Tag Archives: dance

Why you should skip the tourist bar and head straight for a peña instead


Trad play

After a night out in a pretty nondescript club where the only thing unusual was a stabbing on the dance floor, I was more than happy to sample something a little more… more typically Bolivian, I guess.

My friend Max suggested a peña. ‘It’s a place for traditional music’, he said. Did I fancy it? Sure! Of course! Something different, something local. Finally.

Me and a little posse of travellers made our way along a side street in La Paz and down some stairs into the belly of a building where musicians sang and played woodwind and percussion whilst groups of friends clustered around tables, chatting, drinking and welcoming in a Friday night.


Candlelit moodiness and music

Ojo de Agua didn’t fit with Frommer’s comments about peñas tending to be very touristy. We were pretty much the only tourists in there, and it was obvious. So we split up and mixed and merged.

By candlelight I drank te con te, a hot alcoholic drink, and chatted and danced with locals. Pan pipes, accelerating beats and spinning around and around after too many shots of warm, alcoholic tea made me deliciously dizzy.

As the music wound down, we all climbed back up and out of this high ceilinged, lightly populated dance hall and back into the cold, cold chill of La Paz. Early evening fumes had lifted and the streets were surprisingly quiet for a city on the brink of a wild weekend.

The evening finished further away from the centre in a softly lit bar bursting with Bolivians and the smell of cigarette smoke and rising heat from a huddled collective of bodies. People bent in to hear near whispers, orders were murmured at the bar. A man perched on a stool crooned away, finishing songs with a dramatic burst of strummed chords, claps and whoops exploding after the final slap.

I may have missed out on the salt flats eco rave but this low-key night out was a cosy little moment in the great city of La Paz and a lovely little reintroduction to a social drink and dance after far too long on antibiotics.

As the only tourists in both places, it was also a teeny taste of the real La Paz.


Filed under bolivia, culture, dancing, food & drink, music, south america

Guest Session: The Spirit Festival liberates more than just the yogi

Featured writer: Chad Kolcze

Whatever your perception of the Spirit Festival, whatever your inhibitions or expectations were, the weekend long multi-venue event in Mullumbimby left spirits high for all involved.

As your common Byron Shire surfer, teacher and beer drinker, I wouldn’t class myself as a devoted spiritual guru or devoted yogi by any means. And as a regular guy, that includes the odd yoga class every now and then. I was pleasantly surprised and grateful for experiences I was offered and the diversity of classes that made me look inward rather than out for a change.

There were 22 different sessions offered on the half day Friday (not including the high-spirited good times had during the evening concerts). Plus, 43 sessions on the programme for Saturday and equal number on the Sunday. A third in attendance were beautiful men and the rest were radiating females exploring their divine feminine.

Filled with caring compassionate everyday people, I was amazed at the lack of hippy-trippy patchouli oil smelling folk I thought I would see there. Instead it was genuine, bright-eyed, smiling faces dressed in modern colourful sport wear and talking excitedly about the experience they just had at one of the many sessions on offer. Mix in the colour of the peace flags, the Tee-Pee’s, the colour of the graceful skies and the opposing healthy green grass or the many rugs and cushions that were on offer for all and I found a truly well decorated and catered for event.

Of course the expectations of great tasting, super nutritious food was met. There were also stall holders selling their products, others offering various therapies or spiritual readings etc. However they weren’t the focus. The focus was very much on the programmed sessions, the entertainment and the gurus who made them a reality. The level of professionalism and knowledge shown by these teachers/spiritual practitioners was very deep, very much like a university professor or TED speaker. They offered very informative and well lead journeys for the punter to embrace through mind, body and consciousness.

I was one for one, after experiencing Darpan’s ‘Shamanic Sound Journey’ class. This was the very first class I under took and I had my first positive journey for the weekend. He was able to tap into this body that I carry around day-to-day and predominately use only for external use, looking, seeing, touching and so forth. And open me up to expose the beauty of looking inside my exo-skeleton and the senses/ power/ energy within. And since doing so, it may have helped me find the love in my heart that’s been missing for many years.

Another highlight for many who packed the venue, beyond its capacity, was ‘The Future Sound of Yoga’. A modern yoga delivery that combines a DJ  like character offering wicked symphonic and electro sounds, combined with the gorgeous passionate smiling Angel as facilitator. They offered yoga poses and dance steps to be conducted with free expression yet offering a basis of directed movement. And so the list of amazing classes went on; the renowned yoga guru’s educated in ancient languages such as Sanskrit doing their bit, Tigress yoga aimed at empowering the feminine, Women’s only Tantra or mixed Tantra sessions,  yoga in the public pool, belly dancing in the Drill Hall, Kirtan in the open, Goyto Monks humming their mantras and chai tea everywhere.

