Nepali Times
Sultans of salsa


The heat is on. The beat is on. Salsa is happening and growing all over the world. Even in Kathmandu at the latest happening place, the Latin Quarter.

Hot orange. Electric blue. Sunshine yellow. Margaritas, blue as the Tibetan sky. Bodies dance to the beat on the smooth floor. Friday nights, dancers flock to this salsa club inside the white walls of Baber Mahal Revisited. Aged 18-60, it is a united nations at the Latin Quarter but why are they all here?

Katia 28, dressed from head-to-toe in skintight black, dances to perfection. Slim and lithe, she slips as easy as grease around the floor. French-Canadian, she spends most of her life here dancing-kathak, tango, salsa. Her answer is straightforward. "If I didn\'t dance I would be on double prozac."

A cool breeze wafts through French windows. Binayak in trainers and a baggy t-shirt and pants spirals Salima in multiple spins and she glides to a controlled drop on her back, raises herself on her heel and flips upright, never missing a beat. Over a fresh lemu pani, Binayak, 24, a web designer and a radio jockey explains why he dances. "On the dance floor I can be myself. Dance breaks all the barriers: age, cultural, male-female." He wipes the beads of perspiration from his face, a solitary diamond earring glimmers in the light. "Dancing is all about connection, communication and respect for your partner."

Raksha Lama draws up a chair and sits with us. She greets every guest, knows most by first names and radiates non-stop energy. Raksha is the powerhouse behind the Latin Quarter with her husband, the versatile pilot, singer, actor Vijay Lama. Why a salsa club? "It was a decision of the heart. I had taken a few salsa classes and enjoyed it. I love to cook and I had always wanted to open a restaurant. So I thought, why not mix the two: a place to dance salsa and eat. It was a natural fit."

And the guys don\'t seem to think that dancing salsa is for sissies. "For men dancing salsa is a challenge," explains Binayak. "Men have to lead-so we are thinking what is the next step. How are you going to impress her with the next step? You don\'t have to talk, it\'s all about communication through your steps and the music."

Isn\'t dance still regarded as risqu? in the conservative family circles in Kathmandu?

"Dancing builds confidence," explains Raksha. "Dancing in front of others, dancing with men other than your husband and brother is still unusual but times are changing. Young people want to be friends together. Dancing gives them the confidence. There\'s nothing sleazy about it, young people come here in a safe environment and build their confidence."

Step by step

Most of Binayak Shrestha\'s friends can\'t believe he is a salsa instructor, Nepal\'s first. He was an RJ at HBC 94FM when he switched. "I was really inspired by the movie 'Dance with Me\'," recalls Binayak.

He learnt the basics from Andreas Lehrke, a German who taught salsa in Kathmandu then went to Spain for nearly two months to learn various dance techniques. Binayak was soon researching on the Internet, downloading videos and instructions on various steps and practicing them. He had caught the salsa bug.

It wasn\'t long before his expert moves were noticed and he was offered a job teaching salsa at the Latin Quarter. It was a dream come true and Binayak was soon grooving to the beat and teaching people to do the same.

Binayak has one complaint though: "Last year, there were a lot of women in my class and no men to lead them. Now I have a lot of men and no women. It is easier to teach women because this is a dance where the man leads and he needs to know the signals to manoeuvre his partner, it\'s talking with your hands."

Shrestha believes in making his classes fun and has flexible timings to suit his students, who range from eight to 68-year-olds. And he finds it inspiring to have people of such an age range wanting to learn salsa.

Aarti Basnyat

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)