Best of Guangzhou's Latin Scene: Dance and Dining

Best of Guangzhou's Latin Scene: Dance and Dining
By Thomas Ackerman ,

Latin culture hasn't left much of a mark in Guangzhou, as it has in Shanghai or Beijing. Or become a regular part of city life, as it has in Hong Kong. Just a few years back I left an ad looking for someone to practice my Spanish with, and heard back from two Chinese students in Guangzhou and an Argentine in Shanghai. That's right, Shanghai. One of the limitations here is that very few Latinos live in Guangzhou, and that trend doesn't seem to be changing. Nevertheless, for those of us craving a taste of Latin culture, Guangzhou has a handful of eateries and a growing interest in Latin dance both among resident foreigners and Chinese. Here is a sampling of what to find in Guangzhou if you're in search of Latin flavour.

Photo: dan_clements

Quite a number of sports clubs and even universities offer Latin dance lessons. There are also a handful of professional dancers, a few of them Latinos. These days it's easy to find somewhere to simply learn a few steps or enjoy the great exercise that dance provides. For those who wish to excel at dance, however, it is best to search out the better instructors and be prepared to invest the time and money. Guangzhou doesn't have a location for Latin dance every night, but many locations throughout the city host it once a week, or on occasion.

Miami Salsa
Alberto del Valle is a friendly, relaxed fellow. Though I only had a handful of questions to ask him, we had a jovial thirty minutes on the phone, talking about his life, his experience with dance in Guangzhou, and some of the places that both of us had visited. Alberto is of Cuban parentage, and grew up in Miami, home to the majority of Cuban refugees in the United States. Though he currently lives far from his kin, he has grown into the overseas life, coming to think of himself as the unofficial ambassador of Cuban culture. “Don't tell the Cuban consulate I said that,” he jokes.

Alberto's Miami salsa dance group, which had been without a permanent location for its first two years, recently acquired a dance center near Garden Hotel. Alberto expects an explosion in Latin dance in Guangzhou, seeing the next ten to fifteen years as instrumental. “Guangzhou is embracing new things,” says Alberto. “Dance culture is one of them.” Alberto also sees this city's nearness to Hong Kong as an advantage in laying the groundwork for the upcoming years. Hong Kong has Latin dance every night, and many top level teachers. Going back and forth between the cities to show up at each other's dance festivals, or to host visiting teachers, takes only a couple of hours.

Miami Salsa attracts a wide range of age groups, from young men and women to middle-aged professionals. Although we usually think salsa is much more popular among Westerners, the ration of foreign students to Chinese is only about sixty-forty. Alberto's teaching style varies depending on whom he is teaching. For men, he says, “I try to develop a confidence is hard for a lot of men to approach a woman and ask for a dance.” He also finds overcoming shyness a part of the process in teaching women. “Expressing themselves does not come naturally for most Chinese women. I show them how to express themselves on the dance floor.” Beyond overcoming his students’ innate shyness, Alberto focuses his lessons and dance nights on simply having fun.

Most dance students show up about once a week. This is good enough to learn basic steps and have a good time on the dance floor, but it's not enough to really get the movements into your blood. Alberto estimates doing salsa about three times a week will manage to give strong fundamentals in two or three months. In six months, this kind of regular practice can give you what dancers call “muscle memory”. This means your body has memorized the movements so as to do them without thinking about them – dancing starts to become like walking, or like riding a bike. Alberto certainly yearns for more students who are willing to put in the long-term study, since this is what is going to build the salsa scene in the future – students who love salsa enough to become excellent, and who will be the future teachers in Guangzhou.

Where to go for Latin dance lessons:

Miami Salsa View In Map
Add: 5F, Tianlun Garden, Jian She Liu Malu, Guangzhou
Tel: 1350 3027 696, 1372 8081 597
Price: 120 RMB for one lesson/450 RMB for five lessons

Guangdong Dance Sports Training Center 广东省体育舞蹈培训中心View In Map
Add: 2F, 408 Dadaobei Lu, Second Floor, Yuexiu Disctrict, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 8755 0355
Price: 280 RMB for eight beginner lessons 

Where Miami Salsa and others meet to dance:

B-Boss – Wednesday evenings
The Paddy Field – Thursday evenings
Q Bar at the Westin Hotel – Saturday evenings
Silk Bar – Sunday evenings

Silk Bar is known to be less crowded than the others. It is also more affordable and has more room. Alberto gives free salsa lessons there from 21:00-22:00 every Sunday.

