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A park, two pipes and Henry Fiol: salsa in Madrid reinvents itself

When Juan Margallo arrives at the Puerta de Toledo square in Madrid, everyone looks at him. In one hand he carries a loudspeaker and in the other, six fine pipes tied with a reused masking tape. He plants them on the ground and while he hooks the bluetooth from the mobile phone to the loudspeaker, the group arrives: Luz, Samu, Marta … They greet each other without kissing or hugging. They comment on how strange everything is and how the rain that Thursday accompanies the “pandemic scenario.” And suddenly it happens. Horns blare and Henry Fiol’s congas blare throughout the park. The trumpets and percussion are heard and then the Cuban son is filling everything little by little. The group of six pairs up right away and takes two pipes, each grabbing one end. These will be the pvc extendable arms ―and covid-free– in today’s salsa class. The new normal didn’t forget the dance.

The rules are the same, but just a few sticks change everything. Luz Marleny Chaparro says that salsa “doesn’t taste the same” if you can’t touch your partner. “It’s as if something is missing,” he recognizes between song and song. The 50-year-old woman is from Cali (Colombia), “the capital of salsa,” she recalls. This rhythm comes in her genes: “This dance has something addictive about it. For me, Thursday is the day you get distracted and have a great time ”. Neither the pandemic nor bad weather have erased this tradition from the group Tobacco Sauce, which have been gathering people of all social levels once a week in the Ambassadors cultural center. “We adapt to these strange times, but the desire is the same,” he adds.

The pandemic also canceled all the plans of this salsa community, increasingly present in the capital. No classes, no meetings, no festivals. Just a few classes live through social networks and these are reduced in the open air and with a mask. “Good thing we have internet. It is difficult to explain what this has that hooks you, ”says Samuel Villa, Chaparro’s dance partner.

Since the new normal was inaugurated in Madrid in mid-June, the dancers decided to return to the dance floor, but without forgetting the sanitary security measures. The great “salsa family” of more than 100 members takes turns in the numerous WhatsApp groups to make small teams of six and meet every Thursday in a Madrid park to dance without touching.

“You have to be quick to sign up”, explains Marta Fernández, “Because we all want to dance but the capacity is what it is”. This 40-year-old from Madrid is recognized as an “ex-metalera” with laughter. “Eight years ago I came to the first wheel to do a favor for a friend. And when I saw them, I thought: I want to be in that circle of energy ”, he says.

The Cuban wheel or casino is an improvised choreography in which couples dance simultaneously in a circle. The one who leads, announces the names of the figures and everyone follows them without missing a beat, chaining one by one. In this peculiar wheel, he directs Margallo. “Give me the girl’s aspirin, plug it in, tell her no,” he lists every eight times. Around, nobody understands anything. But for them these words are the codes to change partners or go around. Among the chords of a song by Elio Revé, one can hear the “one, two, three, five, six, seven” of one of the dancers, the sticks colliding and the laughs of Fernández. “Shhhh,” says Margallo. “Sorry, sorry. It’s that these pipes… ”, she replies.

Juan Margallo, 50, is a strict and purist teacher. “He knows very well what he’s doing. Is a crack”, His students agree. He has been teaching Cuban son for 12 years in Madrid. “This style is minority but much prettier. It has much more content ”, he says. “Today there is a trend to dance salsa online [un estilo adaptado], and… ”, think his words well. “I don’t like it at all,” he concludes. His eyes scan the feet of his pupils as he tirelessly repeats the corrections without stopping dancing. The sticks began as a remedy, but he does not rule out keeping them in the future: “The use of the body in dancing is very important. And the clubs force you to get out of the habits that have stuck to you and do it well, because you don’t lean on the other, you don’t let yourself fall ”.

The location of this Thursday brings memories to this nostalgic of the most authentic rhythms. In one of the corners of the square, in the nineties, the Café del Mercado “was a mythical place”: “Great bands played live, it was a glorious time. But now everything is put into the same sauce bag and it is not ”, criticizes the teacher. Today, the place is empty. These hangouts are, he says, a piece of that “they really are.” “It is true that we are in a moment of crisis, but we can do almost everything, although under different conditions. Dance too ”.