Feature Article: Dancing in Madrid, Not Just Flamenco and Sevillanas

Before my most recent trip to Madrid, my favorite city in the world after my hometown of New York City, I did a little research to discover where to go ballroom, swing and salsa dancing. I quickly found a nascent but growing scene of aficionados. And I joined them.

When I’m in Madrid, I channel my inner Madrilena. I go to the movies (in Spanish! without subtitles!), shop at the Corte Ingles and now, go out dancing.

I googled, facebooked, and linked my way in to the information which put us on the dance floor the night we arrived in Madrid.

I didn’t get to the Prado on this trip, (but yes the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and also the Crystal Palace Exhibition Hall in Retiro Park) so this itinerary isn’t for first time Madrid visitors, but Follow My Lead and you’ll incorporate “baile de salon” (ballroom) dancing into your plans.

Tuesday, arrival day, and we napped until 4 pm after our overnight flight then went straight to the Museo del Jamon for my fix of Jamon jabugo, the ham from acorn-fed pigs, a delicacy and only recently available in the United States. We allowed ourselves the luxury of the nap since the night was young with ten more hours of fun ahead of us.

Then, a nice stroll along the Gran Via  to  Museo Chicote at Gran Via 12, renowned bar from the Hemingway, Ava Gardner circuit for a drink before dancing.

Back along Gran Via to #54 to the Discoteca Tropical House in a nightclub called Golden, where Bailes de Salon are held every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 8 pm to midnight, the time slot billed as “Tardes” (afternoon) in Madrid. (After midnight it becomes a regular nightclub disco.) Admission charge of 7 Euros includes one drink. Two large rooms and two bars in a beautiful building. About 200 dancers the night we were there. The music was dj though there was a stage set up for a live band, whenever that might be scheduled. We just missed the Viennese Waltz number which we heard as we were checking our coats but we enjoyed the foxtrot, swing, meringue and cha cha numbers over the next two hours. “Beneath the Sea,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and then “Rock Around the Clock.” There was a paso doble number, of course, but John refused. It’s on his no-dance list which also includes Peabody, Polka and Hustle. Even in Spain, John? No paso doble? Que no. More info (in Spanish) at www.tropicalhouse.es plus photos and youtube videos as well at the organizer’s facebook page at TropicalHouse GiovanniMan.

We had to leave that club “early” to make our 10:30 pm dinner reservation at La Capilla de La Bolsa at Calle de la Bolsa 12,  a restaurant in a converted chapel. More jamon de jabugo (mistakenly ordered as an appetizer which I thought would be bruschetta but turned out to be a entire plate with 20 slices) then a delicious grilled fish and inexpensive red wine from Rioja. A pianist perched on a teeny alcove above the restaurant floor accompanied a pair of opera singers who occasionally strolled amongst the tables regaling us with song. Later on, the waiters gave everyone in the room a glass of champagne and they sang one more tune. Was someone celebrating a special occasion, we inquired? Nope, for this song, everyone needs to have a glass of champagne in their hands. Thank you very much.

12:30 AM and ready for bed? Nope. Off to Plaza Santa Ana for bar hopping. Apparently Tuesday night in December in Madrid is an off night so we were closed out of  Cerveceria Alemana and the Penthouse Terrace, the open air lounge on the top floor of the ME Hotel. We eventually got there later in the week.

So it was back to the Gran Via and just behind it, in the Chueca district, we considered the Bar Del Diego but we were turned back by the wall of smoke that hit us in the face as we entered the front door.

So, where to have the “penultima” drink? Head to the La Rotunda.

In Palace Hotel, now a Westin, at Plaza de las Cortes, a favorite with its domed glass ceiling.

Wednesday there was no dancing for us but a full day of sightseeing and shopping.

A walk to the rowboat pond in Retiro Park, stopping by to view the installation at Palacio del Crystal exhibition center. Mandatory visit to Regalos Originales, an antique/curiosity shop, to see what collectibles we could pick up. That shop has been a favorite for years and years but it wasn’t until The New York Times article of March 8, 2009 that I learned there was a back room and a downstairs where thousands of other items are stored. Say New York Times and point to the door next to the cashier’s desk and the owner’s daughter will take you on a tour. Dinner at Casa Lucio, the heralded Madrid fixture on Cava Baja St. where we dined on artichokes with (more) ham, then merluza (hake fish) Casa Lucio style. Since I was dining with John and Dan, the waiter wouldn’t let me contribute to the bill. En España las señoritas no pagan, he scolded.

