I’m always on the lookout for exercise classes my fiancée and I can do together. Workouts bore her; she prefers, as she puts it, to do an activity. We’ve tried a handful of things together over the years, including kickboxing, country line dancing, and a perhaps ill-advised session of drunken Zumba in Jamaica. After all, the best kind of exercise is the type of activity that’s so much fun you don’t really notice you’re working out.
Hence the appeal of Mambo Pa Ti, a Latin dance company based in Pawtucket. Their beginner’s bachata and salsa classes stack a double shot of dance in a compact two-hour block in the early evening, which is perfect for us. The schedule is manageable, it’s a fun and social activity, and it gets us moving at a time when we might otherwise be binge-watching Netflix.
Mambo Pa Ti’s five-week programs teach the basics of two of the most popular styles of Latin dance, and provide open dance time (along with a little wine and cheese) in the studio after class. Both couples and singles can feel at home in the loose, friendly atmosphere created by founder and lead instructor Carlos Gonzalez and his team.
Dance classes are always a dicey proposition for me. I consider myself generally pretty competent with most physical activities and I always appreciate an opportunity to get on the dance floor with my fiancée. Unfortunately, I tend to be a bit rhythmically challenged and uncoordinated. Our experience with line dancing, for example, was equal parts fun and frustrating, as I continuously tripped over even the simplest choreography.
Fortunately, I had a couple things going for me at the outset of our class, which started with bachata: 1) The foundational steps of bachata fall right inside the simple 4/4 wheelhouse in which I’m comfortable, or at least not totally awkward, and 2) Gonzalez is an excellent teacher. He’s patient and relentlessly upbeat and walks the class through each step so slowly and clearly that even I could follow it.
Along with a crowd of about 40 other beginners, we walked purposefully though the side-to-side and front-to-back rudiments of bachata. One of the important things that Gonzalez does – which I’ve found sorely lacking in other classes – is spend enough time repeating the basics, slowly and without music, for you to develop some muscle memory. He also instills a feeling of camaraderie in his students by frequently rotating people towards the front so that no one can be the wallflower for too long and insisting that everyone count the steps out loud while practicing them.
By the time we had combined a few simple steps into something approaching actual choreography, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself keeping up. When it came time to learn dancing with a partner, Carlos organized the entire class into a circle. With the men on the outside, the women would rotate around the room from partner to partner, giving everyone a chance to interact and swap confessions about which steps were still giving us trouble.
Sadly, when the second hour began and we moved on to salsa, the small amount of confidence I had developed in my ability to learn a dance quickly crumbled. In contrast to the more straightforward 4/4 rhythm of bachata, the off-kilter 1-2-3, 1-2-3 of salsa proved just tricky enough to have me stumbling over my own feet.
Suffice to say, the second hour was a bit more frustrating than the first. The important things, however, were that my fiancée and I enjoyed a fun night out and we barely noticed that we had just exercised for two hours.
Mambo Pa Ti
560 Mineral Spring Avenue , Pawtucket • 475-7880