Percolating beneath New England’s conventional exterior is a rather unconventional social dance scene filled with music and dancers of all ages and skill levels. Social dance is on the rise, thanks to TV shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” Boston just happens to be the epicenter of the movement, attracting dancers and teachers from all genres to pick up and move here — and not for school or a prime engineering gig. They come to dance. Here’s how you can, too.
Whether you’re gearing up to bust some moves at a house party, club, wedding, or you just want to add something new to your exercise repertoire, social dance is a good way to do it. Beginners, start here.
What is social dance?
Social dance is exactly what its name implies — a dance that is social. It’s frequently, though not always, done with a partner and at one dance you will probably dance with many different people. It’s not necessary to bring a partner. Plenty of people show up solo. Normal etiquette at a social dance is to dance with many different folks.
There is usually a lesson first. All of the dances listed here have knowledgeable, friendly instructors and the dances are welcoming to newcomers and those new to dance.
After the lesson, the dance starts, with either a DJ or live music. Social dances are often held in a place that does not serve alcohol, though snacks, water, and other beverages might be available either for free or cheap.
Most of these groups offer work exchange opportunities, student and academic discounts, and lessons.
Wear casual, comfortable clothing and shoes with a soft/smooth sole. It’s nice to change into the shoes when you arrive to the dance so you don’t track anything onto the dance floor. Don’t go to a social dance wasted but make sure to participate. You’re there to dance so get your groove on. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to dance with you or to admit you’re new to it. Your first dance or two (or five or six) might find you dancing on five left feet. No worries! Every dancer you see, including the pros, started somewhere and there’s a good chance it was an awkward start. Keep dancing.
Genres to consider
SALSA & LATIN DANCE: BACHATA CHA-CHA-CHA, MERENGUE, RUEDA
Go to a salsa social dance and there’s a good chance they’ll throw in some bachata, cha-cha-cha, merengue, and rueda. Luckily, these social dances offer lessons at the beginning, so you can learn a bit before trying your new skills on the floor. There’s always rotating sets of hot DJs and frequently a performance.
Club Caríbe, Courtyard Marriott, 777 Memorial Dr., Cambridge. Thursdays, 8 p.m.-10 p.m., lessons from a team of instructors providing separate instruction for each level, beginner to advanced, with a choice of dance styles to learn. 10 p.m.-1 a.m., Dance. Free appetizers and parking. $12 cover ; $5 per class (8 p.m. and 9 p.m.)
Salsa in the Park…and MORE, Blackstone Community Center, corner of West Brookline and Washington Streets, South End. Clear summer Mondays, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Special outdoor events with heated lamps throughout October and November — check website. Upcoming events: Latin Dance Boot Camp, Oct. 19 (club styles: salsa and bachata), Oct. 26 (Cuban styles: salsa, rumba, and rueda). Metamovements also offers classes and multiple programs, including opportunities to explore the dance cultures on a much deeper level. Check website to explore.
Tambo Held the third Saturday of the month, this is an excellent opportunity to try Latin dance. There is always a special guest performance — in the past it has included dancers from Cuba and New York City.
Extreme DanceSport, 26 New St., Suite 3, Cambridge. 6 p.m. salsa workshops with Metamovements, 7 p.m.-10 p.m. music by DJ Martinez
The Tango Society, 16 Bow St., second floor (above Cafe Tango), Union Square, Somerville. Sundays, 7 p.m.-8 p.m. intro class (check website) and dance. $10 admission; $5 students and post-docs.
Contra is a line dance, similar to square dancing, traditionally set to live American folk music. Sometimes, it can be fused with other types of music, like techno. It’s quite popular in New England. As an added bonus, musicians are welcome to sit in with performers.
Boston Intergenerational Dance Advocates, Masonic Hall, 1950 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square, Cambridge. First and third Sunday of every month, 7 p.m. beginners class, 7:30 p.m.-10 p.m. dance. $5-$10.
