Bailando on a budget: 22 ways to get your Latin dance fix in Philly

The ‘Despacito’ effect is electrifying the city’s nightlife.

Bachata Thursdays at Lucha Cartel

Bachata Thursdays at Lucha Cartel

Jeison Moreno
monicazorrilla

Latin American music has exploded in popularity in the United States recently, so much so that movement has been given a name. Coined the “Despacito” effect, its heart is thumping, rhythmically and sensually, all across the nation.

Its heart is also beating fiercely in Philly.

The bam-bam of hands tapping timbales, the cling-cling-cling of cow bells, the shukushukushuku of güiras and the perfect harmony between el tumbao and whimsical flutes — all this awaits in Philadelphia’s nightlife, but somehow is smoldering mostly below the radar.

Some people, however, have been listening closely, striking their heels to the beat in moves of salsa, merengue, bachata, kizomba, tango, reggaeton, casino and mambo.

What if we told you there was a Philly spot — a dimly lit lounge, a pitch-black nightclub sparkling with neon strobes and laser beams — full of crushes, friends, strangers, lovers and sisters, all with one common goal: a bailar. 

What if we told you there were 22 of them? And that none of them will beat up your wallet?

When you’re ready for rhythm, let this be your definitive guide to all things Latin dance in Philadelphia.

Mondays

Mambo/Bachata/Salsa/Latin Jazz/Chachachá at Vango Skybar & Lounge 

116 S. 18th St. 

Mambo Mondays at Vango are so established, the party even has its own Facebook page. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. to dancers of all skill levels for a free mambo lesson by Watson Saintsulne or Noel Rodriguez, followed by varied, freeform Latin dancing. There’s no cover, but there’s also no open bar, so keep cash handy for some liquid courage. You’ll need it to tide you over until 2 a.m.

Salsa at Albasario Dance Company 

227 New St. 

Most lessons at Albasario come with a price tag, but on Mondays, newbies get the opportunity to learn how to salsa for free from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. There’s no obligation to become a regular studio member — the instructors just want you to get out of your comfort zone and have fun. Who knows? After you fall in love with salsa, you might end up frequenting the place.

Latin Dance at The Kimmel Center 

300 S Broad St. 

Every first Monday of the month at the Kimmel, Philly dance guru Kevin Ngo and master percussionist Arturo Stable of La NOCHE Band lead a free Latin party from 8 to 9 p.m., followed by a guest group takeover until 11 p.m. The music and style vary depending on the band. In May, Fulaso will be playing classic salsa and boogaloo arrangements, and in June, Ariacne Trujillo Durand and Yusa Lopez Bridon will be performing Cuban jazz.

Tuesdays

Salsa at Lucha Cartel 

207 Chestnut St. 

This Old City bar’s website boasts that if you’re someone that knows how to salsa dance, you’re automatically someone that is “fun” and “interesting.” Woah. Big, if true. Test it out every Tuesday from 9 p.m. to last call, as salsa expert Mike Andino guides you for the first hour and lets you fly solo for the rest of the night. This is an all-levels event with no cover (and the bonus of $5 margaritas).

Salsa/Merengue/Bachata (for a cause) at The Academy of Social Dance

2009 Sansom St. 

Salsa, merengue and bachata are thoroughly enjoyable on their own — especially if you bring a date with you that’s ready to shake off their inhibitions and just go with it — but they’re even more entertaining when you’re dancing for charity. For $10 at this Rittenhouse spot, you’ll be instructed by Chuck Danza from 8:30 to 10 p.m., and then get to take advantage of drink specials that support Academy Dances for Hope Children’s Charity. The nonprofit provides scholarships for youth that want to learn how to dance, but lack the resources or access to participate.

