Salsa in Colombia - What to expect ?

Note: All the information in this page is based on my personal experience visiting Colombia and especially Cali city in 2013. If you are reading this in the future, there may have been changes, because Colombia is developing rapidly. I have updated some data in 2016 without visiting Colombia.
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How is the Salsa scene in Colombia ?

The Salsa scene in Colombia is quite different from the one existing in Europe or the U.S. Here how:

Salsa in Colombia is an activity of the masses

In Colombia, Salsa music and dancing is an activity of the masses and not just  of the ones who are going to Salsa classes and this fact translates into several outcomes :

Salsa music is everywhere in town

You hear Salsa music just everywhere. If you walk in the commercial streets, you hear Salsa music playing from almost every shop and also from the ambulant street vendors. When you go to a coffee place to have breakfast, there is also Salsa music playing from a TV. The many guards at night, in the hotel lobbies and on the streets are also listening to Salsa music. Even in the airport bus to the center of town of Cali, I enjoyed Salsa music.
Before arriving to Colombia I had an instinct to begin to move and dance everytime I heard Salsa music (which occurred only in the Salsa clubs) and I had to adapt myself in Colombia, as it is not possible to dance 24 hours a day.

The level of dancing is usually very basic in the clubs

Many tourists expect to find extraordinary good dancers in the Colombian Salsa clubs and they are usually disappointed. I heard many tourists saying: "at the Salsa club, in my little town, people are dancing better than here".
Because everyone goes to dance Salsa in Colombia, it is quite rare to see good dancers in the Salsa clubs, most of the guests can only do very basic steps and can hardly handle Salsa turns. Many locals can not afford to go to Salsa classes or they don't have time for that. I heard also many locals saying: " I was born In Cali, I don't need to go to classes".  In Europe on the other hand, the ones who are attending the Salsa clubs are also usually participating in Salsa classes and so they have a certain level of dancing. But if you ask an average European in the street to dance to the rhythm of Salsa (or any dance), he wouldn't find his legs, Colombians on the other hand, can move very nicely with Salsa music, even without taking classes.
If you come to Colombia with a certain level of dancing (let's say Cuban style Salsa), you may be disappointed at the clubs because it is difficult to find partners who can handle Salsa dance figures.
Now, this may change in the future because the young generation is going to Salsa schools (academia de baile, academia artistica de baile), these schools didn't exist much in the past.
If you want to see good dancers in Colombia, you better visit the Salsa schools and not the Salsa night clubs, and also you have to be at the right moment at the Salsa school, when there are locals training and not beginner tourists.
The professional Colombian salsa dancers are often winning international contests, and most of them come from Cali.

Salsa Clubs in Colombia are for Groups and Couples

In Europe, you may come to a Salsa club alone and meet inside the club, people you know from the Salsa classes. In Europe, Salsa is a "semi-professional" activity so it may be normal to come alone to do "Sports", and also the western world has a more individualist society compared to south America which is more traditional.
In Colombia people never arrive alone to a Salsa club, they come in groups of friends or in couples. Most Salsa clubs are furnished with sofas in form of a semi circle so to accommodate the groups of friends who are coming. A disadvantage of this form of clubs is that people are usually staying within their own circle of friends and not mixing. In other countries, the couples of dancers are changing in each song.
An outcome of what I described above is that in some Salsa clubs in Colombia they won't even sell you an individual drink like a glass of beer, but only jars of beers or bottles of "aguardiante". Also, you may arrive to a Salsa club, even early in the evening, and discover that most of the tables and even the chairs on the bars are "reserved". At the entrance of the club, there may be a sign saying that you can enter the club only accompanied with a female person. What I'm describing here is true for most Salsa clubs in Colombia, but not all of them, you may find more "western style" clubs, especially where tourists go.

No Salsa Classes at the clubs

In other countries, some of the salsa clubs include a salsa class just before the party. In Colombia it is rare to find it, at least not in Cali city. To take Salsa classes you need to go to a dedicated school.

Cali city is the city of Salsa in Colombia

Everyone will tell you in Colombia : If you want Salsa, go to Cali.
Cali is the where there are most clubs and Salsa schools and where the city is breathing Salsa. (see the second page for Salsa in Cali )

What is Colombian Salsa ?

First, you may want to read this page explaining the main Salsa styles which are popular in the world.
The Colombian Salsa style is characterized with very fast footwork.
How fast ? Look at this video which was taken in a Cali school:


Relax, these kids are very good dancers, you don't have to dance like that on your first week.
So, Colombian Salsa is characterized with fast movements of the legs. These steps can be done individually or in couples while holding hands, one in front of the other. There are also turns in the Colombian Salsa. The turns are quite similar to the Cuban style salsa, I would say it is a sub-set of the Cuban style. In the Cuban style there are more "hand knots" and the combinations are more complex. The Colombian style has only basics turns:  no "exhibala" , no "dile que no" based moves, no "vacilala" based moves but only "enchufa" based moves.
If you know the Cuban style, you can dance with a Colombian partner in the condition you remember not to do the moves which I have mentioned above, moves that are not "recognized" in the Colombian style. Of course, the Colombian partner should be one who has been to classes, as I mentioned before, most people in the Colombian Salsa clubs can hardly handle turns.
Compared to the Cuban style, the Colombian one is also less dependent on the rhythm (It is so fast, anyway). In the Cuban style you know in every "bit" of the set which leg should be on the ground, in the Colombian style you do the turns very quickly and it is not always synchronized with the music.

Learning Salsa in Colombia

Many tourists are making a stop in Colombia and especially in Cali city in order to learn to dance Salsa because they have heard that this is the right place to do it. Usually these tourists have never visited a Salsa club anywhere else in the world and they are total beginners so they don't have a way to compare it to anything.
It could make sense to take Salsa classes in Colombia because the teachers are professionals and prices are attractive but you must take into account two points:
  1. It takes years to learn to dance Salsa, I mean to feel really comfortable with the dancing, so stopping in Cali for a few days and taking classes may be a nice experience but you will need to do a lot of follow-up in the future.
  2. The Colombian Salsa style is danced in...Colombia. When you will return to your homeland the other people in the clubs will dance one of the Worldwide popular styles , you will need to do some adaptations.
So, I do recommend to take Salsa classes in Colombia, but please try to dedicate more time to it, there is a community of foreigners who are staying in Cali city for a few months just to practice Salsa (see the second page ).
Also, I do recommend to adopt from the Colombian style, the fast individual footwork steps which you can integrate into any style of dancing. It is quite possible to dance the Cuban style Salsa and integrate the Colombian individual steps. In my opinion, the Cuban style has an advantage in the turns and moves in general and the Colombian style has an advantage in the footwork. 
In fact, that's exactly what some advanced Colombian dancers are doing in the Salsa clubs in Cali, they are dancing the Cuban style with integrated Colombian footwork steps.

Colombian style Salsa Videos

Here are some Instructional videos of Salsa style Caleño (from Cali, Colombian style):

Colombian Salsa Songs

In the Colombian salsa clubs there is Salsa music playing from different origins but some are from classical Colombian bands.
Here are 3 beautiful songs you should know in Colombia :

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