Gloria’s is a chain of Tex-Mex restaurants from Dallas/Forth Worth down to San Antonio. Every Saturday night in Austin they have a live salsa band. I’ve never eaten there, but the bar service is pretty good – and decently priced before 10 p.m. when the prices go up. Before 10, there’s also no cover and it’s 21+ after 9 or so. (But if you get in before those cut off times, they won’t ID and you don’t have to pay the cover to get back in.) The band starts at 11 p.m., and it’s a pretty good band. They play a decent mix of salsa, cha-cha, and merengue; I’m not sure I’ve heard a bachata song there. I’ve only been there twice, though.) I went last Saturday with a small group. There was a large crowd the first time I went, but this time it was a smaller crowd – maybe because so many people were out of time for Labor Day? It’s definitely a locals’ spot! There’s also a DJ who plays club music in between sets for the band, which is why Gloria’s is way more fun with a big group to stake out a spot with on the dance floor! The venue itself is the nicest of all the places I go to, with a small outdoor patio with seating and a big waterfall feature behind the bar – I love water features. They move all the tables out of the center of the floor and there’s a small stage for the band and seating along the back wall, which is actually a curtained window. The first time I went, it was quite packed on the dance floor, but this time there was plenty of room to dance around. I guess it’s hit and miss there! It’s probably the loudest place I go to as well – my ears were ringing a little bit after I left, though it cleared up by the time I got home. They don’t have free water – you have to buy a bottle. They don’t check bags, though, so you could take your own water in, no problem. It’s pretty fun, parking’s not bad, and it’s a nice variety of music. Though if club music and atmosphere isn’t your thing, I wouldn’t bother with this place!
The Oasis is a big restaurant out on Lake Travis (technically in Austin but in reality about 20 minutes west of Austin) which hosts an excellent live band every Sunday night for salsa dancing. They have a fairly large dance floor and some gorgeous views of the sun setting over the lake from the balcony – the dancing is on the third floor. It’s lots of fun – I always go with a large group and we pretty much dance exclusively with each other. (Although yesterday several members in my group branched out! Super exciting!) The band is called The Brew, and they play mostly merengue, bachata, cha cha, and salsa. There’s 7 guys in the band and an impressive range of instruments being played. They almost always throw in a Santana cover with a Latin dance beat and the words in Spanish.
There are tables around the edge of the dance floor, two bars, and the kitchen is open until 10:00 pm. The food, sadly, is average quality and a bit overpriced – if it were better, it wouldn’t be overpriced, if it were less it would be good for the price, but there you have it. I have heard good things about the tortilla soup, and the house salad is fresh, crunchy, and reasonably priced. However, the view, band, and atmosphere more than make this place worthwhile. Also, you and your group don’t have to eat (and won’t have servers pushing you to), though I usually try to get at least a drink. (Also, the servers are really busy because it’s a large crowd and people keep moving around, so it’s unreasonable to expect service like you would get on a non-salsa night or floor.)
They keep a large sports container full of ice water and provide free sturdy 16 oz plastic cups, which is absolutely fantastic. It’s an open air plan, so the A/C’s off, which means it is hot and humid. If you sweat a lot, bring a rag and an extra shirt. It runs from 7-10 or 10:30, depending on how long the band keeps playing.
Oddly enough, they do a lesson at 9:00 – it’s different, but it tends to give people who don’t want to take an intro lesson time to sit, rest, and chat with the group. Yesterday I learned about bear safety! (Completely irrelevant to my life, as I don’t camp anywhere that doesn’t have indoor plumbing.) I think it’s done this way to give the band a break in between sets. The band, by the way, is absolutely fantastic, if I haven’t mentioned this already.
Also, my salsa was a bit rusty — I wasn’t the only one, though. One of my favorite leads was gone all summer and was pretty rusty so us dancing together was a bit more bumbly than usual. At one point I stopped completely and just stared confusedly; luckily, right at that point the song ended so he grabbed me and struck a pose. One of the more serendipitously timed moments!
Kick Butt Blues was truly…kick butt. The last couple of times I’ve danced blues I haven’t really enjoyed it, but this time I truly enjoyed the experience, which was a very pleasant surprise. I decided to go in order to have something new to write about for the blog and I didn’t really think I was going to enjoy it all that much.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a better follow than the last times I’ve tried blues or what, but I found this time to be lots better. I’ve always enjoyed watching blues – it’s generally a very sensual style of dance and quite dramatic, in its way. When done properly, there’s a smoothness and flair, I suppose, that’s fun and really engaging to observe. I arrived a little earlier than my friends, but I got asked to dance by several leads nearly as soon as I did, which was really nice. And the leads were all very good, which is icing on the cakes. Some of them I knew from swing – of course, there’s always lots of crossover between swing and blues.
