Where to Swing, Salsa and Two-Step in Calgary
It doesn’t take more than a quick look over to know that I’m not the dancing type. If the thick-rimmed glasses weren’t cause for immediate suspect, than the too-large, two left feet and robotic hips, doomed to a life of pitiful sedentary, would be.
Yet, it’s amazing what you can learn in a week.
If you’re craving a night of cutting a rug, but are feeling apprehensive about your leg-shaking skills, take a lesson. You’ll have to look no further than the roster of friendly dance instructors hosting regular events around the city.
No matter if you’re warming up for Stampede or simply wanting to brush up on some new moves before hitting the clubs, Calgary’s got you covered.
Wear comfortable shoes, you’re going to need them.
The venue: Ranchman’s—if you’re looking for cowboy country, you’ve arrived. The scene skews rustic, with its barn-inspired décor, roughly trodden wooden floors and cowboy-hatted, Wrangler-clad crowd. Drink specials are canon, and the kitchen serves a mean chicken-fried steak.
The host: Dean Stroeder.
What to wear: Think Burt Reynolds, from Smokey and the Bandit, form-fitting jeans over cowboy boots, and a plaid shirt. Cowboy hats and belt buckles are optional, but highly recommended.
The music: John Landry’s "Bit by Bit," Zac Brown’s "Chicken Fried," Hal Ketchum’s "Past the Point of Rescue."
What beginners can expect: Stroeder guides beginners to an understanding of connection and two-step fundamentals, including good frame, posture, timing, foot work, and turns.
Standing facing my partner, the shaky episode begins.
"Frame,"—the word haunted me for days afterwards. A good frame is the foundation of the two-step, and essentially requires good posture and tireless arms. Stroeder is a frame fanatic.
The secret is in the count: two quick steps and two slow. With enough trial and error, I’m able to step forward while my partner retreats, counterclockwise around the dance floor. Advanced two-steppers appear as if they are gliding across the floor, a fanciful sight.
Fortunately, Stroeder is a venerable instructor, and takes his job with a sense of humour: "Just don’t have high expectations, have fun, but, pay attention!
Every individual picks it up at a different pace," he says. "But after a full six-week course you should have the basics and then some."
Ranchman’s is located at 9615 Macleod Tr S, with various dance lessons held Mon to Fri at 7 pm. Cost is $10 at the door, but a $10 gift certificate is given in return for food and beverage.
The venue: Juan’s Mexican Restaurante & Cantina is a charming restaurant which hosts dance lessons on Thursday and Friday nights. Come early and taste authentic Mexican cuisine, think of it as dancing fuel.
The host: Henry Palma.
The founder of Latin Sound Productions, a man of seemingly infinite and infectious enthusiasm, with a roster of passionate instructors.
What to wear: Clubbing with class, button-down tops and dress shoes for fellas, frilly dresses and heels for gals.
The music: El Gran Combo "Se Me Fue," Luis Enrique’s "Yo No Se Mañana," Hector Lavoe’s "El Cantante."
What beginners can expect: This one takes some practice, but the repetitiveness of the basic steps, like the "cha-cha" or the "rumba," is simple enough, and soon, as muscle memory takes over the feet (and to some respect, the hips) I found myself feeling the music and, albeit, having way too much fun. Luckily, Palma is a wiz on the turntables.
If you’re looking to make fast friends, this is the dance. With my partner standing close, we proceed to cha-cha, a series of slow-slow and quick-quick steps, à la, one-two cha-cha-cha. Those more advanced can throw in a gambit of dips and swings, and move their hips as if a separate entity from the rest of their body.
It’s obvious that I’m not there yet, but I’m smiling like an idiot anyways. Beginners should expect to take a few lessons (just try not to) before a comfortable level is reached. In fact, Palma says the number one mistake for beginners is quitting after one lesson, just because the desired skill is not achieved in a short period of time.
"There will come a time when the dancing becomes automatic and you will realize that you can do the steps consistently without thinking," he says.
