Monday, February 5, 2007

New York in a nutshell: Fabulous salsa dancing every night of the week and $375 shoe purchase in less than 30 min

I had the pleasure of spending four days in New York at the end of January. My PR agency had arranged seven press interviews with American journalists and a gaming analyst for me and we had also scheduled a meeting with a couple of my US colleagues to coordinate PR activities in North America.

I came straight from the Midem music tradeshow in Cannes and was exhausted after spending the last night partying and then packing last minute when I got back to the hotel in the wee hours, basically getting no sleep before I got on the plane. When I arrived to New York I therefore went straight to my hotel near Times Square – the Hilton Garden Inn overlooking 8th Avenue – and took a few hours’ nap.

Late at night, I finally forced myself to get up and get ready for salsa dancing. Well, as ready as possible under the circumstances. My “beauty box” (or “vanity bag” as the Americans call it) had not yet arrived from the airport, so I couldn’t redo my makeup or do much to freshen up. Feeling like a rag, I set off to get sweaty on the dance floor…

Cache on Thursday

It was freezing cold on the streets of New York – coming from a hardened Swede, I can assure you this means it was COLD! The wind was cutting through the bones. I was trying to remember where the Thursday salsa social was off of Times Square, and after having walked back and forth on the wrong street for a good while I finally found the right street and saw the salsa poster on a non-conspicuous door on West 46th Street (between 7th and 8th Ave, two blocks from my hotel) and walked down the stairs to the basement club Cache.

My toes almost cracked when I started dancing in my high heels, but I soon got warmed up. It was good to see some of my salsa friends again – Duane, Dave, Marlon and Pascal were all there. I also saw the world-renowned Ismael Otero there but I didn’t dare invite him to dance – I can dance L.A. Style on 1, Puerto Rican on 2 and Cuban style but the classic New York mambo I have yet to master. I had a really good time but I was out of shape due to all my traveling and lack of sleep, so even though my body was set to dance my head was dazed and my vision almost blurred. There was a performance by some local dancers called Javier & Sweety's Clasico Dancers.

Press interviews, Lebanese dinner, salsa social at the Empire Dance Studio and drinks in the Meatpacking District
Friday was a long day filled of press interviews at the PR agency’s office on the 26th floor overlooking the whole of Times Square on Broadway. At the end of the day the agency took me for a drink at a near-by hotel lounge. A friend of mine had flown in from San Francisco that day so I went to dinner with him later at a Lebanese restaurant called Al Bustan. The restaurant itself was not worth remembering, really, although I had been recommended this restaurant by someone who claimed it was the only Lebanese restaurant worth visiting on Manhattan; decent food (same as at all Lebanese restaurants) but the restaurant was just a large, white and rather sterile room with no ambiance whatsoever.

Dinner was followed by Frankie Martinez’s salsa social at the Empire Dance Studio on the 11th floor of 127 25th Street (between 6th and 7th Ave). I think my friend was rather surprised at the high-energy ambiance in the dance studio, despite no alcoholic beverages being served. Frankie himself was DJ so there were plenty of good mambo songs played and my friend Vinay and I had a good time dancing with total strangers (well, except for Dave sho showed up rather late) until roughly 1:00 am.

We then took a cab to the Meatpacking District and went for drinks at a trendy bar overlooking the City and the Hudson River, where the drinks cost $14 dollars each! This place had really good music but the strangest mix of people – from trendy chic to office suits to geeky casual. We couldn’t help but watching and laughing hysterically at an after-work intoxicated man in suit and two office dressed women who were semi-dancing (more staggering around uncontrollably) while making out and fumbling each other’s breasts and bottoms (well, the man somehow switched between the two women, and we couldn’t make out whether they were blissfully unaware of each other or they belonged to the same party) in the aisle between a table of Japanese tourists and a booth seating a well-dressed and well-behaved couple who tried their best to ignore the staggering threesome. A bizarre night!

Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre and Saturday Salsa Fever Dance Social with "Mambo Mario B"
Whenever I’m in New York, I try to get time off to see some show and I’m never disappointed. I’ve seen Phantom of the Opera (fantastic!) and Stomp (blew me away!) on previous trips. This time around, I went to see the musical Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre on West 49th Street between 8th Avenue and Broadway, around the corner from my hotel. This turned out to be great entertainment with impressive singing, powerful dancing and for the most part very good acting with comical mimics.

On Saturday night, I went to Williamsburg in Brooklyn to have drinks with my friend Duane. To get away from the rain while waiting for him, I entered a local Mexican bar and restaurant, Vera Cruz, with a very nice and friendly bartender who only charged $6 for the same drink that the night before cost $14 in the Meatpacking District…

After a quick supper and a Mojito at a well-frequented seafood restaurant, we went to New Jersey for a pure mambo dancers' social hosted by NJ performer and instructor Mario Gonzalez, AKA "Mambo Mario B" ( The event was held at Mario B's new studio on 83 Franklin Street in Jersey City. There is a good-size but a bit "slow" or "medium speed" wooden dance floor (so wear your more slippery dance shoes). There were several really good dancers, and apart from Mario himself, I had the pleasure of dancing with among others Joshua, AKA “Cuba”, whom I met at Empire Dance Studio the night before, and Edward, who came to Wish 26 the night after (see further down) – the salsa scene is a small world, despite the number of people in the world that actually dance; if you just pick the ‘right’ spots, you will always meet the best, and some of the same, dancers. Since I was a new chick in the hen-house, so to speak, everyone wanted to dance with me and try their new, crazy moves. I definitely got a good workout and the party lasted until 3:00 am.

Sunday brunch, flea market and salsa social
I met a US colleague for Sunday brunch at La Brasserie on 53rd Street between Lexington and Park. It was almost impossible to get there due to an Islamic burial procession blocking Park Avenue, with people following a casket, a car pulling a miniature mosque with flowers and another car with loudspeakers transmitting a song which was repeated over and over again, with the men lining up in a ring, chanting and hitting their chests in some ritual.

After brunch, my colleague Cherie and I went to a flea market on Upper West Side and browsed around second hand fur coats, jewelry, knitted sweaters and finger puppets.

We had a coffee at Starbucks and continued with shoe shopping. I got a nice pair of green suede pumps on sale in one store, immediately followed by trying on and not being able to part from two pairs of wonderfully crazy and high heels at the Betsey Johnson store on Columbus Avenue. Well, that’s how you spend $375 in less than 30 min and are totally, ridiculously happy the rest of the day with a big smile on your face. Sarah Jessica Parker, watch out! I’ll be looking fabulous!

When I came back to the hotel I had to work for a few hours, but managed to get away to experience what’s called ‘Mojito Sundays’, the club salsa after party at Wish 26 on 765 6th Avenue (between 25th & 26th Streets) in the Chelsea area of downtown Manhattan on Sundays 9:00 pm - 2:00 am. This is a great mambo party and apparently the place to go for those who don't get enough dancing at one of the other usual salsa socials held on Sundays like Jimmy Anton’s (bi-weekly at Manhattan Dance Studio), or Joe Burgos’s Piel Canela Salsa Dance Social at Stepping Out Studios around the corner. This event continues where the other socials leave off. The dancing was great here with lots of classic salsa played by the mambo DJ and a ‘fast’ dance floor where you could spin rather effortlessly. Duane and Marlon were there, as was Edward. There were a couple of performances that night by a local, not so advanced, Jersey dance group and a fantastic couple from Brooklyn. I was hungry after all the dancing so Marlon and I went to a burger joint for a night snack.

On Monday night after my final meetings in New York, I flew to London for another meeting before going home to Stockholm. After more than two weeks’ of constant traveling, I spent the next day sleeping in my apartment. I’m now looking forward to a few weeks without travel before the Salsa Festival Switzerland in Zurich later this month.

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