Embracing the Joy of Bachata: Dancing in Cape Town’s Latin Scene

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e15s1 Embracing the Joy of Bachata: Dancing in Cape Town’s Latin Scene

Solo Travel Safety: Reflections from a Mixed Dormitory Experience

I have left Observatory for Cape Town city center! There were some salsa and bachata events there that I wanted to attend this weekend so I thought I might as well stay in town, walk around a little bit and save some money on Uber costs. I had booked a bed in a dormitory at the hostel 91Loop, it is one of the most central hostels in Cape Town.

Once I arrive I realize two things. Firstly, there is no kitchen. Is that even allowed? Are you allowed to call something a hostel if it does not have a communal kitchen?? A disgrace in my opinion. Secondly, this hostel only has mixed dorms and mine is filled with seven guys. F*cking fantastic. I blame my research skills but also their website which was not forthcoming and clear for being in this situation. It is not that I am afraid of all men, or think that all men want to rape and take advantage at first opportunity, not at all. However, as a female generally and as a female solo traveler specifically, I am always aware of men’s potential violence.

Living and breathing in a patriarchy has conditioned me that way, to always be aware of the ever changing power dynamics between men in groups as well as men in relation to me, and the consequences anything may entail. I immediately start with crisis aversion and relationship building. Within 30 minutes I know the names of all the seven guy’s moms, girlfriends, where they are from and what their plans are here. I guess my thinking is that if they feel like we know each other, it increases my safety.

I tried checking for somebody in reception to bond with but the hostel is so huge, their staff does not build relations with their guests (nor provide basic tourist information) so I gave that attempt of a safety strategy up pretty quickly.

The only natural hangout spot at 91Loop is a tiny yard surrounded by 12-floor buildings. Despite the pretty murals it feels claustrophobic and not chill so I surrender to the fact that this is also solo traveling. Being on your own. I have done what I can to anticipate risks, I am meeting friends throughout the weekend so people would eventually notice if I did go missing, and I am Ubering everywhere at night. That will have to do.

- The solo traveler's security dilemma -

Sometimes I wonder if all the things I do and think about regarding safety do more than make me scared. At the same time, these are the things we were taught to do growing up, guilted for not doing when something did happen. But sometimes I wonder how it would be to navigate and meet life beyond fear.


Exploring Cape Town's Social Dance Scene: A Night at The Ivy on Park

I decided to take Trècy to what has quickly become one of my favourite salsa spots in Cape Town, The Ivy on Park. We arrive as the sun is closing yet another beautiful week in Cape Town. It is my favourite dance from the Mother City Dance festival, the older man, that hosts the event. I now know that his name is Eldred and he is one of the fire souls championing and producing space for Cuban salsa in Cape Town. Salsa on 2 seems to be the most common salsa in Cape Town but if you go to Eldreds events you can be sure to hear and enjoy Cuban salsa!

Trecy and I are a bit early and I take full advantage to steal some dances from my favourite dance cavalier. It is such a joy, such a blessing, to dance with someone that dances with you. That may seem like an odd comment when talking about couples dancing, obviously you dance together. What I mean is, to have someone that is dancing with YOU, who is present with YOU and that dances to dance with you. Au contraire to somebody that dances to show off, by obligation or to steal your number.

Eldred setting up the sound at The Ivy on Park.

Rediscovering Bachata

Trècy eventually leaves and when the clock is closing in on ten I feel ready to go as well, it is mostly bachata dancers left and I don’t really enjoy it. Or that’s a lie. I love bachata! Dominican bachata. Puerto Rican bachata. Bachata de verdad! My experience of the bachata scene is sadly enough a scene where only sensual bachata is danced since that is the norm in Sweden/Europe. It is sad, or I feel sad about it, firstly because it is presented as bachata instead of sensual bachata – it is presented as if it is the real bachata instead of the European sexualization of an already sensual dance.

I have thought a lot about why that is, why have we (as in Europeans) sexualised a dance that is already fire as it is? I believe, speaking from a Swedish perspective, that it has to do with the fact that we don’t really have a social culture that allows for flirting and gives space to our sensuality. So when we do get something sensual in front of us, we only recognise it as sexual. Even though I have never personally danced bachata in Nicaragua, my other home country, I feel very strongly about this topic as it has made me feel unwelcomed and uncomfortable in my own latin american culture whenever I try to enter that scene in Sweden. However, I am not in Sweden now. And I love bachata. So when a dancer next to me invites me to dance a bachata I only hesitate for a second before I say yes. And God am I glad that I did!

As soon as they took my hands I could tell they was a pro but that was not what made the dance. It was their joy! Their playfulness! Their musicality! This was hands down the best bachata experience I have had in over ten years. It reminded me that I actually do love bachata, for real. The way the music invites you to almost jump around and play within the rhythms is absolutely amazing. The way I get to express myself both in relation to my lead but also as a follow. I got to decide! Once we started to dance we didn’t stop. The joy of the dance has us hooked. When the event starts to close we aren’t ready to go home.

Turns out Luca Kelly-Patterson, their name, lives in Sweden since several years back and teaches bachata in Stockholm! Specifically at QueerSalsa Stockholm. And if you are interested in bachata, real bachata, you should also check out her dance team’s schools that teach Dominican bachata: Keloke Masterteam and Los Bonitillos. You’re welcome Stockholm. We start exchanging experiences of leading in South Africa as non cis-men and the conversation flows. I realise that the no’s I have gotten from women I have invited to dance here can both be because of homophobia but also from the very set gender roles that exist. The conversation doesn’t stop, we find ourselves on the sidewalk talking till dawn. I love solo travel encounters like this. A kindred spirit.

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