Juan’s is located at 232 - 8 Ave SW, but Palma also hosts Latin dance every Tuesday at Concept Lounge (908 - 17 Ave SW), free of charge.
You can also stop by: Don Quijote’s in Eau Claire (309 - 2 Ave SW). It has regular live music and dancing Fri and Sat. Soho (801 - 6 St SW) hosts boisterous club nights on the weekends, while the Iron Dutch Pot (1104 - 6 Ave SW) holds irregular Latin dance nights, call ahead for details.
Jump & Jive
The venue: Regular swing lessons are hosted every Friday in the Mount Pleasant Community Hall, an unassuming (and fully licensed) venue. No experience or partner required—there are people waiting to dance with you, and beginner lessons end with a new intermediate move each week. Afterwards, dancing goes late, often after midnight.
The host: Matthew Isenor.
What to wear: Zoot suits and flapper dresses rule the roost here.
The music: Nina Simone’s "Love or Leave Me," The Cats and the Fiddle’s "Gang Busters," Slim & Slam’s "Flat Foot Floogie."
What beginners can expect: This might be your grandparents’ dance, but it still oozes "cool." Isenor likes to start beginners with some basic fundamentals of swing dancing, with a focus on the lindy hop.
I quickly learn that once again, connection with my partner is key, which allows both bodies to communicate either through the hands or the hips. In short, my dignity, is in their hands. And vice versa, the risk of dropping my partner is uncomfortably high, and I hold on like a steel trap.
This is where I learn a basic mastery of the "swing-out," an essential lindy hop maneuver, which entails breaking away from my partner before eventually bringing them back in, allowing for split seconds of improvisation, like a quick hip-shake or fancy footwork.
The dance can be high-speed and requires a fair bit of athleticism. To be blunt, things got pretty sweaty, and fast, but it was raucously good fun. Swing dance incorporates a range of styles, from lindy hop to the Charleston to balboa—Isenor is an expert at all of them. Watching him sway and rock as he skillfully throws (not literally) his partner in the air is an act of inspiration. More spectacle than dance.
"The key is persistence," he says. "You don’t think you can do it, but you will if you come back every week."
And among all the lessons learned during the week, the one that was key is persistence. If you’ve never done it before, you won’t be very good, but that, in itself, makes it fun. If you keep coming back, you’ll have no choice but to get better. Not only that, it’s great exercise, and an even better way to meet new friends.
Toe Tappin’ Swing hosts lessons every Fri at 8:30 pm in the Mount Pleasant Community Hall (602 - 22 Ave NW) for $10 for drop-ins and $7 for students and "out of towners." Special events are also held throughout the year at various locations in the city.
You can also stop by: If you’ve already got the moves and feel the need to flaunt, check out Beat Niq (811 - 1 St SW), Calgary’s coolest jazz bar.By Dan Leahul
Calgary’s DJ scene is a tight-knit community of crate-addled music-addicts, some of whom who have built Calgary’s club scene from the ground up. Many of the city’s best—and world-renowned—DJs host weekly events at some of the hottest clubs, here are just a few.
Born out of the ashes of old style hip-hop block parties, punk rock shows at community halls and the early ’90s rave scene, Calgary’s Smalltown DJs, Pete Emes and Mike Grimes, host Hai Karate with partner-in-crime Wax Romeo, at Hifi every Thursday (219 - 10 Ave SW).
Catch Lorne B and his big beats alongside resident DJs Piranha Piranha, Typist, Thief, Donna Dada and Crimson every Friday at the Marquee Room, host of the regular installation Modern Math, a music/art collective and club night (612 - 8 Ave SW).
Decidedly vintage, Rob Faust brings his disco, soul and funk-braised beats from the ’70s onwards every Saturday at Bamboo Tiki Lounge (1201 - 1 St SW).
Spinning deep jazz and funk-laced house essentially every Sunday for decades, the Rice is a Calgary institution. Check him out at Hifi for Sunday Skool (219 - 10 Ave SW).
