San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Swing Dancing: Creole, Costa Rican style

JUST outside of Costa Rica’s busy capital, in a small andscantly lit nightclub on Guadalupe’s main road northeast of SanJosé, some of the country’s top dancers gather religiously tomove to a rhythm of the country’s very own creation, a versionof swing dancing to a Latin rhythm, coined el swing criollo, orthe Creole swing.“The Swing Criollo was born right here in Costa Rica,” saidLigia Torijano, who bought Karymar Discotheque inGuadalupe about two and a half years ago with her husband,José Quirós.“The Dominican Republic has the merengue and Argentinahas the tango,” he said. “The attraction for a lot of us is that it’sa Tico rhythm.”Cracked fragments of mirror decorate the entrance ofKarymar, a decaying hot spot where the disco ball in the centerof the dance floor competes with the buckets strategicallyplaced to catch the water that seeps in through the roof. Wornleather chairs and tiny wooden tables are positioned around thethree dance floors.Customers don’t come to Karymar for the decor, but rather,because it is one of the only places in the country where customersdance the Creole swing in its original, unadulteratedform.KARYMAR itself has been around for about 12 years andwas witness to the development of the dance from its inceptionamong San José’s working classes to a full-blown fad across thecountry. A documentary on the subject, titled “Se ProhibeBailar Suin” (Swing Dancing Prohibited), was even filmedthere. The film is titled this way because until fairly recently theswing was not permitted in high-class dance salons.“There are other discos that specialize in swing, but they arereally imitations,” said co-owner José Quirós. “Karymar iswhere it all began and for that reason we call it La Cuna delSwing (the cradle of swing).”Quirós and his wife decided to buy the club after dancingthe swing themselves for more than a decade, he said.Karymar swing instructor José Manuel Venegas, 25,learned the dance from his uncle, co-owner José Quirós, whenhe was just a teenager. Quirós had him stand on his feet as heperformed the steps to the music. Now Venegas has taught thedance to others for three years and has performed on nationaltelevision a number of times.FOR Venegas, the attraction of the dance is in the jump thatis also typical in American swing dancing.“It just has so much flavor, the rhythm, themovement and the energy that comes from thejumping. I just love everything about it,” hesaid.Karymar regular Marjorie Ortega, 26, hasbeen dancing the Creole Swing for almost eightyears now. She is also familiar with other Latindances like salsa and merengue.“It’s different than salsa, for example,” shesaid. “It’s less rigid, there are less rules andmore improvisation.”The Creole Swing has only gained recognition from thegeneral public during the past five years or so, according toLiliana Valle, artistic and academic director of MerecumbéDance School. Valle is also completing her doctorate in bailepopular. She said that before it became trendy, the Creoleswing was looked down upon as a phenomenon exclusive to thelower classes.“Now it is known all over the country, it touches all classes,”she said. “And what is interesting now is that it is verypopular with the youth, which shows its acceptance and thatpeople are interested in its development.”CREOLE Swing is a derivative of American swing dancing,as it was danced in the 1950s, Valleexplained.“After American swing music went out ofstyle, Costa Ricans continued to dance it toother types of rhythms until they finally settledon cumbia music,” she said.Now, more than 50 years later, it has morein common with other Latin dances like salsa.The music it is danced with, called cumbia, isoriginally from Colombia and is consideredfolkloric music there.At Merecumbé San Pedro, east of SanJosé, a two-level dance studio where the walls vibrate witheverything from salsa and merengue to tango and swing, manyforeigners participate in dance classes of all types, including theCreole swing.According to Doris Molina, a dance teacher there, many foreigners are interested in learning theswing, but few have heard of it before theyarrived to Costa Rica.“MOST foreigners come here lookingfor salsa and cumbia music because that’swhat they are familiar with,” she said. “Butthen they see we dance it differently here inCosta Rica. Once they see how we do ithere, many foreigners take a liking to it andwant to learn.”Tin Tin Yang, a 21-year-old studentfrom the University of California atBerkeley, was familiar with salsa andmerengue before arriving to Costa Rica, buthad never heard of the Creole swing.“When I first saw it, it looked fun and itwas something very different from whatI’ve ever seen,” she said. Now, after beingexposed to it, she said she even prefers todance the swing.Jorge López, 33, from Cordoba, Spain,has also been taking classes regularly atMerecumbé. He noted the importance ofrhythm and movement in Costa Rica.“Ticos are very skilled at dancing and movingtheir hips … in this country if you don’tdance you are lost.“The first time I saw it (the CreoleSwing),” he continued, “I thought it wouldbe difficult and require a lot of coordination.But I love it now.”LOPEZ, now living and working inCosta Rica in the financial sector, has beentaking weekly classes at Merecumbé sinceDecember.“The only problem I see is that it’s onlydanced here in Costa Rica,” he said. “If Ieventually leave the country in three or fouryears, I won’t be able to do it anymore.They only dance it here.”For more info, contact DiscotequeKarymar at 283-1324 or 390-7832 or Or contactMerecumbe Dance School at 224-3531 or dance classes are offered by YaraGutiérrez, an instructor for ¢1,500 per hour.Call her at 810-2921.

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