with tiny, hunched Catalan grannies dressed head to toe in black. Men painted silver, yellow or red stood in motionless mime and a jazz band had somehow managed to bring an upright piano.
With its beautiful ironwork, balconies and ornate modernist lamps, Barcelona is a city where you need to look up. But don’t forget to keep a hand on your belongings. By Saturday night's dance class, there had been three attempted robberies.
Sombre circles of grey-rinsed ladies were dancing around their handbags to the strains of a brass band in front of the old Cathedral on Sunday morning. The Sardana, a traditional Catalan folk dance, looked easy, so we joined in. 'Don’t tell me that's our teacher,’ exclaimed fellow salsa student, Kate, as we turned to see an old man with a walking stick heading our way. But when he tossed down his stick to dance, we struggled to follow.
Retiring to drink coffee in the sun at the 200 year old Bohemian Bar del Pi in Plaza de Josep Oriol, I felt great despite the late nights. 'I was in heaven last night,' sighed classmate Sarah, remembering the Colombian who had whisked her away at the slick Buenavista Club – talking about the salsa of course.



After an African childhood and living and working in America, Australia, India and Italy, I became a travel writer and photographer in 1993. Staff jobs on magazines from Wanderlust to Trip Magazine followed and I have now written five guidebooks. I held my first photographic exhibition 'Edge of the Map' in 2008, and specialise in off the beaten track destinations, adventure travel, holistic travel and set-jetting. Favourite places Usually where I've just been! Irian Jaya, Indonesia; East Greenland; Dominica; Rodrigues; Ecuador.