Later we headed to Chocalateria San Gines for my fix of hot chocolate and churros, a drink so thick it would become chocolate pudding if you paused while drinking and it had a chance to cool. Actually I must admit, I found it not chocolate-y enough for me. Sorry but I prefer the hot chocolate at City Bakery in New York City.

Thursday there was dancing but not by us. We took in Chicago El Musical, the broadway show that has now opened at the Coliseum Theater on Gran Via in Madrid, running through June. Enjoyed the dancing on the stage by the Spanish Velma, Roxie, Billy Flynn and company. (Pick up your tickets at entradas.com.) In fact, this trip to Madrid was scheduled around the opening night of this show, which my sister is involved with.

After the show we headed over to the jazz club, Central Café at Plaza del Angel, near Plaza Santa Ana, but the music was already over. Who could have imagined the last show would be at midnight.

Friday, swing dancing! We joined the swing dancers of Madrid who meet up at Industria, a dance school which runs regular DJd swing nights and offers classes in Lindy Hop, salsa, kizomba, bollywood dancing and country line dancing (though John wondered which country that referred to.) Located at Calle Rio Jordan #12 (metro stop Quevedo) we saw very good dancers on the floor, and a smattering of students practicing some moves on the side. There was no cover charge when we arrived 45 minutes before it ended, though there might have been earlier in the evening. http://www.industriarte.com

Saturday, more swing dancing. At the nightclub Disco Pub Maui Spirit, at Calle Hermanos Garcia Noblejas 45, which is a regular disco after midnight, the dance studio Blanco y Negro books the club to hold an occasional swing dancing party from 9 pm to 12. Or maybe it ended at 11. In any case, when we arrived at 1230 am, it was already a nightclub playing top Spanish tunes. Apparently we missed the Jazz Swing Ladies (Billie Holiday/Ella Fitzgerald/Dinah Washington) tribute night.

What can I say? Our reservation at La Broche restaurant, adjacent to the Hotel Miguel Angel, was deliberately made on the early side, 930 pm, so we could get to the Blanco y Negro swing party, but we chose the tasting menu which we rushed through in 2 ½ hours. We did get to the Disco, and we did indeed miss the party while it was going on, but I viewed the photos on their facebook page so I feel like I was there, well, in Spirit, at the Maui Spirit. I see some kind of line dance photo. Could they have been doing the shim sham shimmy? You can also see two dancers posing with the plastic life size shark. (John at first thought it was a suit of armor.)

And have you been to a lunch in Madrid? Our other fabulous tasting menu, at La Terraza del Casino, not at the actual casino which is just outside of Madrid, but at the old world members only club which admits guests to the penthouse restaurant, was a 3 ½ hour extravaganza. Among the 24 courses (I counted) we enjoyed, to start, olive oil butter that you had to squeeze out of a mini toothpaste tube onto your cracker; a liquid croquette to eat off a spoon in one mouthful; cod tripe with marrow, lychees and chick peas and a mandarin sorbet with pumpkin seeds frozen before our eyes with the addition of liquid nitrogen to juice.

Please don’t ask me what these meals cost. We’ll just say it was probably less than what we intend to spend next year when we, hopefully, get a reservation to dine at El Bulli near Barcelona.

Madrid has changed each time I go there. Just a few months ago, the new subway station at Puerta del Sol opened, my ideal neighborhood for our hotel base. We stayed at Catalonia Moratin, on Atocha St, walking distance to the Sol metro station, Plaza Mayor as well as our Gran Via destinations. This 63 room 4-star hotel, in an 18th century building, in the old town area of Madrid, was notable for its spacious rooms and prime location. www.hoteles-catalonia.com.

