Learning to dance like a Costeño

Ladies practicing their dance routine.

Whether you’re going to a friend’s birthday party or just for a few ‘quiet drinks’, dancing is a big part of socialising on the coast that you can try, but will probably fail, to escape from.

With this in mind, I signed up straight away to the “Súper Clase de Rumba” at the university where I work. Hoping to learn the basics of dances such as salsa, vallenato and merengue, it seemed the perfect way to meet people in a relaxed environment. However, I wasn’t just the only guy in the class, but also the only person under the age of 45 (I’m 24). After two hours of what I can only describe as intense bum wiggling at humiliatingly difficult speeds, with passing students recording videos on their phones through the big glass doors, I decided this wasn’t really what I’d had in mind. The growing prospect of a “Gringo profe tries to twerk” video circulating the campus was also enough to stop me from returning – something that would probably impinge upon my credibility as a teacher going forward.

But despite this minor setback, I soon found what I was looking for. Hidden down a side street off Carrera 51B in Buenavista is the Escuela de Danza Marlio Cortes. This dance school has been training both professional dancers and novices/foreigners (these words are synonymous here) for 25 years. Specialising in ‘Latin music’, (namely salsa, merengue, champeta, cumbia and even reggaetón), the school also took part in the Comparsas Carnaval parade in February.

The Escuela de Danza Marlio Cortes dance team at Carnaval Barranquilla

“Dancing is an expression of culture that brings people together”, Bianey Cortes tells me, a teacher at the school. “It’s a great way to meet people and to form friendships. The best way for a foreigner to make friends quickly here is to go out dancing!” This is certainly true from what I have seen, as even the most reserved costeños seem to lose any inhibitions once they are on the dancefloor.

For just 20,000 pesos Bianey offers 1-hour private classes for anyone who wants to improve their skills. Whether you consider yourself an accomplished dancer or simply want to boost your confidence for going out with friends, she will tailor the lesson completely to your needs. Admittedly, my first class consisted mostly of exercises to loosen my hips, which were apparently comparable to those of a grandad, but she then proceeded to take me through several dances – teaching me an interesting, fun variety of moves and giving far more diplomatic feedback than you’re likely to receive from locals in a bar like La Troja!

Bianey is adamant that the benefits of dancing go far beyond socialising: “It helps you to de-stress, clear your head, feel happy and improve your coordination”. With an excellent playlist of both popular and traditional songs, many of which I have downloaded since, Bianey is patient, motivating, and also speaks English – providing the ideal environment to improve your steps while staying fit and healthy.

Address: Calle 96 #51-24 (Near Buenavista)
Individual classes are 20,000 pesos/hour (144,000 for 8 if you pay for a month up front).
If you are interested in group Rumbaterapia classes, these are also available. For more information call 3738412 (add 035 to the start of the number if calling from a mobile).