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Bolero
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Castro's Bar is Crowded on a Saturday Night but There is Still Plenty of Space to Dance

by Robert Abrams
September 10, 2006
Castro's Bar
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San Jose, OT (Costa Rica) -
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Dance Adventures in Costa Rica

  • Castro's Bar - Contender for Best Latin Club on the Planet - 9/7/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • CMC2006 Banquet with Dance Performances - 9/7/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • Pueblo Antiguo Show to benefit the Costa Rican Children's Hospital - 9/8/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • A Tour to Arenal Volcano - 9/9/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • Castro's Bar is Crowded on a Saturday Night but There is Still Plenty of Space to Dance - 9/10/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • Video of Costa Rican Cumbia at Castro's Bar - 9/10/2006 - by Robert Abrams.
  • I had enough confidence to go to Castro's Bar by myself on my last night in Costa Rica. After having seen a Latin dance I didn't recognize on Wednesday night at Castro's Bar, and then seeing it again in the Pueblo Antiguo show on Friday night, I knew I had to get some video of it. I just knew that this was a development the rest of the dance world should be aware of, and of which all of Costa Rica could be proud. The unknown dance (unknown to me anyway) turned out to be called Cumbia by the locals. I mostly know Cumbia as a variation used in Salsa. This dance looked almost nothing like that. It looked to me like a mixing of Salsa and Samba and maybe a softened version of Jive. According to one person I spoke to, it was developed by starting with traditional Cumbia and adding Swing moves to it (it is also sometimes called Criollo Swing). After having seen it twice, I knew that if I ever came back to Costa Rica, I would have to learn this dance. It was just too cool, especially when danced by someone with above average skill. There were quite a few such skilled couples at Castro's Bar.

    When I got to Castro's Bar after about 10:30 pm, the place was packed. The people on the crowded dance floor were bopping to what I think was Reggaeton. They were dancing, but it wasn't partner dance. I thought to myself, "It is the same in Costa Rica as it is in New York City: if you find a dance club that really packs them in, chances are it is not partner dance and is mostly just gyrating in place." Fortunately, my first impression was completely wrong. After the Reggaeton set ended (the DJ tended to play sets of about five songs of the same style that blend one song into another, and then paused to switch to a different style), the DJ started playing Salsa. The dance floor was just as packed, but most of the people dancing clearly knew what they were doing. The floor emptied out during Bolero and Cha-Cha sets, but there were still a respectable number of people dancing even to the slower songs.

    A waiter asked me if I wanted a table and I said yes. I ordered some food and a beer. The prices were reasonable and the food was good. This is not the sort of place where you have to order a $300 bottle of vodka to get a table.

    I discovered that there is a second dance floor downstairs. I had a better view of the dancers there, so I moved downstairs. (There is also a Karaoke room upstairs, if you are into singing.)

    I waited patiently for a couple of hours and then around 12:15 midnight, the DJ launched into a Cumbia set. The dancers took to the floor with vigor and style. The Cumbia was worth waiting for.

    Later I got up the nerve to ask a local, who was sitting by herself, to dance. She put up with me for five merengues in a row, so it turns out you can find people to dance with at Castro's Bar even if you are an American who doesn't speak much Spanish. I have never quite figured out what is proper etiquette when the songs are blended into each other. Normally, breaking off the dance before the song ends can be seen as an insult, but if you have been dancing for the equivalent of two or three songs and the changes between songs are hard to detect, deciding where to break it off can be difficult. Obvious signs and some tolerance go a long way under such circumstances.

    Saturday nights have a 1500 Colones cover charge (about $3) and there is no cover charge on Wednesday nights. By New York City standards, where a reasonable dance venue charges $10 to get in and a dance venue with an attitude charges $30, this is a deal and a half.

    To go back to my hotel, I took a regular cab. I didn't have any trouble and the cost of the ride was only $5 with tip.

    It is possible that Castro's Bar successfully combines partner and non-partner styles of dance mostly because the locals are Latin and Latin people are often more likely to grow up with social dance than Americans, but I still think that Castro's Bar is a venue worth studying in more detail. If we can obtain a better understanding of what works there and why, we might be able to apply those lessons to create the sort of broadly popular dance venues in the US that we need to help partner dance flourish.
    Still life with fajitas and fries, beer and menu

    Still life with fajitas and fries, beer and menu

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    One of Castro's Bar's attentive waiters

    One of Castro's Bar's attentive waiters

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    The packed dance floor and many full tables

    The packed dance floor and many full tables

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Packed dance floor in motion

    Packed dance floor in motion

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Packed dance floor in motion

    Packed dance floor in motion

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Dancing downstairs

    Dancing downstairs

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Dancing downstairs

    Dancing downstairs

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Dancing downstairs

    Dancing downstairs

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Dancing downstairs

    Dancing downstairs

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Dancing downstairs

    Dancing downstairs

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Dancing downstairs

    Dancing downstairs

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


    Dancing downstairs

    Dancing downstairs

    Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams

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