However, it was the Mullum High School Hall that was the focal point once the sun went down. Saturday’s headlining act, Deva Premal, exposed me to Kirtan and the empowerment of vocalizing mantras. All good stuff, but the more familiar all out dance sessions on Friday and Sunday nights was more my cup of tea. Thanks to OKA, Deya Dova and Future Sound of Yoga, the transformed school hall was alive with a packed house moving like perfect swell hitting a reef break. Perhaps high on chai tea, or whatever, undisputedly the dance floor was absolutely pumping yet no one was inebriated.

The Spirit Festival, as participated by a regular Byron local like myself, was one of the best festivals I have experienced in my life. I met so many genuinely gorgeous people, experienced new things, expanded my perceptions and explored my conscious being.

I also spoke with the festival organizers and they indicated it was a successful first year, on many levels. They were exceptionally pleased that they could offer several volunteer performers, part of proceeds that were raised from high ticket sales after all.

The Spirit Festival was a positive result for more than just the yoga community it perceived to target. It offered an abundance of joy and experience to the broader community for all walks of life who bought a ticket, the teachers and performers, the organizers and the town of  Mullumbimby itself…



Chad is a keen surfer and skater and a good guy all the way. And open minded enough to open up to the Spirit Festival. Chad is also an Australian writer and the founder of Active Kids Books. He draws inspiration from his interesting and varied life as a sponsored snowboarder, footballer, fitness instructor, business owner, PDHPE teacher and father. His books aim to challenge the lack of sports related picture books for children. Currently available: Skate Session and Surf Safari. Check out the website and video on the front page for more info.

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Filed under australia, culture, dancing, festivals, guest posts

Valentine’s Day down under: please don’t let me fall on someone

Is Valentine’s Day a great excuse to show the person you love how special they are to you or just a load of commercial crap? I’ve partnered up and been friends with people who most definitely subscribe to the latter. So would this Valentine’s Day travelling in Australia be any different? As if.

Actually, it was pretty different, but not in the swept-off-my-feet-romantic-different. For the last few weeks I’ve been going along to Tuesday night climbing, food share and salsa sessions (yes, an odd combination but it works) just outside of Byron, meeting some truly top people from all over the world.


Climbing session in full swing

This Tuesday, Valentine’s, was particularly quiet at the climbing session. I guess people had dates planned, expensive evenings of fine food and chilled wine and rose petals. But we weren’t deterred.

After a couple of hours climbing the low wall set up, we called it day. Despite others doing overhangs and graceful course completions, I had stuck to what I think was the easiest route and had made some progress, a big reach across the ceiling being my pièce de résistance before I crashed onto the mat. I was happy to leave it there. I hadn’t fallen on anyone, let alone fallen for anyone.

A few of the guys disappeared, leaving Sim, our host, with five Brazilian-French Canadian-Swiss Italian-English girls. What a dinner date. Lights were dimmed, candles lit, food dished up.

A few more people showed. Two more lovely guys. Another beautiful Brazilian girl. Just in time for some salsa and forró. And the boys really knew how to dance, which is always a bit surprising. But it was great. ‘I saw so many people smiling and having a good time’, said one guy after he had gone along to his first salsa class a few months back, ‘So why not?’It’s a great way to meet girls’, admitted another.

I thought back to UK salsa sessions. Yep, mostly females. And a lot of middle-aged females, possibly hoping for a Latino lover to shimmy into their life and rev things up again. But then, what’s age got to do with it really? Most women I know would enjoy getting swept off their feet occasionally, whirled around, held close.

So back to the gathering, and the guys led, and us girls took turns, although for some reason I was considerably more held back than usual. Who knows why? But I learnt a little and danced a bit and it was fun. The Brazilian girls taught us some moves, got everyone onto the forró. Rhythmic, difficult, intimate. ‘It’s best to do this with someone you really connect with’, one told me. And again I thought to the loves of my life and none were really the dancing type. Non-Valentines, non-dancing. Hmmm.

So anyways, climbing and eating and dancing in Australia on Valentine ’s Day with a small international crowd. Could I have done this if I wasn’t travelling? Probably, but only if I had chosen to settle somewhere as random and quirky as Byron Bay and was fortunate enough to meet the right people. Happy Valentines? Yep, it was.

