This blog is part of a new series I’m starting called “Dance Vacation”. This blog series will showcase the best of a city in terms of dancing, as well as tourism and hidden gems for visitors. I observe an increasing trend in people choosing events based on cities that are also fun to visit, and I find myself also choosing events not just for the quality of an event, but for the city it’s in as well. If you’d like for me to do a blog like this to promote dancing in your city, contact me.
For my second blog in this series, I’d like to profile a city which is perhaps lesser known for Lindy Hop (for now), but nonetheless worth a look if you’re an adventurous traveller, or are looking for a place where you could make a difference as a teacher, DJ, musician or visitor. This is a city filled with opportunities, amazing people, unparalleled history and a budding scene of people who love jazz and are are working hard to weave it into the complex tapestry of a rapidly changing city.
I’ve spent a couple months of my life in total in Mexico city, enjoying the people, the sights, the sounds and the vibe of this place. Often called a sister city to New York City, I think the comparison is accurate in many ways, for the sheer number of people, the deep history and a great sense of culture and diversity.
Where to dance
Like most scenes, Mexico City has an active Facebook Group with current information and lots of one-off events. There are two large “schools” and a few smaller ones around. In a city as big as Mexico City (28 million people as of this writing), the choice mostly has to do with what is nearby where you are staying, but the public transit is good and you can reach most places as needed. (See transit suggestions below)
This is BeBop’s diner, a common hangout in Mexico City for dancers. Part of the culture here is to take a moment to say hello to everyone that is there to dance. It’s actually a nice ice-breaker, and I wish we did that more often in the states.
There are also budding scenes in other cities around Mexico, like Puebla, etc. This is a nice Jazz Club in Puebla – they have a full menu of food named in Jazz puns, including the “Nina Salmone”.
This is the Kiosk, a common practice place, and a beautiful place to visit.
Swing Forever Mexico practicing a bit of Balboa.
Where to stay
My favorite neighborhoods are Roma Norte, and Condesa. They have lots of options for food, and plenty of access to public transit, and lots of coffee shops and nightlife.
Hostels go for as little as US $10 a night. They have WiFi, breakfast, and clean showers.
This link has some great info on these neighborhoods.
What to do
Dia de los Muertos is a multi-day celebration of family members who have passed, and is a sort of “Halloween” kind of holiday, with all the homage to the spirit world, and none of the gore, blood, scary stuff, etc. It’s a time that celebrates art, food, the harvest, and social issues. People come out in elaborate costumes and makeup, and the revelry, art, music color and history are like nothing I’ve ever seen.
One of the most striking things about this country is the multitude of beautiful churches. A picture doesn’t even begin to do these places justice. They are magical, transcendent, and marvels of human engineering. People drop in as a matter of course on their daily errands to pay respects, pray, or just enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.
This was a truly beautiful moment to observe.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are a big part of history here, and you’ll find plenty of remembrance about their life here.
This is just a random restaurant I went to in Puebla. Most of the year the temperature is 75 degrees or more, and this means that flowers, fruit and vegetables are plentiful and always fresh and in season.
Most buildings are only a couple of stories high, and as you get more towards the center of the city, the older they get.
Being in Mexico City feels like being in Europe in so many ways.
The Mezcal museum features more Mariachis than you’ve ever seen in your life, and a history of Mezcal. The top of the museum is a comfy little bar / nightclub with music and a huge selection of Mezcal. My friends taught me a saying here
Por todo mal, Mezcal
Por todo bien, tambien
Which translates to “for everything bad, there is Mezcal, for everything good, there is both Mezcal and Tequila.
Art is everywhere, and the bright colors and history of Mexico are just a part of everything.
What to Eat
One of the main highlights of being in Mexico city is being able to eat like a king, with fresh-made food on nearly every corner. It’s a great time to eat adventurously, and if you like spicy things, you can choose anything from mild to just about as spicy as you can stand.
Day / Weekend Trips
One way to see the further-out parts of Mexico is to take a bus for a day or weekend trip. Like most things, these are fairly reasonably priced, and very flexible in scheduling. The busses are comfortable, typically air-conditioned and there is often a stop or two along the way for food and local goods.
San Miguel De Allende was named Conde Nast’s Traveller reader’s favorite city in the world. I’ve been. It’s magical.
One of Mexico’s gifts to the world is all the historical archeological sites and the whole-hearted commitment to preserving artifacts and treasures in the many many museums in the country. To walk these pyramids and dig sites is to take a peek into human history. I highly recommend it.
The Visitor’s Experience
Candidly, there are always a few things to note when going to Mexico as a visitor
- You will have to get used to saying “no”. There are people who sell everything from cigars to novelty electric shocks (odd, I know) to photographs to homemade soap and everything else you can imagine. A simple “gracias” and avert your eyes will suffice, but you will be approached likely dozens of times a day.
- Getting sick to your stomach is very possible if you eat or drink anything that contains, or has touched tap water. After 3 visits, I’ve become more or less immune but my first trips were quiet difficult. Learn the phrase “Agua en botella, sin gas [bow-tie-a, seen gas]” (plain bottled water). It’s likely only $.25 or less, and it will save you a lot of misery. Or if you aren’t driving (which you should not, it’s terrifying here) , drink the beer, it’s light, refreshing, cheap and pairs with everything. Pro tip: locals call it a “Chela”, not a “Cerveza”
- Taxi’s are not safe, Uber is a much better option. If you get in a taxi, there is a very real risk of getting driven into an alley and robbed by a second person. That being said, the busses are good and fairly safe (especially during the day) and unbelievably cheap.
- If you are vegetarian, or vegan, it’s best to stay near the more touristy areas of town where you can find such things. Mexico pioneered “farm to table” agriculture in the purest sense, and if you do not eat animal products, you should take ample time to prepare yourself with food you brought or pre-researched options.
- People here are so friendly, and used to the population density that the need for silence or personal space is next to non-existent. It can get very overwhelming with the constant noise and close proximity of everything. Make sure you take time to get away from everyone and everything to de-stress and recharge – it can be very exhausting.
- Don’t fear the language barrier. A little charades can go a long way. Overall, I’ve found people here to be some of the nicest and most helpful people in all my travels.
In conclusion, come, enjoy the sights, eat the food, and dance with these wonderful people. As one man I met on the street said to me, “America and Mexico, siempre amigos (forever friends)”