Dancing in the Valley

Features Issue 17 Aug, 2010

In a corner of Kathmandu there is a house, where every Saturday, the plaintive sounds of Tango numbers sweep couples across a wooden dance floor, their bodies flowing in a rhythm said to have originated in the bordellos of Argentina.

A long way from the bordellos of Argentina is this dance studio at Bishalnagar in Kathmandu, yet there is no mistaking the presence of this dance, as the dancers glide and twist to the tunes of the Tango.

The scene described takes place every Saturday at ‘Natraj Niwas’, a dance studio run by Andreas, a German student of Buddhism, who also happens to be a professional dance instructor dividing his time between here and Europe. Andreas is one of the two dance teachers in town who specialize in Latin dance. The other teacher is Diego Saenz, an Ecuadorian, who says he teaches Salsa in order to help people understand and appreciate the joys of dancing - specifically, Latin dancing.

Latin dance is thus amongst us here in Kathmandu. The tango is taught for those that care to seek it out (and suffer the discipline it requires in order to truly appreciate this dance), and the ubiquitous salsa made its appearance in town quite a few years ago and since then, several soirées and events, both public and private, have revolved around this dance and its dancers.

According to Diego and Andreas, who both run separate dance classes, there are between 30 to 40 regulars that have taken up this form of dancing, and though this is still a small circle of people interested in Latin dance, it’s a very eclectic mix of people from various professional backgrounds, age groups and nationalities. Besides the regulars, there is also a ‘floating population’ of learners and interested folk that make the number of dancers in town even larger.

So what is the appeal of Latin American dance? And how did it find its way into Kathmandu? The answer to these questions are as varied as the number of people that try to answer them, but what is common to most answers is the fact that dances like the Tango, the Salsa, the Meregue and the Swing are fun.  Since these dances require dancers to know what they are doing, it is interactive, and there is meaningful communication between partners which makes dancing more enjoyable. Also, it being a fairly small and welcoming community of people brought together by a common desire to dance, there is an open friendliness amongst the dancers that makes for a comfortable socializing platform.

There are many forms of dance available to those that care to discover its pleasures, but amongst those that have captured the imagination of people in all parts of the world are the dance forms that trace their origin to south America and the Caribbean nations. Both Diego and Andreas feel that salsa and tango are dances that have helped to unite people from different cultures, by bringing them together through dance. According to them, while dancing, there is no rich or poor or nationality or race – its just dancing to an intoxicating tune with people bound by music and the rhythm. To them both, its a pure form of interaction that is also loads of fun, and which breaks down all kinds of social, racial, cultural or economic barriers. Looking at the mix of dancers at both their classes, and at the various dance programs, one feels that they could be right.

Of the dance instructors, Diego Saenz grew up in Ecuador where he says salsa was a part of life, and in the eight months he has been here with his wife Cecilia, who works in the UN, he has given five months of classes to a small group of students. Diego will be here for another 2 years and the reason he says he teaches is that he wants to share his culture with the people of Kathmandu, and would like to see salsa become a well-established dance in society here, before he leaves. The couple have also danced in a music video for Deepak Bajracharya, a local pop star and have so far organized a few salsa dance nights at the Shangri-la hotel.

Andreas meanwhile teaches Argentinean tango, Salsa and Swing amongst other dances.  Now based in Katmandu for most of the year, he has established a studio in his house in Bishalnagar where he conducts regular classes as well as caters to individual students. The bulk of students in most of these classes are individuals and couples from the expatriate community, with a fair mix of Nepalese locals. Both teachers are however happy to note that local participation is steadily increasing, allowing more opportunities for expatriate students to interact with local dancers. The advantage of this being that Nepalese dancers will help the dance community to grow, as they tend to be around long term, as against expatriates who tend to leave in a few years - reducing the dancing population.

Students and dancers have different backgrounds as well as different things to say about the dancing . Some learn the tango because of its intimacy, controlled finesse and perfect interaction between partners…’it’s a partnership like in life’, they say. There are students like Arthur from France, a school student at the British School,  who is learning Latin dances for the first time and says he has fun doing so.  Binate Shrestha meanwhile is an RJ with a local radio station, FM 94, and is an advanced student of the cha-cha, the meregue and the rumba. Tristan and Stephanie are exchange students from Wisconsan Madison, and they come to dance in order to learn and to socialize. Katya, a student of Indian classical dance,  is a Canadian  and a regular at both Andreas and Diego’s classes.  Stephen on the other hand is a professor engaged in researcher and is from the university of East Anglia, who first came to Nepal in 1970, and is currently a student at Andreas classes also. Stephen, between dance breaks, remarks that if people brought more music into what they do, they would be more effective in their work!

There is a very wide variety of students and dancers in town and currently, at least two different places to learn at. The Yak and Yeti every Sunday is a venue for dancers to dance to Latin tunes, and regular dancers show up here. There is no charge for those wishing to dance here, and the atmosphere is open and friendly. There are also the occasional organized dance such as the Salsa night held at Shangri-la Hotel on the 28th of March, with more expected in the future.

 Dances do occur throughout the year and so, should you find your feet tapping and your body swaying to Latin beats, you might consider putting on your dancing shoes and seeing what moves you can make on the dance floor. There are also plenty of opportunity for learners to learn and students will tell you that once you have been bitten by the salsa/tango bug, you stay bitten. And if Diego and Andreas are right about dancing  breaking down barriers and making people equal, then maybe we could all dance our way into a better world!