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Latin Dance Bomb Primed To Explode In Okinawa

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-04-08

A new nightspot has opened at Takasago Building 4, 3-12-2 Maejima, Naha City. Bomba Latina (Latin Bomb) gives free Latin dance classes from 8pm to 12pm on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. Latin themed parties are held on Saturday nights and the maraccas often go on shaking till dawn.

These hedonistic events are organised by Teddy Castillo, an economist from Peru who works in Okinawa. He wants to bring Latin dance culture and music to a wider audience. " Music is in my blood" he says and believes the first step towards getting to know another culture is through its music. "The language can come later. Maybe at some future date I will give Spanish lessons. But now people can come to dance."

Castillo believes the world has a negative image of Latin America - violence, poverty, drugs and dictators. But another aspect of the Latin heritage is its rich and variegated music. One student, Misa Yonemori, 21, long haired, mini skirted and obviously having a ball on the dance floor, remembers the first time she heard Latin music. Her cousin's husband is Puerto Rican and he took her to a base party where everybody was Salsa dancing. "I felt very excited and wanted to express myself but I didn't know how. Now I come here for that expression and I learn something new every time."

The dances taught at Bomba Latina are from various South and Central American countries. The Cumbia from Colombia is an exotic, sensual dance in which the female partner dominates. "The woman does the approaches in her steps and gestures" explains Castillo. "Then she makes a play for the man."

The Meringue, from the Dominican Republic, is a happy, uptempo dance with lots of body twirls. "The steps are not difficult"says Misa. You dance what you feel."

The famous Salsa is from Puerto Rico and is perhaps the most popular dance. Elegant, romantic and optimistic, its music uses more instruments than other styles. Its steps are difficult and mastering it needs a lot of patience. Another Bomba Latina regular, Edwin Ventura, who goes to most of the club's events says Salsa vocals can be on any subject whatever, "everything from a love affair to walking the dog".

The Bachata comes from Dominica and is a close dance with precise movements, rather melancholic in character. "It's a dance that comes out of a drinking culture" says Edwin. " I know this culture because it's the one I come from. People often dance the Bachata when they've had way too many."

Dominican Ventura, ex-military and now working for a civilian company, first heard of Okinawa's Latin dance place when he was getting off a boat and he saw Castillo handing out flyers. They started chatting in Spanish and Edwin started coming to the dance sessions. Now he helps out behind the bar or acts as a D.J.

Aside from the free dance lessons, every Saturday Bomba Latina has a party based on a different theme. The first of these in February attracted 150 people and subsequent events have continued to be well attended. Sometimes there is a Salsa band or live Latin hip hop is on offer. Entry is Y1000 for non-members or Y800 for members and the price of admission includes one drink. Membership of Bomba Latina is Y1000.

"The Saturday dances have a very friendly atmosphere" says Ventura. "In discos and night clubs the feeling is often cold because they're full of strangers. But most people come here on the recommendation of a friend. So everyone either knows each other or gets to do so quickly."

Bomba Latina doesn't want rowdies or drunks and it has almost never had that type of problem. It has never needed bouncers or security on the door.

"People have a blast here" continues Ventura. "They just love to dance to Latin music all night long." Bomba Latina is flexible about its Saturday closing hours. It opens at 9 p.m. and is supposed to close at 4 a.m., but if the mood is right the party often sees in the sunrise.

Latin dance is generally popular in Japan. Many Japanese girls learn it and love it both at home and abroad. In Spain teaching flamenco is a minor industry and on the Japanese mainland Latin dance teachers make a good living.

Its appeal to the Japanese may lie in an attraction of opposites. Far Eastern dance styles are often slow and delicate, whereas Latin dance has a lot of exuberance and strong movements. Young Japanese probably enjoy the difference and are also more outward looking and open to new experience than their parents' generation. Castillo also thinks the "ideal of the Latin romantic gentleman may also" play a part.

Women heavily outnumber men at both the free Wednesday dance lessons and the Saturday parties. This might be because of Japan's macho culture. Many women who come to Bomba Latina apparently try to persuade male friends to accompany them, without much success.

There are sometimes exceptions however, such as when one Japanese couple held their wedding reception there recently.

The emphasis at this place is on having fun and the Wednesday sessions are not formally structured dance classes. There are several instructors and anyone is free to contribute ideas or request practice on any step or style. "Show them how to do it Mayumi" says Castillo and she does, leading from the front.

Some accomplished locals help teach at Bomba Latina. Yuzuru Oshiro is one. He lived in San Salvador for three years as a JICA volunteer and came back fluent in Spanish and good at Latin dance.

Abilities among the students vary greatly. Some make remarkable progress after only a few sessions, while others who find the steps very difficult might take six months to dance well. Whatever their level, everyone is welcome to try Bomba Latina's explosive mix of Meringue, Bachata, Cumbia and Salsa.

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