Way we live: Salsa: apart from the groping, it's perfect for single women

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The Independent Online
"It's perfect," says Caroline, 30, who dances lambada ands salsa about three times a week. "It means I can go out any evening I like, on my own, enjoy myself, and keep fit at the same time."

She is talking about Latin American dancing, which has taken off bigtime in London during the last three years, providing single women with a hobby they can pursue independently of companions, male or female. However, women who salsa are complaining about the number of men attracted by the perfect groping opportunity, regarding women who dance Latin as easy targets for, at a minimum, a night's fondling.

At one bar in North London several months ago, three friends and I had an extremely unpleasant experience. As we sat down a group of men began pestering us to dance. Two gave in, believing if we danced with them once, they would leave us alone. My partner began dancing much closer than even the salsa required, and when his hands moved onto my bum after 40 seconds I extricated myself from his embrace and made it back to the table before noticing my friend in difficulty with a small dark man who had his knee between her legs as he bent her over backwards, clearly regarding the whole business as a sort of pre-mating ritual.

Sexual harassment being rather bad for business, the Bar Lorca went into receivership when single women stopped going, before appointing Frances McNulty who had previously run a grope-free club in Islington. McNulty said: "It was vile when I came here. I thought, I can't believe this. So we briefed security to stamp on it and ask women who were dancing with gropers if they were OK. Some women like it, you can't deny that - but most don't. We've changed the lighting to make it less seedy and any pests are thrown out instantly."

Bar Lorca was previously run by Spanish men, and Ms McNulty says that a female boss and a gay male deputy have helped change the culture. She also says a lot of the gropers are foreign men who have a different moral and sexual code and misread the signals the often-scantily clad dancers are sending out.

The Bar Madrid in the West End of London has gone through phases of letting only couples and single women in after complaints about groping. The obvious advantage to the men with wandering hands, of course, is that if challenged they can insist any erotic movements or gestures are simply part of the dance.

Caroline, who dances salsa and lambada, says you can spot men whose interest is not in the dancing a mile off. "Salsa dancers are usually student types and they don't drink, while the gropers prop up the bar, and they tend not to be English. I hate it when they grab you close, and it hurts your back as well. I always wear trousers instead of little skirts, and I know who the gropers are now because I go to the clubs so often, so I just say no. I don't want to intimidate guys who are beginners, but if they start grabbing I'll push them away."

Perhaps these men assume we too are only after one thing. I found myself thinking, is it my dress, my shoes, what? I don't go to trendy nightclubs these days, as I'm 38 and tend to feel too much like someone's mum, but I'm sure if I did I wouldn't have to worry about a skirt being too short or heels too high.