Latin cuisine in Guangzhou, unlike the salsa scene, doesn't appear to be a growing phenomenon – something those of us who love Latin food are frequently lamenting. Besides several Brazilian barbecues and two Mexican restaurants (one of which has recently disappeared), Latin cuisine, at best, mostly shows up as a small section of the menu at those ambitious places that serve nearly everything. Even if no one knows where to get a good ceviche, or mole (the sauce, not the animal), we are still grateful for these two Guangzhou Latin favourites:

La MexicanaView In Map
La Mexicana is the most authentic Mexican restaurant I've tried in Guangzhou. Founded by a mother and daughter from Columbia, the family has since returned to their country and La Mexicana is now run by Spanish-speaking Chinese, with no apparent changes so far.

The modest menu offers typical Mexican fare, with good flavor and enough traditional ingredients that most of us craving Mexican food return here many times. Their tacos and quesadillas are in the 20-30 RMB price range, and very tasty, with a choice of fillings. Several dishes, including an excellent stuffed potato, run in the 40-55 RMB price range, but the quantity of food in that range leaves something to be desired. Their spicy aji sauce is truly potent. You can also enjoy a Corona, Sol or a variety of other beers, along with several tequila drinks.

The restaurant itself is small, relaxed and friendly. A large mosaic on the wall matches the mosaics in the tables and chairs, and one lone sombrero adorns the eatery. La Mexicana's location, set a little off the main road, leaves it quieter than other nearby spots, and allows it some greenery outside best enjoyed from its outdoor tables.

Add: Near Grandview Mall, at the exit of the Friendship Store, just behind 7-11
Tel: 020 8551 9451, 134 2753 3446
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 12:00-22:00, Sun 17:00-22:00
Getting there: Take metro to Ti Yu Xi Lu on line 3 and take exit D. Walk about 20 meters to Tianhe Nan Yi Lu, cross the street and turn left. Continue about ten minutes until you are opposite from the Friendship Store on the other side of the street. You should be at a 7-11. Turn right and La Mexicana is in the courtyard area behind the 7-11.

Guangzhou Latin Grill 广州拉丁餐厅
South American Barbecue, also called churrasco or asado, has reached worldwide popularity in recent years. This traditional barbecue comes from about five centuries of cattle raising in Brazil, and at least two centuries as the regular cooking style of South American cowboys from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Originally cooked in earthen pits by men with hats, modern restaurants use varying methods for barbecuing their beef, pork, sausage and chicken, and take the meat-laden skewer from table to table to carve off a fresh piece. They have kept the hats too.

Latin Grill, with its two centrally located restaurants, is seen by many as the place to go for good Brazilian barbecue and for Latin food in general. Its large eating spaces fill up quickly, especially at dinner time, and the buffet style attracts many comers for its more than seventy choices. Having eaten here on two occasions, I can confirm with confidence that the churrasco is truly fantastic. Thinking through all the restaurants I've tried in the city, I can't think of one where the meat was equally good. Not one. The buffet quality varies, as buffets tend to do. After wandering through several rooms full of hot and cold dishes, salads and deserts, you could flip a coin as to whether it will hit the spot. Their buffet dishes include notables from Latin, Chinese and other international cuisines.

Location One:View In Map
Add: 3F, Wing Kin Square, 29-31 Jianshi Liuma Lu, Guangzhou
Tel: 020 8331 9118
Price: Lunch 58 RMB; Dinner 78 RMB
Getting there: Take any bus which passes Garden Hotel on Huanshu Donlu. Turn into Jianshi Liuma Road, which runs only one way between Garden Hotel and Starbucks. It should be less than five minutes on foot.

Location Two:View In Map
Address: 228 Tianhe Lu, 3d Floor Grandview Mall
Tel: 020 3878 1855
Directions: Take metro Lines 3 or 1 to Tiyu Xilu, take exit D, walk up to Tianhe Lu, turn right and at the end of the next block is Grandview Mall on your right.

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