by assistant content editor, Columnist and Sherelle Jacobs, The Telegraph, October 17, 2017
I’ve danced in a lot of places. In theatres (both poky and plush). In nightclubs (mainly poky). In my kitchen, trying not to bash into the fridge. And – perhaps most often (though the kitchen is a close second) – in grotty London rehearsal studios that have broken air con and stink of mildewed wood. Ballet has been my passion at least three nights a week since I can remember. Most of the time my surroundings aren’t glamorous. It doesn’t bother me. Dancing is like picking up a book: you can do it anywhere because its function is to transport you somewhere else.
Still, there’s nothing like seeing and living a dance in its cultural heartlands. Dance is a language, and whether it’s samba or salsa, it’s quite something to be amongst 'native speakers' who can articulate its punctuation, patterns and passions far better than the rest of us. In my experience, knowing how to move to the local music is a compelling way into closed-off communities.
And with the rise of Strictly Come Dancing, dance holidays are booming like never before. To date, I’ve done ball season in Vienna, a flamenco weekend in Madrid, salsa in Cuba and a tango holiday in Buenos Aires, and it’s only made me want to do more. Here are my 10 favourite dance holiday tours, from Seville to Senegal. I can’t recommend a music-themed trip enough. The memories are always so powerful. Although I can’t recall all the people I conversed with on my travels, I remember every single person with whom I’ve shared a dance.
1. Samba in Brazil
Ear-splitting. Erotic. Elaborate. Samba – once an obscure African priestess ritual, now one of the most famous dances on earth – is difficult to ignore. On the surface it may seem all jangling percussion, jiggling hips and skimpy get-up that glitters like Christmas lights. But squint and you’ll see it’s a crucial part of Brazil’s social fabric. To see samba at its best, head to Rio Carnival in February for spectacular street parties and fancy dress balls. The pièce de résistance is a competition between samba schools from across the country in the humongous 70,000-seater sambadrome. Think Gladiator with sequins instead of swords. In the final run-up, these schools hold dance socials open to travellers. Don a rhinestone and feather plume outfit and perform at the main event if you dare.
A 10-day Brazil’s Carnival Celebrations tour costs from £4,665 per person (including costume hire to participate in samba parade), with international flights, accommodation, excursions, transfers, samba lesson and Rio Carnival ticket (01993 838610; audleytravel.com/brazil).
2. Waltz in Vienna
Ball season in Vienna is the Ascot of a nation that hasn’t forgotten how to dance. The tradition goes back to a posse of bored 19th-century aristocrats who threw waltz soirées during the eight months of peace negotiations that followed the Napoleonic wars. It’s since exploded into a tuxedoed tumult of 400 balls across the city stretching through January and February, which take place in venues from the marbled ceremonial halls of the Hofburg Palace to the gold-and-ivory rooms of the Vienna State Opera house. Dance lessons are the focus in the daytime, and spending a few hours exploring Vienna’s traditional fashion houses to hire a gown or top hat and tails completes the experience. The Viennese pull out the stops, so aim high to fit in with all the butter satin and white-silk gloves.
A three-night Vienna Ball Season Package costs from £1,095 per person, including flights, accommodation, private waltz lesson and ticket to the Johann Strauss Ball (01242 386465; abercrombiekent.co.uk).
3. Flamenco in Andalucia
Historians are flummoxed about whether flamenco has Ancient Indian, Dorian, Moorish, or Jewish roots, but Andalucia – with its heaving tablaos and gipsy haunts – is its cultural heartland, without a doubt. A private lesson in Seville is just the ticket for beginners. In the evenings, hit the local bars for your fix of delirious footwork and distraught guitar riffs, or head to an upmarket dinner and danceshow. The end goal is duende – an almost spiritual bond that flamencos insist performers and spectators alike can experience in the heat of it all. Bring your Kleenex, it could get emotional.
A three-night Flamenco in Seville experience costs from £1,075 per person, including flights, accommodation, a private flamenco lesson and evening flamenco show (01242 386465; abercrombiekent.co.uk).
4. Tango in Argentina
It’s quite something to take on the haughty, tortured immigrant dance tango, born on the patios of Buenos Aires’ working class tenement blocks and bred in its 19th-century brothels. Argentina’s capital is still the place to experience it, whether it be through nightly dance lessons with professionals, titillating live shows over candlelit dinners, or tango concerts that flirt with jazz, rock and folk in the city’s hippest bars. Make time to visit one of the capital’s community dance halls, or milongas; they offer travellers a thrilling window into the scene, from the young, hip joints booming tango nuevo tunes to the more refined affairs where men and women sit – in line with tradition – on opposite sides of the room.
A six-night Buenos Aires Tango Holiday costs from £1,390 per person, including accommodation, some meals and private and group tango lessons (01273 823700; responsibletravel.com).
