Heating Things Up

Boston's salsa scene brings flair to any weeknight

“Left, right, left…and feel it, and feel it…that’s right, left,” cooed our salsa dance instructor as he shook and shimmied his way across the hardwood floor at Sophia’s in Boston. It was hard enough to concentrate on his commands over the din of the pulsating Latin beat, and it was even harder with the added distraction of his pulsating Latin butt. Columbia native Johnny Giraldez, clad in formfitting trousers and a shirt with “Rebellious” scrawled across its back, served as our fearless leader as we attempted to master the art of salsa.

For two girls whose idea of the ultimate hot dance move is kneeling on the ground during Madonna’s  “Like a Prayer” at the Leverett 80s dance, salsa was uncharted territory, to say the least. With graduation looming and a lack of dining hall parties in our future, we realized it might be time to expand our repertoire of dance moves.

When knowledge of Sophia’s Salsa Wednesdays came our way, we whipped out our fiery red tops and black pants, perfect outfits for salsa—or so we hoped—and headed downtown.

Located across from the bright lights of Fenway Park on Boylston St., Sophia’s exterior doesn’t attract much more attention than the McDonald’s next door. But inside, the scene is worlds away from your typical Boston bar. From the tiled floor to pitchers of their famously authentic sangria, the atmosphere exudes Latin flair. Strong Latin-American accents greet customers at every turn, from the suave bouncer to the lingerie-clad coat-checker. For a more complete immersion experience, some choose to begin their evening with a foray into Spanish cuisine on the first floor restaurant before heading upstairs to dance off their just-consumed tapas. While Salsa Wednesdays are marketed toward novices, a core group of naturals flock to Sophia’s regularly to keep the dance floor hot.

“Beginners over here!” To our relief, Johnny’s brother called the less-experienced among us to a slower practice session after the entire group of 100 got a rundown of salsa moves from Johnny. While the initial practicing was done solo, there came a point where we had to test our new skills with a partner. One can certainly come to Sophia’s with a friend or date, but it’s also very easy for any girl to dance her way into the open arms of a local graduate student or salsa night regular. The exciting singles scene makes this venue a hot spot for scoping out members of the opposite sex, as evidenced by the large pile of free breath mints available at the well-stocked bar.

Sophia’s has already been adopted by a few of Harvard’s more adventurous undergraduates. As we were busy tripping over our own feet—in spite of Johnny’s detailed instructions—a group of fellow students sauntered over to the already-sizzling expert section of the floor. Their well-honed skills made them desirable partners for the club regulars, who seem to have been born wearing tight white fringed jeans.

While we might not be ready for Havana’s nightclubs, the macarena is no longer the only Latin dance we know. A few more Wednesdays at Sophia’s, and we might just invest in our own white fringe.