Salsa is Shanghai's latest dance craze, and a few clubs in the city are hosting nights devoted to the seductive rhythm of Latin music and the sensual steps it inspires.
Two incredibly vivacious women strut into the restaurant. They are dressed to impress, with attitudes to match. One is an entrancingly sleek model-type with a hourglass figure. The other is elegant, with long black hair and the ability to make men drool.
A dark, handsome South-American man enters. His suave manner makes it seem like he stepped from a scene in "The Mambo Kings" - the "Citizen Kane" of salsa movies. He walks straight for the well-built woman, and takes her hand, leading her to the dance floor.
At first, the woman looks shy and reserved. But as the band strikes up the salsa tunes, her reserve falls away, and the pair suddenly gives the magical music human form. Their rhythm, flair, style, and grace reek of passion.
His hands run through her hair softly, he touches her face, grabs her waist, thrusts her body and her head lashes back -- she's in the throes of ecstasy. The pair are so fiery, so beautiful and at the same time so technically perfect that one images they're lovers.
The salsa couple aren't alone on the dance floor: The music has roused her raven-haired friend and the other diners to their feet. They aren't as polished as the first pair, but on each of their faces is the same exhilaration - the same lusty blush.
Salsa is Shanghai's new dance darling, partially inspired by the French movie "Salsa," which was screened during this year's Shanghai International Film Festival.
Yun Hee Yoo, the woman who looks like a fashion model, frequents Tropicana every Wednesday -- salsa night at the restaurant. Yun, a South Korean, is a salsa aficionado from way back, but says she had a hard time finding a salsa club when she first arrived in Shanghai. Once she found one, she tipped off her salsa-loving friend Whoi Suk Che, who acquired her passion for salsa during her years in Miami. "Salsa is very hip in Miami." says Che, "Everybody loves it."
This time, Yoo has brought her mother and brother. They're all eager to pick up some dance steps from Mizuta Motoshi, a Japanese graduate student majoring in marketing at Fudan University who doubles as Tropicana's Wednesday night salsa instructor.
The salsa lesson begins at 7 p.m. "Moto," as Motoshi is known, arrives without flourish or fanfare. He looks every bit the student, with his white T-shirt and sneakers, nothing like Yoo's dance partner, the Mambo King.
Motoshi is the first to admit that he is by no means a salsa expert. He simply showed his flair on the Tropicana dance floor one night, and the owner offered him a part-time job teaching salsa.
But his passion for salsa goes back much further. "When I was studying at Waseda University in Tokyo," recounts Motoshi, "a very famous salsa band, 'Orquesta de la Luz,' came to my university. I went to the concert and was really taken with the music. The band members are all Japanese but they can play real salsa. They were very popular in Latin American countries. That was my first contact with the genre." After graduation, Motoshi went to Guatemala to study Spanish -- and his passion ignited, he took salsa lessons on the side.
Motoshi's students range in age from 18 to 58. They come from all over the globe, and all walks of life.
"Sometimes there are too many people and I cannot teach all of them. So some of them are not satisfied," laughs Motoshi. "But on the other hand, many of my students are now overtaking me."
Some newcomers, thrilled by the spectacle, try to awkwardly imitate the dance steps. Seeing them struggle, Motoshi approaches them and teaches them the basics, very patiently. "Salsa is based on a few basic steps. No sweat. They're so easy. Once you know those basic steps, you can enjoy dancing," Motoshi explains.
Wang Yusheng, a business executive, was moving and shaking her hips like a pro, drawing the attention of many diners. It was an absolute thrill watching her. But despite her professional showing on the dance floor, she reveals that it wasn't all that long ago that she first fell in love with salsa.
"One day, after a hard day's work, I really needed a pick-me-up. So I walked into Tropicana and ordered a drink." recounts Wang. "I first noticed the music and the sound of conga drums. It was strange to me. But I stayed for the next few songs and amazingly enough, started really getting into the music! I was awe-struck when a few couples actually started dancing together. They were so passionate. That night, I decided to change who I was. I realized that there was something missing in my life, something that others enjoyed. I needed the rhythm. I needed the passion."
Wang became a regular, making many friends on the dance floor. ''It's the sex appeal that I feel in this dance that gets me. And I also think that it's the best possible gym to help me lose weight and tone my figure." Wang quickly adds that the analogy of a gym is not to be taken literally: "It's not as boring as being in the gym, running on the treadmill watching TV. It's about having fun, feeling the music, expressing yourself, and communicating with your partner. It is okay to dance salsa alone, but basically, it's a couple's dance. There is a feeling, an aura about couples dancing salsa that can resonate throughout the room."
Salsa's popularity has meant that other restaurants and bars have also picked up on it, notably J.J. Mariachi at the Jinjiang Hotel and Play on Changshu Road. Women seem more open to trying this new dance than men. On the dance floor, it's the women who are enthusiastic and eager to give it a try. The men, on the other hand, just sit there watching.
"Salsa is not a spectator sport," chides Motoshi. "Don't be afraid to experiment and do your own thing. Try to incorporate the basic steps into your own style -- make those moves your own as you interpret the music and bring your own creativity into it. In salsa that means using your imagination -- and being able to count to eight."
(eastday.com July 29, 2002)