After Midnight: A guide to New York Social Dance Culture

New York City’s great claim to fame is its immense diversity. This city is a bustling microcosm of America’s “melting pot” culture, where people of all nationalities, from visitors and recent immigrants to the descendants of original colonists, come to find their people and build a community and a life for themselves. Nowhere is this breathtaking cultural diversity better reflected than in the social dance scene, where New Yorkers of all cultures and beliefs come out to relax, socialize, and celebrate their heritage. Read on to see just a few of the ways New Yorkers of all ages, nationalities, and levels of experience choose to dance their nights away…

  1. East-Coast Swing

There is a swing dance (or two) in one of New York’s five boroughs literally every night of the week, and dance floors from Midtown’s Swing 46 to Brooklyn’s many dive bars can be packed with hardcore lindy-hoppers from Monday to Sunday. This upbeat, uniquely American dance style (think Jitterbug, Shag, Charleston, lindy, etc ) has its roots in Harlem, but swing has blossomed into an international dance phenomenon with classes, workshops and social events worldwide. Swing is a great social dance because it’s fun, energetic, and easy to learn; many of the movements are derived from the triple-step, triple-step, rock-step “basic” movement, with embellishments such as kicks, twists, and arm styling improvised by more advanced dancers. Swing classes for all levels, from newcomer to professional, are abundant in the city. Check out This Week In Swing/Eileen’s Lindy Blog for immediate, up-to-date access to swing events near you, or look up schools like Manhattan’s Syncopated City Dance School, run by international swing dance legends Michael Jagger and Evita Arce, to get some tips and tricks under your belt before you head out onto the dance floor.

Swing dancers take to the streets to show their stuff in the heart of New York City’s Theatre District, Times Square: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ykifSZ0Yo8

2.  Ballroom

For those of you out there seeking a smoother, more sophisticated style of social dance, look no further than ballroom. Here, you have two options: the glitzy, glamorous, exaggerated competitive or “international” style (think Dancing With the Stars plus or minus some sequins), or the more relaxed, improvisational, lead-follow based “social” ballroom dance (think Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers). Smooth ballroom is actually an umbrella term for several distinct dances, including Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, and Tango, and many social dance venues provide a medley of tunes, from modern hits to old classics, so you’ll never be bored. For lessons, check out studios like Stepping Out, in the Flatiron neighborhood, or venture out to clubs like Iguana, a Mexican restaurant with a dance floor that hosts the fantastic Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks, an incredibly talented group of jazz musicians, on Monday and Tuesday nights. For competition style, head to Stepping Out Studios in New York’s Flatiron neighborhood for lessons, dances, competition coaching and more. For social ballroom events, join the Facebook group Social Ballroom Community NYC for the latest offerings from internationally renowned duo, the pioneers of Silver Screen style ballroom, Heather Gehring and Lou Brockman.

Here, check out Heather and Lou demonstrating some fun and flirty social dance moves in a dynamic digital flip book by NYC-based photographer Mark S. Kornbluth:http://www.msk.nyc/flip/1

3.  Argentine Tango

Sensuous and romantic, this social dance hails from Argentina, where it developed from the confluence of traditional African rhythms with milonga music in the slaughterhouse district of Buenos Aires. Argentine tango has exploded in popularity in recent years, serving as a social outlet for the after-hours corporate set as well as a romantic couples’ experience. At some dances, it’s fine to come alone; some venues are more easily enjoyed if you bring a partner. Many milongas start late at night and continue into the wee hours of the morning. This is one social style where you’ll want to take lessons first; Argentine Tango demands a sensitivity, a kind of physical “listening”, and a unique walking style that you’ll want to explore in the safety of the classroom or at a practica, a kind of open practice offered by many dance schools, before venturing out on the dance floor. If you choose to dedicate the time, though, the reward is absolutely worthwhile— many adherents say that the tango scene has changed their lives immeasurably for the better. Once you’ve broken in your dancing shoes, step out to venues like downtown La Nacional for a magical night of dance.

Watch street dancers perform a sultry, exquisite rendition of the Argentine Tango in Buenos Aires: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gcs4LY_ljQk

4. Salsa

Like New York- style pizza and Brooklyn bagels, New York City has a salsa style all its own. Unlike other styles of salsa, which are danced with the first step on count “1”, New York salsa is danced “On 2”, with the footfalls happening on counts “2-3-4,6-7-8”. New York salsa is a fun, flirty, dynamic dance with great music and heavy Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Colombian influences. Salsa is a versatile style with a relatively simple “basic” that’s easy to pick up in beginner classes from studios around the city; check out BAILA society’s website, bailasociety.com, or nysalsababy.com for beginner lessons in every neighborhood. You will never be lacking dance events to attend— there are latin clubs all over the city, from Washington Heights to Greenwich Village, ranging from classic venues like the Copacabana (47th street) to contemporary clubs like Columbus 72 (246 Columbus Ave) to far-flung neighborhood venues like Club Deportivo (2088 Amsterdam Ave). For classes, events, and more, check out Salsa Magazine’s website, www.justsalsa.com.

Here are some dancers strutting their stuff at a salsa club in Midtown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7s626AdMMk

5. Blues

Blues dancing developed in tandem with blues music in the american South. Today, this slower, more sultry style of swing has a burgeoning following of social dancers young and old. Blues is gritty, dressed-down, sweaty late-night fun; the dance’s sudden gain in popularity has given rise to a multitude of new venues in New York City, across the country, and around the globe. Blues is one of the least codified of the social dances; while it is usually danced with a partner, the rules pretty much end there. Movements are led and followed to reflect the music, which ranges from the wilder “dirty dancing” style to slower, more romantic blues ballads. Check out Blues Dance New York’s calendar, at bluesdancenewyork.com, for events near you!

Here, watch blues dancers get their groove on at downtown nightclub Webster Hall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqRpRZiNF7Y

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