Salsa & Bachata: From Zero to Hero in the Canary Islands

I always loved Latin dance and I remember many attempts in learning Salsa and Bachata, but I never finished a full course. Why? It just didn’t feel right. There is a lot of body contact in Latin dances, and you need to feel comfortable with the other people in the class. Especially in the beginning, it’s easy to get it wrong.

I spent a few weeks in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria at the beginning of 2022 and joined a class with Ylenia Álvarez. This time, it felt different. It was a positive experience. I was confronted with another problem. With so many things to see and do on the island that I barely had time for anything! One class was all I managed to squeeze into my digital nomad life.

That was not the end of the story. I returned to Las Palmas a year later. This time, I stayed a bit longer. The Salsa and Bachata classes with Ylenia were one of the many reasons I did.

The course structure

Ylenia offers dance workshops for Salsa and Bachata multiple evenings per week, organized through a WhatsApp group. Members of the group can sign up for each workshop individually and join as and when they want to.

In January 2023 a 4-week course was advertised. “From Zero to Hero” was a progression course for beginners for Salsa and Bachata with classes two evenings per week. At one hour of Salsa followed by one hour of Bachata. I was surprised when I looked at my calendar and noticed that it fit in perfectly!

Ylenia offered the full course for €35, and individual drop-ins for €5 per workshop. If you would like to join a Salsa or Bachata workshop in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, get in touch with Ylenia: +34 697 394 612

Poster to advertise the Salsa and Bachata course in Las Palmas from February 2023.
Poster to advertise the Salsa and Bachata course in Las Palmas from February 2023.

The location

Many activities in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria happen outdoors. You see Yoga classes on the beach, Tai Chi in the park, and dance classes at any of the squares in town. Ylenia’s Salsa and Bachata classes always take place at La Marquesina. This is a square near the harbour in Las Palmas that also welcomes skaters and rollerbladers and offers the typical views of a waterfront.. but better.

The classes are usually held under the roofed terrace by the water in the evenings. We started there just before sunset and finished after dark. During the two hours of the classes the sky changed from blue and grey to all shades of pink and orange, whilst the lights of the city started to shine in the background. My dance partners can probably confirm that the photographer in me was more than once distracted by the temptation to catch the atmosphere in a photo.

The group

It is a common misunderstanding that you need to bring a dance partner to classes for Salsa and Bachata. You can come with your partner. Some people in the group did, but you don’t have to. You switch partners during the class which is a great way to recognize the little details. It is normal when you’re learning that the position of your arms and certain body movements won’t be perfect. By changing partners, you become more aware of that.

The advantage of a progression course is that you see – and get to know – the same people in every workshop. Useful once we moved on to the dance sequences that required a bit closer body contact, it highlighted strong cultural differences within this international group. What we feel is appropriate or not changes a lot depending on how and where we grew up.

Group of 14 people in different dance poses at La Marquesina in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. It is in the evening and there is a cruise ship in the background. They all look happy.
Dancers of the Salsa and Bachata workshop in Las Palmas in February 2023. Back row from left to right: Julius Uhl, Anonymous, Anonymous, Anonymous, Svetlana Meleshkina, Michaela Cekanova, Ylenia Álvarez, Anonymous, Julia-Carolin Zeng. Front row from left to right: Anonymous, Anonymous, Anonymous, Ed Corner, Francis Sprenger/ (c) Martin Baletka

Follow the leader

The original course to learn Salsa and Bachata took 8 classes for each dance over four weeks. Of course, it didn’t stop there. The group moved on to the next level and continued to meet twice weekly to progress even further. We learned the basic steps of Salsa and Bachata and became proficient in steps like the Dile que no, Vacílala, Enchúfala, and Setenta. For other sequences in Bachata we even invented our own names to make them easier to remember.

Whilst some participants really struggled with the names, my biggest challenge was to follow. I am used to Jazz and Musical dance where you learn a choreography but had to learn to follow what somebody else wanted me to do on the dancefloor without a pre-made plan. I’d like to believe that I became better at following over the course of the workshops. Some of my dance partners might disagree.

Dance socials

By the end of the second week of the course, we started going to the dance socials that happen almost daily in Las Palmas. Ylenia encouraged us to go and dance with people outside the group. This was another eye-opening experience. I was suddenly confronted with steps I hadn’t learned in a class, and noticed that they were a lot easier to follow in Salsa than in Bachata. Whilst Salsa felt very hard in the beginning, mostly because of the rhythm, it was suddenly Bachata that became more difficult.

One of the more experienced dancers at the social mentioned to us girls standing around that the 21st century allows a woman to ask a man to dance too. There was really no need for us to stand around and wait. I should go and ask one of the men to dance? Am I good enough for this? What if I mess it up? I can only imagine what it must feel like for the man in our dance group to ask one of the experienced dancers to follow.

Poster to advertise a dance social on a Wednesday in February 2023 in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. There is a couple dancing Salsa in the background.
Poster to advertise the dance social at Elder Restaurant in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria from February 2023 provided by Gran Canaria Dancing Group.

Saying goodbye

We all had been dancing together for the 4-weeks of the beginner’s course and continued to the intermediate workshops. In total, it had been six weeks for me where I spent at least two evenings per week with my Salsa-Bachata group and the date that I was leaving Gran Canaria came closer and closer.

During my last week (and I wasn’t the only one in the group leaving at that time), the regular Wednesday social we used to go to didn’t take place due to the carnival festivities. Instead, we decided to create our own social and stayed a bit longer at La Marquesina after class. We finished the night off with long farewell hugs and promises of another dance at another time, wherever in the world that might be.