EAST COAST SWING AND LINDY HOP
Hot jazz you can dance to — this isn’t jazz at the Regatta! These dances almost always have a live band, including Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess, Baby Soda Jazz Band, Mona’s Hot Four, Emily Asher’s Garden Party, and Gordon Webster. All were written about in Vanity Fair recently and play these dances regularly.
Boston Swing Central, Crosby Whistle Stop, 24 Roland St, Charlestown. Every Friday, 8 p.m.-9 p.m. lesson, 9 p.m.-midnight dance. Prices vary.
Hop to the Beat, KI (Congregation Kehillath Israel), 384 Harvard St., Coolidge Corner, Brookline. Saturdays, 8:15 p.m.-9 p.m. beginner lesson; 9 p.m.-midnight dance. Prices vary.
Boston has more blues social dance than most other cities in the US. How do you dance to blues?
Bluesy Tuesy, The Democracy Center, 45 Mt Auburn St., Cambridge. Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. lesson; 8:30 p.m.-11 p.m. dance. $5 lesson, $5 dance, $10 both.
Blues Union, 16 Bow St., Somerville. Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. intermediate class; 8:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. blues basics class and beginner clinic; 9:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. dance. $10 lesson and dance; $5 dance only.
WEST COAST SWING
People often think West Coast Swing is country music swing. It’s actually a partner social dance to modern music and is almost completely different from Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing.
Dance Boston, 56 Pond Lane, Arlington. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7:10 p.m. – 8 p.m. beginner; 8:10 p.m.-9 p.m. advanced beginner; 9:15 p.m.-11:30 p.m. dance.
HIP-HOP & PARTY DANCE
Wanna learn how to bust a smooth move at the next party? Turn heads at clubs? Or pop it out and lock it up? Carl Alleyne has choreographed for celebrities and as owner of Boston Mobile Dance Studio, he and his crew throw down all over the city to teach you moves you can use. Bonus for Carl and crew: They teach a bit of the history of the dances, so you get some context and throwback moves and music, too. While this isn’t technically a “social dance” (these are lessons, though you can check the BMD website for upcoming social dances in Cambridge and Milton), we include them here because they teach you moves for modern social situations. Most hip-hop classes teach only the choreography you see in music videos, but these classes teach you moves you can practice at home and bust out on the dance floor of a club or house party.
Dance Complex, 536 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Party Dance 101, Saturdays 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m., $10. Hip-hop Saturdays, 10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m., $10.
Deborah Mason School of Dance, 32 Cottage Park Ave., Cambridge. Hip-hop Mondays, 7:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., $10.
New England Lock Shop, Thursdays 8 p.m.-9:30 p.m., $5
Check website for updates and schedule changes.
OVERALL DANCE: PARTNER, SOCIAL, SHOW, TRAINING, AND FUN!
The Dance Complex, 536 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
This is a mecca for dancers of all levels, disciplines, shapes, and sizes, whether they want to get in some extra barre time, rehearse for a show, or just learn something new. Classes and workshops offered include training in ballet, jazz, and tap, as well as samba, African, rueda, cha-cha, Horton, movement improve, and flamenco, among others. They also offer workshops on everything from Bollywood to hula to the Hustle. The next social dance workshop will be salsa rueda on Nov. 2 with a lesson at 6 p.m. followed by an evening of social dancing. Check website for schedules, workshops, and more information.
Also check out the Have to Dance calendar for New England listings of some of the social dance genres mentioned. Many genres offer LGBT-friendly dancing. This guide provides only a small sampling of the social dance Boston offers. There’s a wide array of genres, including Scottish country, Irish, Israeli, bellydance, Hawaiian hula, and Balkan. Ballroom, both socially and for professional training, is gaining in popularity and can be found in the Boston area.
If you don’t see you favorite dance style, venue, or class listed here, post it in the comments.
[Photo Credit: Aslan Askarov for Boston Swing Central]