With everyone knowing how to dance salsa as well as claiming to be able to teach salsa, it can be difficult to find a decent salsa school and instructor in Havana. The most important thing to remember is that a good salsa dancer doesn’t equal a good salsa teacher. La Casa del Son, the by now most popular salsa school in Havana, proves this point outright.
After searching a week for a salsa school and instructor, I finally got that this is it feeling when I pushed the big wooden door open of salsa school La Casa del Son. Two days later, after my first salsa class, my feeling proved right: La Casa del Son is a hit.
Now, by the end of the course, I still feel the same and can highly recommend La Casa del Son for learning Cuban-style salsa in Havana. (Related reading: So You Think You Want to Take Salsa Classes in Havana)
Some things to keep in mind
Lack of didactic experience
If you’re a slow student or at times can’t seem to get a combination right, chances are that you’ll find your salsa instructor impatient (sighs, frustration, disapproving head shakes). Don’t take it personally.
This is common to happen in Cuba. Most salsa instructors grew up with salsa and therefore lack the understanding that salsa dancing doesn’t come natural to everyone.
They also want to be great salsa teachers, so when you don’t pick up on a combination quickly enough; they see it as a personal failure. Keep this in mind for the duration of your class, put on your poker face and focus.
Not all salsa instructors in La Casa del Son speak English as well as the school claims. If you feel that you’re experiencing a language barrier, one that is negatively affecting your classes, ask for an instructor who does speak sufficient English.
Location: 3 stars
With so many vibrant hoods to explore and memories to make in Havana city, the last thing you want is to lose precious hours in transport. The easier you make it for yourself to get to and from your salsa school, the more time you’ll have to experience Havana.
Get a room in a casa particular in Havana Vieja. This the hub of Havana city and the part of Havana where you’ll want to spend most of your time when not learning salsa. It’s also where La Casa del Son–the only salsa school in this part of town–is located.
Side note: Most club venues aren’t located in Havana Vieja. They’re in Centro or Vedado. However, except from the occasional salsa party, there’s not much going on in these hoods (day or night).
Don’t rent a room in Centro or Vedado for the vicinity of club venues (though definitely do it if you like staying in a quite hood). You can easily grab a cab from Havana Vieja to Centro or Vedado, so that once you’re done clubbing, you can return to the hub of Cuban life.
Venue: 2.5 stars
La Casa del Son is located in a lovely restored colonial house. It has four practice rooms: one large room at the back, 2 other rooms that are big enough for a class of two, and the beautiful spacious entrance hall that can be used for bigger groups and to practice Rueda de Casino.
I took half a star off the rating because salsa school La Casa del Son also offers conga classes alongside salsa classes. It can happen that while your having your salsa class, a conga class is being given in the room next to you. This is not great at all.
The drumming slowly makes you go little nuts and impatient, making it difficult to understand your instructors and to concentrate on the music and rhythm.
Most people though, do come to La Casa del Son for dance classes so it’s unlikely that you’ll experience any nuisance. However, if you think you may be bothered, it never hurts to ask for a spot when no conga classes are scheduled.
Price: 2.5 stars
A one-hour private salsa class costs 12 CUC ($12,-). This isn’t only a bargain compared to the prices of salsa classes in The States or Europe, it’s above all an amazing deal because of the quality of the classes and the personal attention that you get in return.
I took half a star off the rating because there’s no room for negotiation–no matter how many classes you take. And, because, 12 CUC is still a lot of money for Cubans (an average monthly salary is 20 CUC).
Methodology: 3 stars
At La Casa del Son you always start with the absolute basic steps of Cuban-style salsa. Along the way, as your salsa instructor gets to know you, he’ll adjust the level of difficulty according to your abilities.
La Casa del Son only offers private salsa classes. Having one salsa instructor all to yourself does wonder for your progress. With this kind of personal attention you can learn and improve a lot in a one-hour class.
How you experience the teaching method depends greatly on your instructor and the click you have with him or her. Like in every school, some instructors are better than others.
Don’t desperate if your first class doesn’t turn out like you imagined. Talk to the owners, express your reservations and wishes and they’ll come up with an alternative.
Flexibility: 2.5 stars
La Casa del Son doesn’t work with fixed schedules, meaning that you can choose when you want to have class. This flexibility allows you to maximize your limited stay in Havana. You can go on your city adventures, join in on some parties and still have classes every day of your stay.
For example: you can have an early morning class and use the rest of the day to explore the city. Or, if you plan to go to clubbing in the evening and would like to sleep in, then you can book a class for the next day in the late afternoon.
I took half a star off the rating because we were once stuck with a different instructor than normally. When I expressed my concern and preference for wanting the same salsa teacher we had already gotten used to, there was resistance. In the end though, our wishes were respected and we got to finish the course with our preferred instructors.
Side note: La Casa del Son argued that all their instructors are equally good and that it’s good to switch instructors so you don’t get familiar with the habits and style of one.
My view on this differs. I don’t believe that all instructors can be equally good. However, even if this would be possible, having a click with your instructor is as equally important as having a skilled instructor.
It’s this click that can make me have a great experience with one instructor while someone else doesn’t follow him at all. Having a click with your instructor is one of the things that makes you understand and follow classes better. It impacts your learning curve. Once you find that connection with one instructor, you don’t want to be changing to a different one.
With regards to the argument that switching instructors will improve your dancing skills: I feel that it depends on what you’re going for. If you only have two weeks in Havana to pick up on some salsa, then I don’t see the benefit. Switching instructors in a short time can slow down your progress (especially if you’re a beginner). Some classes can turn our to be a waste of time, because all your doing is adjusting to the teaching method and programme of your new instructor.
Moreover, in my my case, things were even more clear: I wanted to learn how to dance salsa with Mr.G. We don’t have the intention of going to dance socially, so we don’t need to be so versatile and there’s little harm in creating habits.
That being said, most people come to learn salsa individually and do intend to go social dancing. If that’s the case, you can take salsa classes with different instructors (after you know the basics by heart), but more importantly is that you go dancing with a lot of different people. Instructors know how to adapt to your level and mistakes, “mortals” usually don’t have that skill unless they’re very good.
Tell me what you think. Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (links match discussion pages for this post) and let me know: Are you thinking of taking salsa classes with La Casa del Son? What skill do you appreciate in an (salsa) instructor? And, who’s the best or worst (salsa) instructor you’ve ever had–and why?
To the intimidating Silvia, co-owner of La Casa del Son. And, to our crazy salsa instructor, Chino.
Video overview of the 10 Cuban-Style Salsa Lessons that I took with salsa school La Casa del Son.