As people in Qatar seek to expand their horizons, two local Latin dance groups have been bringing some new flair to the culture scene.
Trainers for the two groups hail from Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Cyprus, Sudan, UAE and Iraq, and have brought years of dancing experience to Qatar from their home countries.
The rise has not been without challenges, as both groups try to reconcile the sensuality of Latin dance with Qatar’s conservative social norms on dressing modestly and its restrictions on dance performances.
Speaking to Doha News, Salsa n’ Candela head Meli Candela, a Lebanese expat, said licenses for dance schools here only go to ballet instructors.
“They (the government) have put more regulations on organizing events, and dress codes, which limit the theme and Latin spirit we want to put in our events…like performing salsa with long sleeves and leggings, for example.
It doesn’t (allow us) to show the movement and style of the dance properly.”
Despite the challenges, Candela said business has been brisk.
Salsa n’ Candela was founded here in 2008. Classes are divided into sessions and socials, with the former hosting anywhere from 60 to 80 residents during the year to 15 to 25 attendees during the summer months.
The sessions are held at the Hilton Hotel – Eforea Spa, with social nights at the Crystal Lounge, the Cigar Lounge, and Trader Vics. Each session costs QR 60, or QR 420 for eight classes.
The group, consisting of nine instructors from five countries in the region, teaches LA and Cuban-style salsa, Dominican bachata, rueda de casino, zumba, and kizomba, a dance of Angolan origin.
The success of Salsa n Candela prompted several trainers who worked for the group to form their own organization in Qatar last year, called Yamativo-Mambo.
One of the trainers, a 27-year-old Iraqi expat who asked only to be identified as Mustafa, explained to Doha News how the group began:
“We all came to Doha to work, but with different prior backgrounds in salsa and other dances. We met here, and Yamativo was formed to complete its founders’ vision in establishing professional salsa dancers in Qatar with a strong foundation built around strong technique.”
For Yamativo-Mambo, what began as an experiment with a couple of classes open to the public last year, has grown to encompass some 400 students studying a range of Latin dances.
“(Our nationalities include) everything along the spectrum. Ranging from Middle Easterners to Europeans to the Americas to Asians to Africans (and) even a few Australians,” Mustafa said.
He added that beginner classes tended to be busier, with around 25 couples attending each session, while advanced classes consisted of around 10 couples.
According to Mustafa, reception so far has been enthusiastic.
“(It has been) beyond incredible. It has surpassed our expectations by far. It seems Doha is hungry for Latin dancing. We started with a couple of classes, and with the ever-increasing demand we are operating at up to 18 classes a week now….we find that most students can see significant improvement within three weeks.”
Yamativo-Mambo’s classes are held at four different locations around the city – Radisson Blu Hotel, The Four Seasons Doha Hotel, Intercontinental – The City Hotel, and the Al-Gheed Ballet Center at Lagoona Mall.
Classes cost between QR50 to 70 per session. Two instructors, one male and one female, teach each class, sometimes accompanied by assistants.
After taking the beginner classes, students are evaluated before moving on to higher levels.
In addition to government restrictions, both groups are struggling to gain traction in Qatar due to residents’ busy schedules, among other things.
Mustafa said that “finding the right venue and students who are willing to put in the time is a universal challenge for salsa instructors,” adding:
“In this busy life…(we have) to sacrifice a lot of personal time and effort, which always forces other activities to take the back seat. When we first founded the group, we knew first hand that we had to earn our spot.”
According to Candela, it is also difficult to encourage students to perform outside of the classroom. However, her group has enjoyed increased exposure and interest since its inception, she added:
“The Latin dance is growing especially after the opening of many bars which have live band Latino performances…
Salsa is growing around the world so definitely Qatar is part of this fast growing world and a leading country in this regard.”
To further improve the quality of their classes, and their own personal skills, trainers of both groups continue to perform at various international festivals.
“Our trainers are actually in Berlin now, performing, along with a student, at the Berlin Salsa Congress. When the group was first founded, it had a mere two international performances. This year alone, we have had more than 10 shows so far and we have six more coming up,” Mustafa said.
Salsa n’ Candela has enjoyed their share of international acclaim, having performing in Dubai, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, Cyprus, New York and Berlin.
While these festivals are mostly frequented by the instructors who have years of dance experience behind them, students too have had the opportunity to showcase their moves at various Latin socials around town.
Some students have also recently become instructors.
“SnC instructors are students who started years ago, traveled with us to festivals and became instructors. They did not come from abroad (having) already acquired salsa. They have learned salsa here, and (have) grown up here,” Candela said.
The groups also bring in international talent to teach certain courses.
This month, Salsa n Candela’s social at the Crystal Lounge will feature Andreas Cetkovic, the 2008 World Streetball Champion. During the session, Cetkovic and his team will perform, and teach attendees a unique blend of salsa and street style football.
In keeping with Qatar tradition, however, international artists sponsored by the group to perform in Doha will be required to dress modestly during their performances.