On Saturday night I went to a salsa club. It seems a bit incongruous for a person who doesn’t dance or drink or smoke hookah to be in a place where those are the sole entertainments, but it was nice to be around happy people, with loud Latin music, seeing how Russians like to kick back and relax.
But let’s go back to the beginning. The new American teachers, Brianna and Janelle wanted to go out dancing on Saturday night and talked me into joining them. I figured it would be my first opportunity to wear my white trousers – I figured they wouldn’t look out of place in a salsa club! The club was in my district, Voroshilovskiy so we rendezvoused at the office. The surprise was that our guide for the evening was one of the managers from the school, a very nice one who is friendly to everyone. She arrived and told us we had to go back to her place so she could do her hair.
Her place turned out to be a couple of blocks down from my place, so I almost completely retraced my steps! She lives with her babushka (grandmother) and her cat – one was delighted to meet us all and wanted to mother us and feed us, the other was terrified! The girls commandeered the bathroom to get ready and I was left sitting in the living room with Babushka (the cat sought sanctuary behind the curtains). She put some TV on – some Russian news and entertainment shows, and then she disappeared and reappeared with a chess set! We set up and started playing. I don’t know if she was hustling me (our manager told me she regularly goes to a chess club) but I started off well and took one of her bishops and got a nice board position, only for her to find a way to pick off all my pieces one by one!
The girls emerged, two of them now sporting cat-ears, and we set off again – back in the other direction again! There would not be alcohol for sale at the club so there was a discussion about whether the girls would buy their own to take in, in the end they decided against it for reasons which aren’t entirely clear to me. I was fine either way, of course! There was a 150 rouble cover charge on the door, though Brianna got a discount because of her cats ears – our manager didn’t have to pay because she knew everyone at the club!
It was not what any of us expected. It was basically two dance rooms and a cloak room, with another room to one side for smoking hookah. Both rooms were dark, there were laser lights flashing over the floors and walls, and when we arrived, about 10 pm there were maybe only twenty or so people there. Many of them were in Halloween costumes.
Then there was the dancing. Brianna had taken some salsa classes and her opinion was that all the dancers were professional – they were dancing confidently, expressively and sensuously, and everyone was switching partners regularly. The main dance floor was for salsa, our manager told us the smaller dance floor was for something called Kazumba. To me Kazumba looked just like hugging while you step backwards and forwards, but I was assured it is a very intricate and technical dance.
The partners were all traditionally male and female – the only exception was when Brianna was persuaded to dance for one song with our manager. If I had the ability to dance I would have been hugely popular and had a free pick of partners, but even in British nightclubs I make a point of remaining glued to the walls and I was not about to discover any hidden talents here! Brianna and Janelle were also a little intimidated by the quality of the Russian hoofers, but Janelle was keen to check out the hookah room, so that is where we ended up.
Cigarette smoke really annoys me but the scented hookah smoke was tolerable enough and the room was very chilled and laid back – cushions on the floor, the lights were on and people were chatting. Of course when the Americans (and Brit) came in we caught everyone’s attention and they all wanted to talk to us (the ones who spoke English, anyway). One of the questions I was asked was if I knew the Robbie Williams song “Party like a Russian” – I didn’t but I have since seen it. They like it!
Another manager from our school appeared and recognised me, before realising that there was a group of us here. Other Russians were talking to me, asking questions about how I was enjoying their country. When Brianna and Janelle decided they wanted to leave I stayed around, I had plenty of people to talk to and was enjoying watching Russians at leisure. Our manager was dancing with partner after partner, all swings and spins and turns and sometimes claps and shouts! I guess learning to dance is a great way to get to know people up close and personal!
At around midnight the lights came on and a Dracula DJ introduced what seemed to be a fancy dress contest – seeing if the crowd could guess the characters from the costumes and then awarding vouchers to the best costumes. This finally gave me an opportunity to get some pictures!
It was just before 2am when I finally decided I was getting tired and needed to head home. Our manager had been keeping me company (in between dances) and telling me about Russian leisure time and other places people go and things they do. I may get some more opportunities in the coming weeks to see the real Russia – I hope so!
I had been working on the assumption the club I had for the following day was in the afternoon – it wasn’t, it was at 11am, so I had a much earlier start today than I would have liked! But the club went ok – I got to know another teacher, Yulia, and asked her a few more questions about things I noticed on the long tram ride back from Tractorniy, and I had the rest of the afternoon to relax.