LocationAlhambra , CA United States
As the day vacates and the summer heat gradually loosens its biting grip, the dance floors of the Granada LA brighten and heat up. The three-story club, bar, dance studio, and restaurant combo sits between an old telephone company building and an alley on South First Street, just off Alhambra’s Main Street. Large windows with cascading red velvet curtains line the front of the Granada, allowing passersby a glimpse of couples twisting and twirling across the ballroom.
Fridays mean late-night dancing, and upbeat music is already playing for the salsa rueda class on the first floor. Upon entrance you can see that the establishment – opened in 2003 and owned by Earl Miller – is well-worn, but definitely has not lost its sparkle. True to its website description, the Granada is “decorated in tasteful and timeless 1930s style.”
Nestled in the corner by the bar is a carpeted staircase. Warm yellow rope lights flanking the steps guide dancers up to a restaurant on the second-floor balcony overlooking the activity below.
Another flight of stairs leads up to the top floor where the Friday night Intro-to-Salsa class is about to begin. The music is already turned up, and its lively beat mixes with the roaring wall- mounted fans developing a cool breeze in anticipation of the lesson.
The room’s lights are dim, with neon lights flashing above the entrance. The studio’s arch windows overlook the rooftop of Alhambra’s Utilities Department and the fluorescent glow of the Renaissance Theater two blocks to the east further in the downtown district.
With five or six students waiting at the side, the salsa class begins at 8:30 sharp. The two instructors lead an energetic warm-up as people trickle in. By the end of the warm-up, the scattered patter of shoes has gradually merged into a single swaying “u,” and the class has grown to 50. Some are dressed to party, and others are wearing casual clothing.
With the temperature and energy now significantly higher, everyone is told to pair up and form a huge circle. The couples are assigned traditional roles: the male as “the leader” and the female as the “follower.” As the lesson proceeds, leaders stay in position as followers rotate around the circle.
The instructors stress the quick-quick-slow rhythm as the key to salsa – which form the basis of all the patterns they teach.
Salsa is a playful dance, said Tim Leslie, a professional dancer who has been teaching at the Granada for two years. He loves salsa because of the creativity that dancers can have with it. “Dancing reflects what’s happening,” he said. “[Both] the atmosphere and the music.”
As the class progresses, salsa becomes as much about relationships as technique. Couples dance depends on silent communication. Reading each other is vital for each dancer to adjust and anticipate the partner’s moves.
The Granada draws a wide audience, bringing in a variety of ages and ethnicities, according to general manager Kristy Rivers. There’s a broad demographic as well, Rivers said, “We have people coming from the Valley, the West Side, Riverside…” Leslie added that the Granada owes its popularity to its social aspect. Learning it together is a kind of common ground, he explained. People come to meet new people and have fun, and it helps that they start on the same page. There are regulars, but he says “there’s always at least one new person [in my class] every week.”
Rudy is a regular, coming to take different classes every week. He calls it his “stress releaser.” Others are first timers like Stephanie and Brett, who found the Granada online and hope to pick up their old moves from their salsa club days at USC.
The salsa class concludes at 9:30 with sweaty hands and lively music, and the nightclub kicks off downstairs with clusters of people hovering around the entrance, ready to dance.
Allison Ko is an Alhambra Source community contributor and summer intern. She’s a junior at Alhambra High School.