Back-to-back winner of the Technics DMC Calgary DJ Championship and named "Calgary’s Best Party Rocker/Most Versatile DJ" at the Red Bull 3-Style Championship, Disoriental lays down a collection of funk, disco, rap and dance during the Work Out Plan at Habitat Living Sound every Friday (1217 – 1 St SW).
Where to Get Your Club On
Let’s face it—Calgarians love their clubs. Amongst the multitudes of booty-shaking venues, we’ve waded through the best of the best: here you’ll find spots to sip a classy cocktail from the gallery or dance your heart out to some eardrum bursting bass.
Amsterdam Rhino (607 - 11 Ave SW)
Endorsed by Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi (he hosted his victory party here), the Rhino is irreverently hip, rowdy, and very cool. Check out the District next door for Calgary’s most bacon-centric pub grub.
Bamboo Tiki Lounge (1201 - 1 St SW)
Next door to one of Calgary’s most vibrant pubs, the Drum & Monkey. Head to the pub on Tuesdays for two-dollar tacos and drink specials before sliding over to the Bamboo for Dub at the Pub, featuring some seriously bass-heavy beats.
Hifi (219 - 10 Ave SW)
Blurring the line between live music venue, dance club and art gallery, this is the spot for the city’s hip-set. Some of Calgary’s best DJs are a regular fixture, including Smalltown DJs, Wax Romeo, and DJ Rice. Warning: this one is loud, don’t come for the conversation.
Marquee Room (612 - 8 Ave SW)
A so-cool-it-hurts venue above the Uptown cinema on 8 Ave SW, the bar is a regular showcase for local and international indie artists. When there’s no band in town, the Marquee Room’s resident DJs keep the tables spinning all night long.
The Metropolitan Grill (318 - 8 Ave SW, or 880 - 16 Ave SW)
Is it a casual restaurant or perennially busy dance club? Why not both? Sit down for Californian and Mediterranean cuisine before dancing up a storm on the weekends.
Milk Tiger (1410 - 4 St SW)
Unpretentious yet stylish. Low key yet high quality, Milk Tiger is an über cool lounge that serves fantastic cocktails and wine by the glass. Without much outdoor signage, blink and you’ll miss it, look for the graffiti-covered door next to the Beltline Towers building.
Republik (306 - 17 Ave SW)
The club that just won’t die, and for good reason. Now in its third inception, the club is a must-hit venue for the hottest bands and DJs du jour. In a Victoria-style home on 17th Ave, Republik features several "themed" dance floors, which play varying styles of music.
Vinyl Retro Dance Lounge (213 - 10 Ave SW)
Featuring more disco balls than a Stayin’ Alive marathon and funky art deco furnishings, Vinyl is the place to see and be seen. If the line-up out the door is any indication, it appears this new addition to Calgary’s club scene is here to stay.
A guide to Calgary’s gay and lesbian club scene.
The Back Lot (209 - 10 Ave SW)
Literal "hole in the wall" pub entered through a non-descript, narrow corridor off 10 Ave. Features stiff drinks and friendly staff.
The Calgary Eagle (424 - 8 Ave SE)
Leather and Levi’s fetish bar in Calgary’s East Village, dress isn’t required but highly encouraged.
Club Sapien (1140 - 10 Ave SW)
New club on the scene with weekly features, including live magic, retail industry night, open mic night, head-to-head DJs, ladies’ night, and more.
Fab Bar (1742 - 10 Ave SW)
Former home of the legendary Money Pennies, Fab Bar is a welcoming venue with weekly fixtures like speed dating and darts league.
Texas Lounge (Rear entrance, 308 - 17 Ave SW)
Also known as "The Bunker," the lounge is a great place to relax and have a couple drinks with friends. Connected to the all-men’s bathhouse Goliaths.
Twisted Element (1006 - 11 Ave SW)
The "biggest gay nightclub West of Montreal," there’s nothing subtle about Twisted. Probably Sunday’s best night out, featuring karoke and a late-late drag show.