The music was a little quiet, but I was told that the crowd was larger than normal, so there was that. They had a different DJ every hour and they were all pretty good – no complaints on this end. The space is pretty small and intimate, but it was enough room for all the people there. The dance floor was full enough to feel lively, but there was space to twirl a bit and you didn’t have to worry about hitting or stepping on people every time you move. Also, Kick Butt is a coffeehouse and bar (that hosts lots and lots of events) so it’s easy to grab a beer, coffee or various foods and drinks during the dance. (I’m informed that the peach smoothies are exceptionally fresh.)
I spent more time working on getting a smooth, nice feeling to my dance and paying attention to how my feet and legs looked than I normally do while dancing, which is a benefit of blues – generally, there’s lots of time to complete movements and you can really get into them. I spend less time worrying about completing the movement and spend more time trying to perform it the way I would like.
It was $5 entry and it was definitely worth it. I also fond a nice chair in a corner with my friends – I was pretty tired – and had a nice balance of dancing and sitting out. (I swear eventually I’ll get caught up on my rest.) I’ll be going again.
Thursday nights the Women’s Fed holds a swing dance… it’s $5. ($3 if you’re a member of the Swing Society, but I haven’t quite convinced myself it’s worth the money to join.) It’s not my favorite venue, simply because it, like most of the Austin dance scenes I’ve been in, is pretty closed off. As far as I can tell, most of the people dance with people that they know, and when they do decide to take a chance on a new partner, it’s someone who they’ve determined is a good enough dancer. And even outgoing and really good dancers have a hard time breaking into the community, from what I can see. (Multiple people have shared this observation with me, sadly.)
I’m used to the San Antonio scene, where about 10% of the better leads and follows will make sure everyone is getting danced with – and others follow suit. This makes it much easier to get into the community. Not, of course, that anyone has an obligation to dance with anyone else, but still, it’s better when the general attitude is to dance with people for the sake of dancing, rather than for the sake of being good. (For example, in San Antonio, if I go with a group of friends, all the leads I know will generally dance with as many of my friends as possible, I’ll dance with all the leads my friends know… At the Fed, my friends and I all have different leads we dance with, with very little crossover. Even though we almost always go together. It’s weird.)
That being said, the Fed is an excellent place to people/dance-watch. There are tons of excellent dancers, so if you’re looking for swing inspiration, this is the place to be. People have incredible style, both in dress and dance! There’s a huge crowd and people are of all ages are evenly mixed. It’s a good way to keep in touch with what’s happening in the swing/blues world as well, because they’ll announce and post upcoming events. They offer lessons beforehand, which might make it easier to get into the community – I’ve never been to one (I think they’re $10 or something) – and they cover a variety of dances.
You will get at least a few dances, even if you don’t know anyone. The DJs vary in skill – there’s one who likes to stop songs right in the middle of phrases, which causes some awkward stops – but the music keeps going and it’s a good selection. There’s a side room that plays blues or groove or shag, or something swing-related-but-not-swing, which is a nice break if you need it and a great way to learn new dances. (If you’re a learn by doing person.) At 10:30, there’s a birthday dance – participate during the week of your birthday! It’s a whirlwind of fun and you’ll dance with so many people!
It’s usually worth the $5, unless I have something better to do or am really tired.
Every Monday, Cafe Medici hosts an instructor from Esquina Tango for an hour (ish) long lesson at 8:00 (ish) and then a milonga (tango social dance) until 11:00 p.m. I’ve been going for a couple of months now, more or less consistently, and I really enjoy it!
The instructor’s name is Gustavo (sp?) and he’s originally from Argentina. (Warning: When he gets excited, his accent can be hard to decipher and occasionally he slips into Spanish when he really gets going. My Spanish is fairly limited to Tex-Mex, but it’s usually easy to figure out what he’s trying to tell you.)
He’s really upbeat and incredibly nice – even when correcting! – and will wander during lessons helping couples. I generally get a few minutes of one-on-two instruction from him during a lesson, which is very unusual for a free intro lesson. He also peppers the lesson with nuggets about the history and culture of tango, which is very nice. It’s always a fun and festive atmosphere – lots of jovial joking and laughter. A big part of the atmosphere is fueled by Gustavo’s energy and enthusiasm!
Tango is difficult, especially for the leads, so don’t get discouraged if you have trouble with anything beyond the basic movements for the first few lessons. Skill levels vary, from brand-spanking new to intermediate (found at lessons) to seasoned, skillful veterans (at the milonga afterwards). Age tends to vary wildly, as well, though most everybody is 21+. The really wonderful thing about here is that it’s much more open than most other parts of the Austin dance community I’ve been to. There are plenty of people who’ll ask you to dance (or accept an invitation, depending on how outgoing you are), especially if you attend the lesson, and it doesn’t take very long to become a regular.