You don’t have to know me particularly well to realise that I don’t try to hide my love of salsa dancing. Next time you find yourself in the Willow Disco, be sure to have a good look round – because if there’s anyone throwing some dodgy Cuban shapes to the sound of ‘Hips Don’t Lie’, it’s probably me. With this in mind, you can only imagine my excitement when I heard that a brand new salsa night was launching in York.
The brainchild of third year University of York English Literature student Laura Stratford, (and aptly named after Cuban singer and world-renowned “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz), Celia invited us down to Sotano bar for an evening of latino vibes and themed cocktails, promising to be “so much more than your average salsa night”. It was safe to say that my expectations were high.
And I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment I descended the steps into the candlelit cavern of Sotano, there was something undeniably romantic in the atmosphere. Settling down with a Blackthorn Sours – a sweet, lemony concoction with a kick – I knew this was going to be good. At just £3 a head, the place filled up fairly quickly, but it took a while for anyone to find the courage to step onto the dance floor.
I think it was difficult at first to discern what kind of dancing was expected, but the answer quickly became clear: anything goes. I think this is why salsa holds such joy for me – the emphasis is not on getting the moves right; rather, it’s just about having fun and letting your hair down. Once the crowd realised this, I found myself looking out at a sea of smiling faces all night long.
The music on offer was just as refreshing as the cocktails. DJ Mat and DJ Jolyon Brown had no trouble slipping across genres, playing a smooth blend of sassy Latin Pop remixes and sultry RnB vibes to truly raise a fever. By the time Justin Timberlake’s silky vocals drifted from the speakers, the dance floor was so packed that I found myself grooving to ‘Rock Your Body’ on the steps by the toilets instead. Classy.
Considering my previous experiences of salsa nights in which the general ratio of women to men is about 3:1, I was pleasantly surprised at how many male students showed up for the occasion. Brushing off the common misconception of salsa dancing as a retirement hobby, it seems that Celia has found a way to reinvent salsa for the modern age. It was utterly seductive. But it didn’t take itself too seriously either.
‘Gasolina’ clearly indicated the end of the slow jam section, and the moment it dropped the room exploded with energy. Everyone was on their feet. We were even treated to a handful of cheesy sing-along favourites such as ‘Mambo No. 5’ and ‘La Bamba’, which the crowd embraced with open arms and wiggling hips. Groups of students who had turned up expecting to leave early to beat the Willow queue found themselves still firmly glued to the Sotano floor at closing time.
Sotano was a great choice of venue as it gave the night a very intimate feel, but it was so hot inside that I found myself going outside more often than I would’ve liked to get some fresh air, and there was very little room to dance (although generally this is fine for salsa dancing, which can be done in tight spaces). Two-for-one cocktail deals wouldn’t have gone amiss, either. But these were only minor imperfections, and certainly didn’t impact my overall enjoyment of the night. As we filed back up the stairs to the outside world, I overheard several people expressing how much fun they had had, and voicing their delight at how a salsa night had managed to exceed their expectations.
Like many others, I can honestly say that I have been seduced by Celia, and can only hope to see another hot, steamy slice of Latin America in York very, very soon.