More than just the sway of a belly dancer’s hips, the footwork of a samba dancer or the passion of a flamenco dancer – dance is a form of art, a language, and an evolving cultural expression. It seems like the rhythms of the world and different cultures have found a way to intertwine and get all wrapped up by the same form of expression: DANCE.
It has always been intrinsic to human nature; put some fire beats next to a baby and they’ll be dancing to the beat in no time. Ancient cave paintings depict dance rituals and all the most important civilizations in the world have dance as a focal point in their culture.
Whether you’re a dance major, a dancer or just someone who finds themselves rocking the dance floor after two Margarita drinks – you know how dance makes you feel so alive. How dance defines who you are; how it empowers you and allures you in with its addictive moves.
Combine that intoxicating form of expression with travel and you’ve got an unforgettable experience waiting for you. As a dancer, I’ve always loved the combination of dance and travel. To me, the sole promise of exploring different cultures through both their attractions and their dances gets me all giddy and ready to take on an exploratory mission around the world. Whether it’s a carnival in Rio, or a street party in Cuba – experiencing and discovering difference dances from all corners of the globe is a highly rewarding experience.
Here are some of the top destinations offering unparalleled dance experiences that you can both watch and participate in.
I first discovered my passion for belly dance in the winding streets of Cairo, Egypt – the land of ancient fables, mystique and chaos. Timeless ancient treasures juxtapose sprawling streets where the aroma of shisha (hookah) makes its way through the muezzin’s call to prayer and the bustling souqs are perched in concrete jungles.
After drifting through alleys, minarets and markets, I stopped for a quick drink at one of the cabarets by the Nile. And that’s where it struck me.
The romance and the grace of the Orient reflected so gorgeously in the snake-like movements of a belly dancer. The sound of exotic Arabic music and the beats of the table dictating the hip contortions of the dancers, the grace, the skill and the allure of the Harem-like dancers… It was an almost fairytale-like experience. Going to Egypt, you’ll find all forms and styles of raqs sharqi (belly dance) where dancers draped in bright fabrics emerging from smoke show off their surreal skills.
By day you’d think that Cairo is a conservative Arab city – which in most parts it is – but by night, the long robes are replaced with draping outfits and the smell of Arabian coffee is replaced with the smell of Egyptian beer – from Sakkara to Stella. A quick trip to Egypt will open up your world to countless cabarets, Nile cruises and clubs where you can get enchanted by authentic belly dancers and even take a class or two.
Cloaked in tradition and expressionism – the rhythm of the guitar, the poignant cries of a singer, the passionate pounding of feet, the twisting and twirling; Flamenco is exuberantly passionate.
Traveling to Andalusia, the birthplace of Flamenco, will give you an insight into the profound passion of flamenco, the genuine musical art renowned around the world. And as you sit in small tablaos nestled in ancient towns with the ballads of Spanish guitar snaking their way through the barrios, a glass of vino tinto in front of you, the dim lights setting the mood… you will feel it.
The spark of electricity as a dramatic faced woman takes the stage and the guitar bleeds furies of notes, while the Ole! And the Asi se baile! fills the air. Luckily for you, flamenco houses are abundant throughout all of Andalusia. You can also catch a show in Madrid or Barcelona, but those are guaranteed to be tourist traps and lack any authenticity.
The sensory-rich settings of flamenco houses attract people of all ages and cultures (including the kid who hid his face throughout the entire performance from the intensity of it… same, little child, same) and the night comes with tapas, sangria, red wine and much more.
See, I’ve always wanted to be Cinderella; minus the terrible family, the hardships and all the floor scrubbing… Okay, fine. I just want an extravagant gown, a castle, a prince charming and a fairy godmother. Really, it’s not too much to ask for.
I mean, if Cinderella got to go to a ball and swirl in her lavish dress then so should we! I call for a riot! Or a trip to Vienna. Whichever is cheaper, really.
If you want to feel like you’ve just fallen into a fairytale book (completely depends on which fairytale… Do you really want to be in Hansel and Gretel?), then head over to otherworldly Vienna. More romantic than Paris, Vienna is the city of dreamy hazes, tinkling street-lights, snowy cobbled alleyways, balls and fairytale gowns. It’s a city with the most intoxicating of all European traditions: formal balls. So why not go for a twirl around a dance floor in Vienna, the home of waltz?
Every year, from November until late February, the city celebrates its ball season. Yes. An entire season dedicated solely to extravagant, innovative balls. More than 450 balls take place and you can be part of this glamour as well. Dress to impress in lavish white gowns, and get ready to twirl and dance under lavish chandleries in otherworldly halls. You can take a waltz lesson before participating, and you’ll be able to master the dance in two hours! Unless you’ve got two left feet… so maybe three days?
If you’re on a musical dance journey around the world, you’re bound to fall in love with Brazil. Watch yourself get captured in the infinite world of rhythmic beats, and harmony in one of the most musical countries in the world.
Get ready to be hypnotized by the voluptuous dance moves of Samba dancers, with their fast footwork, fast beats and sexy sways. Get enamored with the quick struts and the exotic outfits and revel in the fast energy that prevails throughout the streets during the Rio carnival.
With the golden beaches of Rio, the backdrop of lush mountains and the samba-fuelled streets, you will in no time fall in love with the quintessential sound of Rio de Janeiro. Of course, to learn samba, you don’t need an extravagant costume (I don’t know why anyone would choose not to wear the extravagant costume. I’d casually go to work in it if I could). What you do need, however, is a willingness to learn the rhythm and the dance moves and the sass that comes with the dance.
You can go to one of the samba schools and join the rehearsals for the Carnival, or attend a samba show.
The thought of tango conjures up images of seductive gazes, split skirts and intimacy and amidst the fiery streets of Buenos Aires, you can learn to dance the tango.
The rhythm of the bandoneon, the haunting melodies, the pure seduction and sensuality are all equally enchanting. Relish your Argentinian experience by taking a tango class at either those suburban little cobblestones streets where the celebration of life and the joie de vivre pervades the atmosphere.
For a more professional take on the dance of love, head to milongas (dance halls or dance events) to watch the dancers, and then go to a professional dance class.
“Chica, chica, more sexy!” Those were the first words I heard when I decided to be a “free spirit” and dance salsa with a random stranger on the streets of Havana. I won’t say that didn’t hurt, but hey, solid advice!
The scene was so quintessentially Cuban, I couldn’t help but smile. An 80-something year old Cuban woman, a cigar in her mouth and Cuban taxis whizzing by, salsa dancers in the street and the humidity permeating through the atmosphere. Was I in a movie?
As my partner twirled me around and told me how to move my feet, I found myself slowly falling in love with the captivating aspect of both, salsa and Cuban culture. The streets themselves act as an inspiration to your salsa dreams, and by the end of the trip, you’ll have a new found love for salsa.
There are dozens of dance clubs scattered around the city streets, bars and plazas where salsa dominates the scene.
By Dalia Elmaghraby
Kick up your heels and let's dance!
Broadway Dance Dreams