Salsa Dancing In Portland

Hi Salsa Friends,

We just got back from Portland, Oregon and wanted to report back to you about our Salsa experience there… and the amazing food and sightseeing spots.

You won’t believe what we saw!

Before we dive into it, let me give you some quick demographics so that you can grasp one of the major differences between Salsa in Palm Springs and Salsa in Portland.

The city of Portland alone is estimated to have over 620,000 residents with about 7% Hispanic or Latino.

The entire Coachella Valley is estimated to have 443,000 residents with 51% Hispanic or Latino.

Keep that in mind. For now back to the story.

We got to experienced just how “unique” the people of Portland are.

Portland has lot’s of gardens, bicyclist, food carts, funky art throughout town and a very disorienting system of highways.

Click to enlarge pictures…

And on top of everything, they dress … how do I say this… different?

In any event, Salsa dancing in Portland seems to have a great following. We found (on the internet) scheduled lessons and dancing almost every day of the week including Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

This was not a surprise to us since Salsa is appealing to many, everywhere. And we figured Portland is big enough to sustain a decent Salsa group.

So we decided to catch a lesson and social on Friday night at a dance studio in northeast Portland.

We figured it would be a good way to compare what we have in the Desert.

The lesson was scheduled to start at 9 pm so we looked for a place to eat nearby.

On our way to the restaurant we drove by the dance studio.

It was early, around 8:30 pm. As expected, the place was empty.

So we drove to a restaurant called Radar, not far from the studio, to grab a bite to eat.

Radar Restaurant

We sat on that first two-seater table on the right.

We ordered a dish called Panzanella and also a dish with grilled squash. It was delicious!

We learned that the Painted Hills bavette steak we were served was organic. Organic food at restaurants is common in Portland too.

Most restaurants we went to served organic food.

By the time we were done with dinner and drinks it was past 9:30 pm.

Time to go check out the Salsa studio.

As we were driving back to the studio which was about half a mile away, we were talking about looking out for a spot to park.

The studio was located on the bottom floor of what appeared to be an anpartment building. It was on a street that did not allow parking in front of the building.

There were no open spots on the South side of the building either. As we’re driving to the other side we look over to see how big of a crowd is in the studio.

There were only about 6 people when activity should have been in full swing.

Hmm…

We were kinda tired from a busy day downtown and visiting Powell’s City of Books, the largest bookstore in the world earlier in the day, so we decide to call it a bust and try again tomorrow. No dancing tonight.

Saturday was a more relaxing day.

Lori picked berries every morning from the back yard

Lori picked berries every morning from the back yard.

We went to the International Rose Garden in the afternoon. Coincidentally, there was a free symphony concert being held there in the midst of acres of beautiful roses.

We decide to try Salsa dancing at the Aztec Willie & Joey Rose Taqueria.

On our way to Aztec Willie’s we find ourselves on an isolated street in northeast Portland. We see very few cars on the street and and very few people walking around.

We find the place and park right next to the restaurant. The taqueria is empty too.

The food reviews on Yelp weren’t so good for Aztec Willie’s so we walked a half a block down the street to another restaurant called Petisco.

There was only one other couple there.

Again, we get lucky with another great meal. This time we had asparagus ravioli and onion soup.

We asked our waitress about Salsa dancing and she says that Aztec Willie’s is packed every weekend. Even she goes there after work.

We finish our dinner and head over to Aztec willies expecting the lesson to be in full swing.

What do we see instead? About 10 people sitting around the dance floor waiting to see what happens. We go ahead and pay the $12 cover and walk in.

All the tables had been moved from the center of the space to the sides around the dance floor. The wood floor looked clean and ready for dancing.

The bar area was separated by a wall about shoulder high.

A few more people come in after us.  The lesson finally gets started, half an around late. Around 20 people take the dance floor.

The 45 minute lessons was lead by a gentleman who also appeared to be the DJ.

By the time the lesson was over there must have been at least 40 people on the dance floor. And many spectators too.

The pace of the lesson was slower than ours. The instructor was only able to teach the basic step, cross body lead and under arm turn.

When the lesson is over the dancing starts and the music is pretty good. They played a mix of Salsa and Bachata. All danceable stuff.

One of the things that really stood out to me was the number of Hispanics at this joint. There was a mix of Caucasians, a few Asians and Black people, and at least 80% Hispanic.

Remember, Portland has a 7% Hispanic population! They must have all been there.

There was one couple that really drew attention by taking up so much space with their jumps and tricks.

You couldn’t really say they were “dancing”. It was the type of dancing where others kept their distance to prevent personal injury.

He was flinging her all over the place into moves that looked more like gymnastics than anything else.

It certainly was NOT Salsa nor dancing. I wish I would have recorded it to show you what NOT to do on the dance floor.

In spite of that, there were probably newbies there that must have been mesmerized by their “talent”.

The truth is, this happens everywhere.

We danced ’til about 12:30 am.

On our way home, Lori was reminiscing about YOU, our Salsa friends. She’s says to me:

“I bet at least ¾ of our intermediate students would have been among the best dancers there tonight”

I agreed.

We sometimes don’t realize how well our students dance because we don’t have a basis for comparison.

Portland, like Nashville (read that article if you haven’t done so yet) probably have twice as many Salsa dancers as we do in the Desert. Both of these towns are much larger and offer many more classes and places to dance Salsa.

In spite of that, the caliber of dancers are far better, in our opinion, in the Desert.

It may have to do with the caliber of friendships formed that we see in the Desert.

This is not to say that Salseros in other areas are not friendly or welcoming, but it wasn’t apparently in our visit to Portland. We didn’t experience an atmosphere where most people seemed to know each other or were happy to see one another.

We miss you and will be back soon.

See you on the dance floor,

Luis N Lori

Author: Luis N Lori

We teach various social dances common in Salsa nightclub scene including Salsa, Cumbia, Cha-cha, Bachata and Casino Rueda and you can find us on the dance floor at Palm Desert Country Club Assn.

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