Toronto Needs to Keep a little Cumbia in its Salsa Mix


Photo c/o Toronto Salsa Practice

Toronto loves its salsa.  Bachata may be sexy, merengue may be fun but salsa has always dominated the Latin nightclubs; a niche dance and music community that has been going strong in Toronto for decades.  However, salsa-love would not be the same without a little cumbia in the mix.

Back when I started hitting the Toronto salsa clubs, about 12 years ago, a few cumbia songs use to always be sprinkled into a salsa club night, with some bachata and merengue, and maybe a cha-cha-cha or two.

Now, I only have a handful of dance partners who know how to lead a good cumbia and I only know of one downtown club that serves up a good set of cumbia songs.  This would be good ol’ El Rancho; a Latin nightclub known, famously and infamously, by most Toronto salsa-dancers.  For after all, any nightclub that has been opened since the 70’s would have its stories to tell.

Sometimes, a salsa lover needs to play with what salsa isn’t in order to appreciate what salsa is.  This certainly should not be the case with everything one loves, but in terms of salsa, I say this is a healthy practice.

Cumbia is not salsa.  Is often confused as salsa and, unfortunately, often danced as salsa.  Salsa, being a ‘sauce’ of styles and flavours, has some roots in cumbia, does play with cumbia sounds and movements — but it ain’t cumbia.  There’s a good reason for this.  Cumbia should be cumbia.  Salsa should be salsa.  And they should always stay in Toronto’s salsa mix because they compliment each other.

Salsa can easily be bogged down by complicated turn patterns and superfast/superhot rhythms and beats.  Even slow salsas can be busy.  There’s a lot going on musically and physically.  Cumbia is that great way to chill a salsa dancer out.   The movement of cumbia drops down, more predominantly, in the hips, is simplified, and makes the whole body movement more circular – or elliptical, rather.   Oddly, simpler can often be harder and this certainly befuddled me when I first learned cumbia.

The music is unlike any other.  It’s like salsa — but it ain’t.  Cumbia music always feels like a rolling, joyful journey that I always want to follow once I hear it.

Technically, all a salsa dancer needs to do is to not step on the 2nd and 6th beat, as we normally would in salsa.  The feet still step left and right or right and left, but the count is 1, 3 and 5, 7.  After a dancer agrees to stay with these simple rules, most salsa patterns will work while still staying in the world of cumbia.  Because the dancer drops the 2nd and 6th beat, the hips start to move more on a momentum, with both the music and your partner.    It’s beautiful, it’s poetic, and it’s perfect.

This is a shout-out to all the Toronto salseros – bug your salsa teachers to teach you just a little cumbia (they should all know it). This salsera just needs to keep a little in the mix.

photo c/o Salsa Dancers in Toronto

Miguel Gutierrez, of, is a Latin dance instructor and performer with a long standing in Toronto’s salsa community, and well-versed in cumbia, El Rancho, and salsa pretzel patterns.

How do you love your coffee?

So how do you love your coffee?  Do you do a franchise?  Brew your own?  Mix it into a homemade body scrub?  Are you a coffee addict?  Or are you a coffee snob?  Has life forced you into the one-a-day – yet?

I’ve learned to be pretty exclusive to my own brew.  Life has forced me into that one-a-day. Quite honestly, most of my workday cups are just to avoid the nasty headache due to caffeine withdrawal — in which case I will drink the instant stuff if I have to.  That said, when I do have time to brew, I turn to my trusty Turkish coffee pot, which I think brings the best out of your good coffee and even makes average coffee taste better.  I don’t make Turkish coffee because I don’t have a fine grinder. I use regular fine grinds and a strainer and it still makes a great cup of coffee.

I apologize if my method offends any Turkish coffee fans.  I do enjoy Turkish coffee when I can get it.  Please read this web-page on how to make Turkish coffee.  You’ll get a good giggle from the writer’s famous old proverb on Turkish coffee:

Anyway, back to my story, I needed an extra jack this afternoon, so I went looking for a second cup of joe.  Day job gettin’ me a little down.  I work right in the heart of the downtown core, surrounded by franchises.  However, before this coffee freak does a franchise, I will actively look for a local independent.

I found Fresh Start Coffee on the corner of Bay and Elm Street.  The exterior is not too flashy but the interior is warm, friendly and – most importantly – filled with the rich scent of very good, freshly brewed, coffee.  As a heavenly bonus, in the corner of the service counter is a small selection of gelato.  After my cup, I was very grateful that I took the time to find this coffee house rather than run into the closest convenience.

I cannot afford to indulge in second cups everyday — makes me too wired — but if I do, my God, why would I settle for anything less? Now I’m not saying that the franchises don’t have nice coffee, however, this coffee was so worth the jitters later.  I felt like I was nursing off that cup.  You know, they had those raised lids, with the little slit on the top, so it was like an adult bottle of coffee.

As indulgent as it may sound, in Toronto, coffee lovers can make it their thing to seek out unique cafes and coffee houses and plant themselves quite easily for 4 to 6 hours at a stretch; a caffeine-jacked zen time to finish that book, continue conversations, work off a laptop, or watch the street life go by.  Conversation is so easy in these types of places.

These cafes and coffee houses are harder to see with all the franchises competing side-by-side each other, but I guarantee that there is at least one in every Toronto neighbourhood.

Again, the franchises aren’t bad.  They do amazing things with tea and I love their selections of dessert. If I have to do a franchise it would run in this order of preference: Aroma, Lettieri’s, Timothy’s, Second Cup.

My old time favourite independent Toronto coffee house would have to be the Tango Palace in Leslieville — mainly because I partially grew up in that place — neighbourhood joint is right.  Jet Fuel in the Cabbagetown area is still a bike couriers oasis.   Unfortunately, the Village Idiot in the Forest Hill neighbourhood closed.  However, the Butler’s Pantry in the Roucesvalles Village continues to endure.  Kensington Market has some excellent cafes, such as The Moonbeam Coffee Company and Cafe Pamenar.

just a few places to witness
the way insomnia dreams