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Filed under activity & sport, australia, culture, dancing, food & drink, random

Trying to tribal belly dance

The great thing about belly dancing,’ said Paul, ‘is that anyone can do it. It’s not exclusive.’ What he didn’t say was that not anyone can belly dance well, but I was up for the challenge and up for another attempt at letting go of my British stiffness.

I had cooked up a bit of a meal to say thanks to a few people for putting me up (and putting up with me) in Raglan, New Zealand. The wine flowed and the conversation turned to dance, its connection with happy hormones and its ability to reconnect you with your body (I’m of the opinion that so many of us are very disconnected from our bodies, but that’s a whole different conversation).

Discussions of national dances from around the world made me contemplate what England brought to the mix and the two distinct forms that stood out were morris dancing and maypole dancing, both dying traditions. Spreading the net a little further, in the UK we have traditional folk dances and Scottish square dances, but it’s only really at weddings and parties that the masses get involved in the likes of ceilidhs and barn dances. And that, more often than not, involves an almighty piss up. Needless to say, it again brought to light the lack of rhythm and flow and technique that we naturally have as a nation, particularly when compared to the likes of South American or African countries.

So here I was in New Zealand, not learning a traditional haka dance but rather trying to shimmy my hips and roll my body to a middle-eastern beat. The style was more tribal belly dance, mixing flamenco with gypsy and more traditional elements. It wasn’t the tassly, sexed up Turkish style or gothic fusion or Tahib that incorporate sticks and martial arts movements, but it was still damn difficult.

First of all, show some belly,’ said Paul before opening up a suitcase wardrobe full of shiny, shimmery, jingly costumes. We got dressed up: tying scarves and all sorts around our hips and knotting up our tops. It worked. I felt in character and ready to make a fool of myself. Ready to let go.


Strike a pose! - belly dancing dress up

My teacher told me to feel here,’ he said, pointing to his obliques (or transverse abdominal muscles), ‘and to cough, and the muscle you feel when you cough is the one you want to work with.’ I found it alright. Controlling it to move my hips up and down without moving my legs or upper body was more of a difficulty. But I improved.

A little later, well into the swing of it and switching things up so that we all got a turn to lead the rest of the group, I realised that I was smiling. I couldn’t help it. I felt silly and terribly bad at what I was trying to do, but I felt happy and free.

So many giggles and some new skills to practise. Fun times.

And here’s how it should be done:


Filed under activity & sport, culture, dancing, new zealand

Flash mob:Quito dances

I met a random guy at Ta Quitos, a little Mexican takeout window in Quito, who held the key to an experience that I had been hoping to come across at some point.

Just as I ordered my burrito, I planted my elbow into some spilled sauce on the counter. ‘Ce la vie’, said the stranger. ‘Verdad’, I said, laughing, true. Clumsiness and I have become familiar, comfortable companions on my travels thus far.

This guy, and I never found out his name, asked me my plans for the evening. They were indeed mundane: packing and preparing myself for a load of flights and avoiding the hectic streets of La Mariscal, Quito. He understood it, but persuaded me nonetheless to at least make it along to Plaza Foch for 8:00PM, if not the follow on party at El Aguijón. I was intrigued.

I arrived at the square to crowds gathered around a temporary movie screen showing the last parts of a sweet, nicely shot fictional film called Mi Amigo Invisible. It was one of eleven films being screened for the Festival de Cine bajo de Luna 2800 metros de altura (Film Festival below the moon at 2,800m), sponsored not only by local organisations but also drawing in funding from governments in Ecuador and Spain.


Watching a movie in Plaza Foch, Quito

As the boy onscreen hugged his imaginary friend and the credits rolled, people started to chat with friends whilst regularly glancing around; clearly I wasn’t the only one expecting something.www.travelola.org

And then suddenly the music kicked in and the crowd pushed forward to form a circle around a group of red t-shirted people, maybe twenty or so, and the dancing began: synchronised moves, sweeping arm movements, big smiles from dancers and onlookers. And I didn’t see it happen, but suddenly the twenty became forty, and then again invisibly doubled. Who was an official dancer, who was a general member of the public joined in, I don’t know. It was part of the magic.

The music drew to a close and the dancers melted into the crowd who in turn melted away into the bars and restaurants and streets of Quito.

Did it really happen? It wasn’t Times Square, but it was a fun bit of promotion that put smiles on people’s faces. Thanks for the flash mob experience Quito, I leave with memories of dancing and music and fun.


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Filed under culture, dancing, ecuador, random, south america