Los Angeles nightlife is no secret – it’s renowned worldwide. While many nightclubs offer great music and ambiance, they often lack the essential component of dancing. Sure, people sway and jump, but partner dancing and rhythm often take a back seat.
Disappointed by the lack of dancing, Nicole Gil, a lead instructor with Dancer University, took it upon herself to make a change Gil has immersed herself in salsa and bachata for 15 years. “When I used to visit Hollywood clubs, guys would try to buy drinks for me or my friends, and I’d think, ‘I just want to dance.’ At salsa events, we’d dance, and the gentlemen would thank me and then walk away. I remember being so shocked by that,” Gil explained.
With the goal of creating an event that placed dancing front and center, Gil turned to the Victorian. This historic three-story house, an iconic club in Santa Monica, provided the perfect venue. Recalling her first meeting with the Victorians owner, she said, “He told me, ‘We can give it a shot, but I don’t think it’ll work. It’s not our usual demographic, but let’s try it.'”
This venture began in January 2022. Every Thursday night, from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., the Victorian hosts “Salsa and Bachata Night.” Approximately 600-700 people gather to revel in the joy of dancing. The vibrant Latin music can be heard from down the street as people queue up to get inside. The interior is illuminated with bright lights and warm smiles. Attendees come from all walks of life, and their common goal is all the same: to dance and have a great time.
“The people are such a cross section of people, there are people who bust tables paired with a cardiologist, it’s everyone and they have the same goals which is to come dance, have a good time, and none of the other things matter,” Gil said.
People come alone, with their partners, on first dates, or simply to improve their dancing skills. The age range is wide, averaging around 35 years old. The night starts with salsa lessons, followed by bachata. Gil instructs the group on basic steps, with everyone practicing solo at first, rotating through lines to observe and match her footwork. Later, they pair up in a large circle. The ‘male lead’ dancers stand on the outside and rotate to the left, changing partners when Gil yells out “rotate!”
Nina Vu Matlock, a professional salsa dancer who recently moved to LA from Tampa, expressed excitement for Thursday nights at the Victorian. “Here, everyone is so respectful. They genuinely come to dance, and I’m not constantly being hit on. I can simply enjoy the night,” Matlock said.
The room was filled with big smiles, quick feet rocking back and forth, and twirling dancers as the lessons continued for about an hour and a half before the social dancing commenced.
Gil raved, “If you’re someone who might be considered less desirable in other settings but you’re a good dancer, now you’re a star. There will be a line of people waiting to dance with you.”
Dancers gracefully glide across the floor, dipping, spinning, and lifting each other beneath dim blue lights. They move from partner to partner, matching skill levels and creating an evening of rhythmic connection.
While experienced dancers like Gil and Matlock lit up the dance floor, beginners often stand by, captivated. Amir Asemi, a nurse in LA, heard the lively music and was inspired to attend, “I’m an absolute beginner. This is only my second week here,” Asemi stated. “I live a block away and can hear the music, so I’ve always wanted to come. I came alone, but I’ve already made friends here.”
Asemi echoed both Gil and Matlock’s complaints regarding LA nightlife. “Often, when you’re out in LA, people aren’t dancing; they’re just looking at each other. So, I’m learning salsa so I can actually dance with someone,” Asemi said.
The social hour extends into the early morning hours, with the last groups of dancers leaving the Victorian, enriched with new skills, friends, and unforgettable memories. Salsa and bachata offer a unique nightlife experience, characterized by what Gil aptly described as “good, clean, fun.”