Lucha Cartel

Lucha Cartel

Jeison Moreno

Wednesdays

Salsa/Bachata/Chachachá/Merengue at Brasil’s Nightclub

112 Chestnut St. 

This nightclub positions itself in Google with the SEO title Brasil’s Nightclub — Old City Salsa Lessons, so you know the proprietors are serious about dance. Though it’s is known for bringing the fuego to the dance floor all week long, the $5 Wednesday salsa lesson at 9:30 p.m. and party afterward until 2 a.m. is the crowning glory. This event — along with Mambo Mondays at Vango — is presented by Philly Salsa Bachata.

Salsa at South Bowl 

19 E Oregon Ave. 

Wait, wuuuuuuuuut. Salsa at the bowling alley? In case you thought choreographed dances in bowling alleys only existed in movie musicals, South Bowl will prove you wrong all summer long. Every Thursday from 8 to 11 p.m., you’ll have the chance for a free salsa lesson. After that, the party continues on the roof deck. If burning all those calories gives you the munchies, there are food and drink specials that are capped at $5. Don’t want to go home when the music getes turned off? Bowl at the bowling alley (duh) until 2 in the morning.

Thursdays

Bachata at Lucha Cartel

207 Chestnut St. 

This party has a five-star rating on Facebook, and, according to a Lucha Cartel rep, attracts 200 to 250 guests. It’s the spot’s most popular Latin dance night of the week. For $6, you get an all-levels bachata lesson taught by Kevin Ngo and Keila Perez-Verga (a University of the Arts grad) at 10 p.m., and plenty of hours to practice what you retained until the lights turn on and you’re all sent home.

Salsa/Bachata/Kizomba at Brasil’s Nightclub

112 Chestnut St. 

Kizomba! This dance originated in Angola, but is also popular in other Portuguese-speaking countries, including Brazil. Makes perfect sense then, that every first Thursday, kizomba is taught at a place called Brasil’s. Philly Flores, a group of four local enthusiasts, guide this introductory class at 9:45 p.m., while Mike Andino teaches salsa and bachata from 9 to 10:30 p.m.. Social dancing continues afterward until… you know the drill: 2 a.m., last call. Sleep, we hardly knew ye.

Baile Funk/Reggaeton at The Dolphin Tavern

1539 S. Broad St. 

Dolphin Tavern’s monthly Latinx night, deejayed by Dame Luz and special guests, is formally referred to as an onomatopoeia that describes the beats you’ll be shimmying and sweating to here: Bum Bum Tra Tra. Starting at 10 p.m. until doors close, $5 every second Thursday lets you get taken over not only by baile funk and reggaeton tunes but also trap, club and bass jams.

Salsa (LGBTQ) at Woody’s Bar and Restaurant

202 S. 13th St.  

The Latin Connection party at Woody’s on Thursdays, presented and deejayed by the Latin Connection Family, has been a mainstay for a while at the Gayborhood stomping ground, but did you know that Woody’s is also a… salsaing ground? For a mere $5, you can get a 30-minute crash-course in salsa dancing at 10 p.m., and then continue on with your travesuras — to the tune of contemporary Latin fusion — until into Friday morning.

Lucha Cartel

Lucha Cartel

Jeison Moreno

Fridays

Tango at Dance Philadelphia: Buttonwood Street Studio

1315 Buttonwood St. 

The Argentine (and Uruguayan, if we’re going to be historically accurate) tango is passionate, intense and intricate, but Kelly Ray and Lesley Mitchell of Dance Philadelphia want you to join them for a milonga, which includes  beginners, intermediate and advanced lessons. Oh, and “excellent refreshments,” per the event’s website. Prices vary from $5 to $12, depending on the level of the lesson you take and how long you plan to stay (it all runs from 8:30 p.m. to 2 a./m.), but beginners are always free. Rose props not included.

Salsa at The Schmidt’s Commons

1001 N. 2nd St. 

Formerly known as The Piazza, Northern Liberties’ 80,000-square-foot outdoor event space is just begging to be used for giros and variantes. From 7 to 10 p.m., First Friday Salsa Nights is attended by an average of 1,000 people, all enjoying a free lesson and live band under the stars.

