So You Think You Can Dance?

If you’re an English speaker living in Santiago, chances are you came to South America guilty of dreaming of exotic, low-lit nights in Latin dance clubs, losing yourself in the sensuality of a beautifully mysterious rhythm, and most likely, also looking like a natural on the dance floor. Your once far-off dream could be a reality.

Photo by Kendal Montgomery
Photo by Kendal Montgomery

Stepping into Club 4-40 in Santiago’s barrio Bellavista is like physically transporting yourself into the heart of the enchanting enigma of Latin American culture. A bartender smiles and greets you as you walk in, and a small seating area converted into a dance floor folds out in front of you. The venue is unassuming and modest, but what it lacks in extravagance it makes up for in its warm ambience.

Photo by Kendal Montgomery
Photo by Kendal Montgomery

The subtle glow of the orange lighting drips down the walls, covered in bamboo-like material and adorned with tribal masks; the light drenches a dance floor alive with the constant movement of enthused dancers. A series of pillars, dressed to resemble palm trees, complete the tranquil atmosphere and separate the seating area from the main dance floor.

Club 4-40 hosts free salsa lessons every Tuesday night from 9 to 10:30 pm. Led by Juan Carlos, a Santiago native and freelance dance instructor with years of professional experience, the classes are designed for dancers of all levels. Beginners learn more basic, simple steps on the main dance floor, where Juan Carlos guides his students step by step through a series of routines that are pieced together by the end of the night, while more advanced dancers work together in the seating area.

The sight of the dancers themselves encourages the lighthearted, amiable atmosphere. Here, the ability to laugh at yourself will not only help you bond with your fellow students; it will allow you to overcome your mistakes and advance your level of salsa as well. Indeed, the contrast between the suave and experienced Juan Carlos at the front of the room with the sometimes clumsy movements of the herd of dancers behind him can be comical. However, by the end of the night the clumsy herd transforms into an elegant group of dancers, creating the lively Latin atmosphere us gringos only dream about.

Photo by Kendal Montgomery
Photo by Kendal Montgomery

Visibly passionate in his desire to spread the joy of dancing to others, Juan Carlos is eager to help you master a step and quick to offer an encouraging grin. Once the lesson is over, you’re free to keep practicing what you’ve learned throughout the evening, enjoy a drink from the bar, or converse with the club’s frequenters.

If once-a-week lessons don’t quite satisfy your salsa craving, Juan Carlos offers lessons Wednesday through Saturday nights as well. Wednesday night lessons are also held at Club 4-40, while Thursday through Saturday nights you can find Juan Carlos teaching at nearby Papagayo’s Club. Though Tuesday is the only night of the week his lessons are free, all other nights require a small cover of CP$2,000 (about US$3.75) which includes a ticket for a drink. All lessons begin at 9 pm.

Club 4-40
Santa Filomena 81
Bellavista
Santiago, Chile
Metro Baquedano

Papagayo’s Club
Alameda 240
Santiago Centro
Santiago, Chile
Metro Baquedano

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