As all good travelers know, an essential element of any experience abroad is the obligatory trip to the local dance clubs. An ever-dutiful gringa, I began my search almost immediately after arriving in Santiago and stumbled upon Havana Salsa, a small but well-known salsa club in the heart of Bellavista. The venue came with an ecstatic recommendation from two Chilean friends, both of whom are dance instructors and therefore have a certain level of artistic credibility. Fueled by their enthusiasm, I decided to attend one of the Saturday-night performances.
Photo by Rebecca Gaulin
My first impression of the club was extremely positive.
The façade was designed to look like a miniature Havana, with colorful balconies and cheerful buildings painted on the walls that evoked the vibrant streets of Cuba’s capital city. The inside of the venue was also extremely old fashioned, with wooden pillars and a circular dance floor at the front, illuminated by a disco ball hanging from the center of the ceiling.
The performance itself was not nearly as quaint as the decor. Within moments of entering, I was visually ambushed by feathers, sequins and headdresses so extravagant that they would put Carmen Miranda to shame. Although most of the female performers appeared on the stage in next to nothing, the few accessories they did wear were as elaborate as humanly possible. The result was a sensory-overloaded show, with enthusiastic and energetic dancing, reminiscent of a burlesque extravaganza found at most upscale hotels along the Las Vegas strip.
During the intermissions, when the dancers retired backstage to replace one layer of spandex with a fresh one in a new shade of neon, another set of performers took the stage. Two middle-aged crooners in slightly more subdued, but still flashy outfits performed a series of classic Cuban and salsa ballads. The bizarre, feigned sexual chemistry between the two of them was another abundant source of entertainment throughout the course of the evening.
Despite all the eccentricities of the show, it was difficult to be skeptical when the entire audience (Chilean and tourist alike) was singing or when friends were pulled onto the stage for a spin with one of the performers.
The performance undeniably captured the spirit, energy, color and vibrancy of Cuban salsa dancing. Another obvious source of Havana Salsa’s appeal comes from the late-night dancing, which followed the show and continued until 4 a.m.
It was then that I witnessed some real, raw salsa dancing, stripped of the showiness of the stage.
If you want to make a night of it, dinner is available at Havana Salsa until about 10 p.m., with prices ranging from CP$9,000 for the show alone, to CP$20,000 for a package that includes drinks and the buffet. Although the food is lackluster in comparison to the show, you do get a feel for traditional Cuban fare.
The most important aspect of an evening at Havana Salsa is to arrive prepared for the unexpected. Although it may not be what I had anticipated, the atmosphere was so lively and outrageous that it was nearly impossible not to enjoy myself.
Domínica 142 Barrio Bellavista
Thursdays: 9pm - 4am
Fridays and Saturdays: 9pm – 5am