What Wikipedia cannot tell you about Dancing in Cusco
A lot of people – travelers, Spanish students, volunteers, tourists – come to Cusco thinking, “I can’t dance.” Fortunately, many of them also think, “Hey, I’m in a new country – why not try something new?!”
Dancing in Peru isn’t just a thing for tourists to try – it’s an integral part of Peruvian and South American culture. It’s not just for professionals or for those blessed with “talent” – it’s a form of exercise, expression, and celebration that nearly all Peruvians will engage in at some stage in their lives. But thankfully, it’s not just for Peruvians – local people all over Peru and in Cusco love sharing their dances with out-of-towners, “talented” or not!
As a novice dancer, the visitor to Cusco will likely encounter various types of dances, including merengue, samba, huayno, and bachata, but by far the most common is salsa. Even within salsa there are many different kinds, based on rhythm, and form, but they are all based off of the basic step, which can be learned in any of many locations around the Plaza de Armas. Several popular “discotecas” downtown Cusco offer free salsa classes every night, and for beginners, this can be a great way to learn the basics, meet some other dancers, get to know some of the music, and begin discovering the unique dance culture that surrounds salsa and its enthusiasts. AMAUTA Spanish School offers a free weekly salsa dance lesson for all students and volunteers, every Friday at 18.30 at Calle San Agustin 249, Cusco.
There is no complete guide to the unspoken rules that govern this dance culture, but there are a few suggestions that will make your time dancing salsa in Cusco a bit smoother…
- First, if you want to dance, don’t sit at a table with a drink, and look longingly at potential partners. If you want to dance, get up and dance!
- Second, if someone asks you to dance and you are not inclined to dance with them, just say no. It isn’t inherently rude.
- Third, if you are a girl and you want to dance with a guy, you are welcome to ask, but often, in this culture, asking a guy you don’t know to dance means that you are interested in more than just dancing…
- Forth, it is perfectly acceptible to spend 15 minutes at the beginning of the night watching others dance and not dancing yourself. This gives you time to see which potential partners you want to dance with, and which you do not.
And finally, if you want to learn a new step, ask an instructor to dance! Tell them you saw them doing something really cool and you’d like to learn how to do it too.
Even with these guidelines, a beginner may still feel a bit uncomfortable getting out on the dance floor to try out their skills. So here are a few things that you should definitely not worry about…
- Not having the right shoes – if you can walk in them, you can certainly try dancing in them.
- Not knowing how to dance – that’s what the lessons are for!
- Making mistakes – even pros make mistakes, just keep trying.
- Looking like a beginner – quite literally everyone goes thru this stage!
Many people who pass thru Cusco take the opportunity to try dancing, with good reason! Instructors are easy to find, music is everywhere, some classes are free, and the people who see you one night will never remember you the next night, so you are free to try as many crazy new moves as you like. Getting to know this part of Peruvian culture is a “must-do,” not only because it is such an important part of life in Peru, but also because in dancing, people from many cultures gather for the same purpose, and people who speak many different languages get a chance to interact without even needing to talk.
And finally, one enduring bit of advice, just so you can be ahead of the curve… DO NOT look at your feet while dancing! You will miss so much that way!
Beth Pinzur, Cusco, November 2015