5. Bollywood in Mumbai
One for those who have dreamed of dressing like an Indian film star, mastering the neck wiggle and being part of a dance stampede more synchronised than the Michael Jackson’s Thriller crew. Aficionados can work on their hip struts and wrist twists as part of a one-on-one choreography lesson. It’s a rite of passage to see live filming on a professional set. Recording your own Bollywood tune in a recording studio followed by a private screening of an Indian blockbuster completes the experience.
A 14-day India tailor-made tour costs from £2,595 per person, including accommodation, domestic transport, guides, Bollywood lesson and Bollywood studio tour (020 8741 7390; wildfrontierstravel.co ).
6. Belly dancing in Morocco
Belly dancing in Morocco might be up there in the travel cliché stakes with poolside piña coladas and spending 30 seconds looking at the Mona Lisa behind bullet-proof glass. But there’s something alluringly fairy-tale princess about the prospect of working on one’s shivering rib-cage shimmies and twisting torso moves at a resplendent North African riad. An intense holiday course is ideal, as it takes a few sessions to get to grips with the complex Middle Eastern folk dance, all staccato hips and melodic ripples of the abdomen. Book as part of a five-star hotel package for an authentic but indulgent getaway.
A six-night belly dancing holiday in Fez costs from £2,100 per person including flights, accommodation, and private belly dancing lessons (020 7384 2332; cazloyd.com).
7. Mbalax in Senegal
There’s nowhere like hustling, cosmopolitan Senegal, all brightly coloured boubous, blaring balcony radios and bumper-to-bumper cars. And what better way to tap into the energy of West Africa’s cultural powerhouse than through its high-octane dance music scene. Learn to bust moves to mbalax, the genre that Youssou N’Dour pioneered in the Nineties, in Dakar’s most iconic clubs; and catch Sufi singers and Afro-Cuban bands at concert venues where acts don’t warm up until 1am. Songlines’ tours offer plenty of thrills beyond the capital too, from djembe drum classes on the beaches of Saint Louis to visiting offbeat villages and islands.
A nine-night Never Mind the Mbalax tour costs from £1,895 per person, including accommodation, airport transfers, ground transportation, live music and two expert travel guides, departing Nov 17 2017 (020 7501 6741; songlines.co.uk).
8. Merengue in Dominican Republic
Merengue (pronunced meren-gay), dissimilar to the dessert meringue in name only, with its scraping metal sounds reminiscent of grandma’s kitchen, and whipping white-fringed skirts. Merengue too owes itself to sugar, but for tragic reasons; steps derive from how Dominican slaves, chained together and forced to drag one leg, would cut beet to the beat of drums. Today, it’s all billowing costumes and orchestral bands centred around a guira – a metal instrument that is scraped for a rasping sound that make merengue fans shudder with delight. Visit in late July for the Santo Domingo Merengue Festival, then check into one of Punta Cana’s resorts, where hotel dance lessons are standard, and local nightlife is second to none – think merengue bands playing gigs in the caves of castles, and impromptu dances in rum joints and casinos.
A seven-night merengue dancing holiday costs from £1,349 per person, including flights, accommodation, transfers, dance lessons and nightly merengue live music (01306 747008; kuoni.co.uk).
9. Folk dancing in Colombia
Colombia’s dance scene doesn’t get much airtime compared with its Latin rivals. That’s a shame. Barranquilla Carnival – a furious four-day February festival of flower floats, fandango dancing and folkloric fiestas in the country’s north – rivals Rio in the fun stakes. And Cali, Colombia’s second-largest city and “capital of salsa”, can take on Havana’s nightlife any day of the week. Colombia is one of the region’s most diverse nations. Take this to heart and supplement your salsa bar-hopping with a lesson in bambuco (think a cowboy musical meets Viennese waltz) or romantic, close-bodied vallenato, hailing from mango-lined Caribbean villages in the country’s north east.
An eight-night Dance Holiday in Cali costs from £1,375 per person, including accommodation, transfers and private dance classes (01273 823700; responsibletravel.com).
10. Geisha dancing in Kyoto
Japanophiles with a love for dancing should head to Kyoto in November. Every year, female performers from the city’s Gion geisha district – which inspired Arthur Golden’s novel Memoirs of Geisha – show off their skills at the prestigious Gion Kaikan theatre; the exclusive, sell-out event, with its glittering costumes, subtle, expressive dancing, and melancholic samisen (guitar) music, offers a rare glimpse of the country’s dance heritage and how it is being preserved by a small but talented group of modern-day guardians. Enthusiasts can even don a kimono and take a dance lesson with a geisha for the ultimate immersive experience.
A 10-night Culture and Dance trip costs from £1,852 per person, including accommodation, transfers, dance lesson and ticket to Gion Kaikan theatre performance (0117 370 9730; insidejapantours.com).
This article was written by assistant content editor, Columnist and Sherelle Jacobs from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].