Sunday. From Old Madrid to Medieval Siguenza. For an overnight trip, we rented a car and headed to Siquenza, a Medieval town about an hour and ½ outside of Madrid. For accommodations we stayed at the Parador de Siguenza, a beautiful, modernized hotel built out of the ruins of a 12th century Medieval castle, and quite possibly the best Parador you can select from the “chain” of these government-run luxury hotels, all located in historic buildings. The first Parador opened in 1928, with a mission to “act as a guardian of national and artistic heritage while promoting quality tourism and dynamizing those regions with fewer economic resources.” Today, sustainable tourism and social responsibility form an integral part of its expanded mission. Don’t think you qualify for a senior citizen discount? Embrace your golden years, since at 55 you are entitled to a 30 percent Golden Days discount. Book at http://www.parador.es.

We took full advantage of the Siquenza location to make stops on the way to and from Madrid. Starting out from Madrid, our first stop was in Alcala de Henares for lunch and a visit to the free museum in the “Casa Natal (Birthplace) de Cervantes” House. Then a visit to the Palacio del Duque del Infantado in Guadalajara and on to Hita. There, the Iglesia de San Juan, atop a steep hill, is worth a visit for the view. (There was a stick shift car-narrow medieval street -steep hill incident, but nevermind.)

At the Parador de Siquenza, we were thrilled with our king-sized four-poster canopy bed room, with a windowed alcove to sit and view the beautiful landscape. A pillow menu is offered. We explored the rest of the castle, stopping for drinks in the lounge (the original dining room of the castle) and, the next day, breakfasting in the dining room overlooking the fields, and then, finding the Romanesque chapel and a well in the patio. Our breakfast buffet offered the regional specialty Migas (breadcrumbs) which amused us no end. We also tried the other famous local dish, at the nearby Taverna Siguentina restaurant, Cabrito.  The meat was tender, though ordering it (baby goat) was offputting. Part and parcel of our baby themed meals during this trip to Spain, which also included baby lamb, baby eels and roast suckling pig.

Leaving Siquenza and heading for Madrid the next day, our first stop, in Alcolea de Pinar was a bust. We wanted to visit the Casa de Piedra, an 1848 house built in a rock, but a sign on the door indicated it was only open on the weekend in winter. Figuring that the neighboring bakery might know how to reach the owners, we wandered in, bought a chocolate/orange combo pastry and remarked that it was a shame that the Casa de Piedra was closed. Happily, the proprietor offered to call them to come let us in, but then didn’t have the number. You’ll just have to come back for another visit in your lifetime, his sister advised.

We had better luck in our visit to Medinaceli, a perfect Medieval town, with its requisite Roman, Arab and Jewish history, and a tourism office-supplied walking tour map which included the ruins of the Roman Arch and walls, Ducal Palace, Convent, Jewish Quarter and Puerta Arabe. Then a hearty winter lunch at Asador del la Villa El Granero starting with a filling Castillian soup. (Once again, breadcrumbs on the menu.)

A perfect Sunday overnight excursion. But what we missed in Madrid, apparently, was a Sunday outdoor swing dance in the streets (Arenal St.) with a live band. Looks like it was some kind of Critical Mass-style meet up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPIWeRkvZZo

How exactly exactly did I find the Madrid dance scene, I have been asked.

I googled “swing dancing Madrid” and then, when I was informed how to say ballroom dancing in Spanish, I tried “baile de salon Madrid Spain.” That brought me to a few websites including the previously mentioned www.tropicalhouse.es and http://www.blancoynegrostudio.com, (as well as swingmadrid.com.) From their websites, I found their facebook fan pages and saw announcements of their upcoming events. I looked over their list of fans and emailed a few of their friends to inquire about events they might know about for the week we would be in town. Since I was also interested in learning about multicultural marketing in Madrid, I searched LinkedIn under “Groups” for any that had “Madrid” in their group name and I posted an inquiry, which yielded responses from about ten people, who became resources.

Facebook  turned out to be the best resource. BlancoyNegro seems to be the most active poster of swing dancing in Madrid information. Since back from Madrid, I already have missed out on their Noche de Swing, which is a shame, but I’m already planning my next trip back….to Spain…. And London!. I have my eye on the Quick! Quick! Club. I see upcoming Home Front Balls, with a dress code: Strictly Allied uniform, 1940s/50’s Vintage/Retro.

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