We have numerous rules at The Salsa Club. Some are spoken and some are not. Some follow international dancing conventions; since social dancing is inherited from numerous traditions from around the world, it is necessarily informed by various rules of etiquette formed by older communities. Some rules are more obscure than others; others are clear. One rule that has become a compass guide for The Salsa Club’s success is this: spectating is not permitted; we dance, we do not watch.
The rationale behind the rule is simple: dancing is about participation. Its true magic lies in joining the melodic fray, temporarily losing oneself in the rhythm, and gradually finding one’s place in the grand dance. It involves overcoming personal reservations like shyness, awkwardness, or the impossible existence of two left feet. Once those primary thresholds have been overcome, the rewards are immediate: encounter, engagement, and continuous upward learning curves. Sitting on the sidelines and watching other people dance—for whatever reason—is the antithesis of social dancing; it promotes stillness in a world designed for movement.
And so it has been at The Salsa Club in days gone by. Regardless of newcomer status, everyone had to take part in the fun.
The only time it remains permissible to watch dancers is in films. And with The Salsa Club still closed as part of national and international measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, here are five films about dancing to kill the time between now and the next moment the dance floor calls.
Shall We Dance? (1996 and 2004)
Few people know of the Japanese original with Kôji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, and Naoto Takenaka. The storyline follows an accountant who, one day on the way home from work, spies a lonely and captivating woman in a window; enthralled by her mystery, he discovers she is a dance teacher and takes up dancing to get closer to her while keeping the classes a secret from his wife. The film follows his discovery of his life’s missing passion.
Rebooted years later by a Hollywood cast, the 2004 iteration—with the ensemble star power of Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, and Stanley Tucci—is the version many know. Arguably, though, the Japanese original is the best by the simple rule of firsts. It also does a better job of capturing the subtle transitions dancers go through as they overcome their personal fears along their dance journeys.
Take The Lead (2006)
With Antonio Banderas, Alfre Woodard, Rob Brown, and Yara Da Costa making up the eclectic cast, Take The Lead might have flown under the radar during the dance movie saturation of the early and mid-2000s. Unlike many of the other dance films this one had a genuinely touching story: a dance teacher at an inner New York City school volunteers to dance-sit some misfit teenagers in their detention hours. What commences as a method to keep them occupied becomes a dance-filled journey of self-exploration. The story might have become a cliché now, but back in 2006 it was a refreshing.
Also, Antonio Banderas. Enough said.
Cuban Fury (2014)
Another of The Salsa Club’s rules: Thou shalt watch Cuban Fury and accept is as your saviour.
Starring Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O’Dowd, Olivia Coleman, and Ian McShane, Cuban Fury follows a fallen teenage salsa star’s attempts to return to dancing form in middle age so he can win a love interest’s heart. With one of the best soundtracks around, amusing dance-offs (and the most iconic slow-motion dance floor entrance of all time) Cuban Fury is the feel-good film that inspired the founding of The Salsa Club back in 2014. (But that is a story for another day.)
The Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
This is not a dance film; but it deals with the soul animating the corporeal embodiment represented by dance: music.
Following the nearly forgotten lives of Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, Ruben Gonzalez, Eliades Ochoa, and numerous musicians from Cuba’s historic music scene, this documentary is a nostalgic, emotional, and captivating retelling of the chance incidences which led to the founding this iconic ensemble. It is responsible for catapulting the Buena Vista Social Club’s musicians into the world’s popular imagination. More locally, this wonderful story continues to serve as an inspiration for the quiet longevity of good music and the communities which spring around to enjoy it.
The last offering is also not a dance film. But its soundtrack features some of the best dance music around. Starring Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Robert Downey Jr, and Scarlett Johansson, Chef tracks a disgraced star chef’s trek across the United States as he runs a food truck with his young son and his hilarious line cook. The film’s soundtrack features the likes of Joe Cuba, Roberto Roena, Perico Hernandez, Pete Rodriguez, Quantic and Nickodemus, and Gente De Zona.
Wait for it: there is a scene at the very end of the film in which Favreau does an awkward jiggle that encapsulates all the screw-it-let-me-dance spirit that defines social dancing. That scene is the payoff and validation for The Salsa Club’s rule: we dance, we do not watch people dancing.
Also, if you do not sing along to the Sexual Healing scene what kind of monster are you?