Casino/Son/Bolero/Chachachá at World Café Live

3025 Walnut St. 

Can’t get to Northern Liberties the first Friday of the month? “Havana Nights: A Celebration of Cuban Music & Food”, with music by Conjunto Philadelphia and DJ Rashaan, will have you meneando in no time. Admission at 8 p.m. is free, but prepare to blow some dough on Bacardí rum cocktails.

Latin Dance Party (LGBTQ) at Boxers PHL 

1330 Walnut St. 

Philly’s weekly, all-inclusive Blatino (Black and Latino) gay party was formally called “Cream” soooooooo, yeah. This raunchy reggaeton, Latin hip-hop and house night, deejayed by Alex Mendez, is free before 10 p.m. and has $6 Stoli specials from 8 p.m. to midnight.

Saturdays

Chachachá/Latin Hustle/Bachata/Salsa Bootcamps at Art in Motion Dance Academy

233 N. 12th St. 

Not sore all over or going through liver failure yet? Refresh yourself with a family-friendly (but tough!) Art in Motion monthly boot camp that promises to teach you four weeks worth of material in 90 minutes. Challenge accepted. Space is limited, so sign up in advance. Times, levels and prices vary, but the overall schedule runs from mid-morning to early afternoon at the studio. Take a nap after (you’ll need it).

Bachata & Salsa at the ‘Rocky Steps’

2600 Ben Franklin Pkwy. 

We want a version of Rocky where Sylvester Stallone struts on top of the steps and breaks into a full-on performance with a lot of hip-gyrations and body rolls. While you wait for that twisted dream to come true, you can take a free, family-friendly beginner’s lesson outdoors on the Art Museum steps with Kevin Ngo from 5 to 7 p.m.. Water is provided, but the event coordinators note that you should bring your own bottle — and don’t fill it with alcohol.

Lucha Cartel

Lucha Cartel

Jeison Moreno

Sundays

Casino/Son/Timba/Rumba/Reggaeton/Bachata at Adobe Cafe

1919 E Passyunk Ave. 

Gozadera Sundays, hosted by local Cuban social organization Philly Con Sabor, claim to be the only Cuban dance party in Philadelphia. While that may not technically be true (see Havana Nights), it is the only one to offer a $5 casino classes every other Sunday — and no, that does not mean they’re teaching you how to place bets. After the one-hour lesson ends at 8:30 p.m., the DJ will spin a medley of traditional and contemporary Cuban music until 11:30 p.m.. This is a free and family-friendly event, with food and drink specials offered.

Salsa at Toll Man Joe’s

26 E. Oregon Ave. 

Okay, so Toll Man Joe’s doesn’t exactly scream Latino, especially when you look at the restaurant’s menu (wings for dayz), but hear us out: Toll Man Joe’s has been consistently offering a free lesson followed by a fiesta for the past SEVEN years. Every spring and summer, you can bet that Stadium Salsa Sundays will be packed with novices and experts, swaying to the rhythm with their partners… until Monday hits. You have to go home eventually.

All Weekend Long

Some venues don’t Latin-themed nights on the weekends, because bringing on el pulso y el ritmo is the specialty at these spots (and, at some, bringing authentic dishes from the countries and regions they rep to the table). Lucha Cartel, Brasil’s, Tierra Nightclub, Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar, Isla Verde Cafe, Makumba Night Club reign over the Latin party scene on Fridays, Saturdays, and sometimes even Sundays. You’ll get a fusion of popular, contemporary Latin music at these joints, as well as remixed takes on classic Latin music and dance styles.

Es tiempo pa’ festejar, Filadelfia. 

For more information about any of these hot, affordable spots — dress codes, special events, menus or cover charges — the links in this article are your friend.

Surprised a themed night, free lesson, lounge or studio didn’t make the cut? Send suggestions or updates to monica@billypenn.com.

Your week of Latin Dance, mapped

 

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