The Legendary Salón México

The Legendary Salón México

Dance
El Danzón y Otros Ritmos Bailables
con el Club de Danzón “Mercerina”
Live music with la Orquesta Marimba Tono 13
Sun, Mar 1, 4:30–7:30pm
Plaza Cívica, Centro
Info: 121 4319 (Cultura y Tradiciones)
154 5840 (Leo, El Brujo del Danzón)
Free

By Leonardo Rosen

Mexico City has a long tradition of social dance and musical influence from Cuba. There was a Golden Age of dance halls all over the city, but only a couple of them remain active now. After the Mexican Revolution, there was a tremendous migration of people from rural areas to Mexico City. They became the working class of the nation’s capital and adapted to big-city life. Inevitably, they wanted the kind of entertainment and nightlife that were not available in the rural towns they came from, and they wanted to dance! This growing desire gave birth to dance halls all over the city. The most famous of all was the Salón México, which existed from 1920 to 1962. This was the supreme palace of the danzón and other dances that arrived from Cuba. One might say that the Cuban music and dance provided an antidote to the more conservative culture of Mexico. (The exception of the port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, which has always had a strong touch of Afro-Cuban influence.) Cuban dances such as danzón, son montuno, rumba, mambo, and chachachá became immensely popular. The Salón México was so famous that it gave its name to one of the most famous danzones by Tomás Ponce Reyes, an orchestral suite by Aaron Copland, and a great Mexican movie classic directed by Emilio “Indio” Fernández—yes, all titled Salón México. This legendary dance hall and many others with picturesque names like Nereidas, Smyrna Club, and Salón Colonia were a flourishing part of Mexico City’s cultural life.

Sadly, this was not to last. A Regent of the big city (México City did not have an elected mayor in those days) felt that these dance halls were unsavory places full of criminals and prostitutes. He had his reasons, and he imposed an early curfew on these all-night places. This was a serious blow to the dance halls, and the majority of them closed. The great palace of dance, Salón México, closed its doors forever in 1962. The building was demolished and replaced by a plant housing a generator for the trolley car system with the nickname Nana, which too became obsolete in its time and once again became a dance salon. I participated in a national danzón event there some years ago. That’s as close as I could get to dancing in the legendary Salón México. In Mexico City, there are two major dance halls from the Golden Age that still function. If you go dancing in the Salón Los Angeles or the California Dancing Club, you can get a feeling of how it was back then.