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CLUB SCENE: SALSA TAKES DANCING ONE STEP BEYOND.

This week Paul McMenamin dons his dancing shoes for an instructive night out on the tiles at a local music hall - but will he see another tequilla sunrise?

WHAT'S this all about? It's a Friday night on Botanic Avenue and to my right there is a particularly unhappy looking Christian trying to get me to take a leaflet entitled `It could be you'.

On my left, a clown, on stilts, is inviting me to discover the pleasures of Brazilian rhythm. Hmm, the tract is tempting, but tonight I think, my salvation lies in Salsa.

Now before you start with your dismissive jibes of "Sure, salsa is no more than line dancing with better marketing" let me first set the scene.

Standing outside the Empire on a Friday night, with the lights and the music blaring and blasting respectively, you could, simply by closing your eyes, imagine - if only for a little while - that you had left the chill of a Belfast evening behind and instead immersed yourself in the warmth of a Rio carnival.

I can almost hear the cries of `Aye, right' from here, but I'm actually serious.

There is something about salsa music which automatically transports you to faraway lands populated by beautiful people who don't dance as if they're driving a big truck or trying to punch themselves in the face.

However, I haven't actually made my way inside yet so it is entirely possible that Belfast Salsa dancers will still look as if they're driving a big truck or punching themselves in the face. I almost can't bear to look.

The first thing I spot on my arrival is that the two silky- looking characters gracing the stage are definitely not local.

For a start they have grace, they have style and they can dance incredibly close without inflicting multiple bruising.

They do however seem to be dancing in slow motion and it is then I realise that, joy of joys, I have arrived in time to catch the practise class for beginners.

Now we should see some serious moves.

I know I shouldn't laugh because at least the people on the floor have the nerve to give it a shot, but it is funny and they are laughing too, so I figure that this is half the fun of the whole experience.

Elsewhere in the bar those who had, in previous weeks, suffered the humiliation of having to learn something new are busy slamming tequila in preparation for their later assault on the dance-floor.

No doubt discussing how they had mastered the art much quicker than this week's new faces.

After about half an hour of stopping and starting, moving and shaking and pointing and laughing, the once ugly ducklings were ready to grace the floor, swan like.

Now it was down to the real business. I have to admit that I watched the ensuing salsa party with a wide smile that, in equal measure, had to do with the comedic value of the proceedings as well as a strange sense of admiration for the bravery of the participants.

They may have looked slightly stupid, they may also have looked slightly embarrassed, but they definitely looked as if the stupid, embarrassing time they were having was really incredible fun.

The mountains of tequila obviously helped their newly-found rhythm and I'm sure that had someone held a pole two feet off the ground, there would have been a queue of people convinced that they were each just the person to limbo under it.

Salsa and Belfast undoubtedly make strange bedfellows but the music is infectious and the enthusiasm of those who regularly fill the Empire on a Friday night is worth the entrance fee alone.

If looking vaguely foolish but not caring isn't really your thing then you can always get the tequila in and find your place on the balcony, until it is.

HOW TO FIND IT

The Empire Music Hall, Botanic Avenue, Belfast

DRINKS

Pints: pounds 2.00

Spirits: pounds 1.90

Bottles: pounds 2.10

But...

On Salsa night San Miguel and Tequila are pounds 1.50

MUSIC/DRESS CODE

Lovely lively Salsa, and as for dress, well anything goes, but if you do have a Rio-esque ensemble you could try to get it past the gracious doormen

ADMISSION

Downstairs bar: pounds 3

Upstairs Salsa:

pounds 6

CAPACITY

500 upstairs
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 6, 1999
Words:727
Previous Article:Club Scene: What's on and where.
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