All cultures express themselves through music, but one people's soulful melody may be another's racket. (The bagpipes leap to mind.) Combine the tunes with a little booty shaking, though, and the sentiment is less likely to get lost in translation. Dance is an avenue for unspoken (and unspeakable) thoughts, a way to broach taboos and explore forbidden desires. Want to understand another culture more fully? Time your trip to annual dance festivals, seek out a local dance teacher, or just hit the local dance scene to discover the wonderful nuances of the people and their beat. Your body will do the rest.
The dance: FLAMENCO
Where to see it: Jerez de la Frontera and Seville, Spain
Sexy factor: Like the last drops of a fiery rioja dripping on your tongue
The moves: Born of persecuted gypsies in Andalusia, flamenco is a mix of desire, struggle, and pain. From the curve-hugging skirts of the women to the toreador machismo of the men, it's razor-sharp attitude and fierce yearning. Like jazz, flamenco is improvised ·you'll never see it the same way twice. Just try not to drip sweat into your sangria at the sight of those pulsing hips.
The stage: Thousands of aficionados gather at the annual Festival de Jerez, in the historic town some 60 miles south of Seville. The rest of the year, make for the flamenco-loving city of Seville to catch the pros at the restaurant and performance space of El Arenal, on Calle Rod.
Do a little dance: You can take morning or afternoon classes in conjunction with Jerez's festival. We suggest a glass of Jerez's famous sherry before attempting the footwork.
The dance: O'TE'A
Where to see it: French Polynesia and Oahu, Hawaii
Sexy factor: Like a model from a Gauguin canvas
The moves: In the 1800s, British missionaries banned all native dance in Tahiti. Thankfully, the O'te'a made a comeback in the early 20th century. Think of it as Hawaiian hula on speed: fast-paced drumming, elaborate headdress, and the Polynesian tamure, or hula, performed by alluring vahines. And yes, those are two strategically positioned coconuts. The guys wear even less, as they jump, lunge, and show off the pa'oti, or scissor dance, jerking their knees back and forth to the drumbeat.
The stage: July's Heiva i Tahiti festival, with dance and singing competitions throughout the month. Also, don't miss the outrigger canoe races, fire walking, javelin throwing, and the rigorous Mr. and Ms. Tahiti competition. A bit closer to home, Oahu's Polynesian Cultural Center has a Tahitian village, where dancers do their thing year-round.
Do a little dance: Oahu's Polynesian center is also the place to lift up your (grass) skirt; free classes and demonstrations are held every afternoon. Take it easy the first time· it's tough to sit on a plane for 10 hours with a broken hip.
The dance: TANGO
Where to see it: Buenos Aires
Sexy factor: Like a pretty socialite gone very, very bad
The moves: Denounced by proper society and confined to brothels and bars, tango had inauspicious beginnings in the 19th century. Like most naughty things, though, it tempted good boys and girls· in this case replacing the respectable but timid waltz. With slithering walks, intertwining limbs, closely positioned hips, and seductive spontaneity, it's not hard to see why a few decades later the entire country succumbed.
The stage: From the Juan Bautista Alberdi amphitheater to the warehouses in Barracas, every corner of the city holds a swaying couple during the Buenos Aires Tango Festival. Other times of the year, tango hot spots, called milongas, depend on the day of the week: Mondays, locals strut their skills at Salon Canning; Wednesdays through Sundays a younger Argentine crowd gathers at La Viruta in the Armenian Cultural Center; and on Sundays, older milongueros put the youngsters to shame at El Beso.
Do a little dance: Tango is like wine: easy to enjoy, difficult to master. Teacher Ana Mar Ãa Schapira takes the fear out of tango virgins at her famous academy in Buenos Aires. Put yourself in her knowledgeable hands. Don't worry, she'll be gentle.
The dance: BELLY DANCE
Where to see it: Egypt and Turkey
Sexy factor: Undulating hips and plunging necklines· if you're into that kind of thing
The moves: In fact, Shakira did not invent belly dance. Her admittedly fine hips are amateurs compared to the erotic pelvic swivels and jaw-dropping stomach palpitations of true Middle Eastern practitioners. The first Westerners to see Raqs Sharqi ("dance from the East") were Napoleon's troops when they invaded Egypt in 1798. But Egyptians aren't alone: Belly dancing is also big in Turkey, where skimpier costumes and more overt sexuality is allowed.
The stage: The annual Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival held in Cairo's Mena House Oberoi hotel . Thousands gather to see legends like 35-year dance veteran Khairiyya Mazin perform the Ghawazee dances that enraptured the French. In Turkey, Istanbul's Kervansaray Restaurant & Night Club has been serving dinner with a side of hip thrusts since 1949.
Do a little dance: After a few lessons at Raqia Hassan's Cairo-based school, you too will rock the casbah. Or try a weeklong seminar on Turkey's Aegean coast at the Gokpinar Music & Dance Center; it even includes accommodations and dining in a traditional Turkish village house.
The dance: WEST AFRICAN DANCE
Where to see it: Ghana and Senegal
Sexy factor: Like a drum beat pulsing under your skin
The moves: With just a skin drum and a whole lot of soul, the Ewe, Ashanti, Mandinka, and Wolof tribes of West Africa use dance to mark important hallmarks in members' lives, such as reaching woman- and manhood. The atmosphere of whirling bodies and dripping sweat is electric.
The stage: The biennial Kaay Fecc festival in Dakar, Senegal. Pronounced "Ka ¢Ã¯ Fetch" and meaning "come and dance" in the Senegalese Wolof language, the festival invites companies from throughout Africa. Also, the National Festival of Arts and Culture brings Ghana's ten regions together in the central city of Kumasi. The 2007 event coincides with the country's 50th Anniversary Jubilee. Otherwise, you'll find year-round performances in Ghana's capital of Accra at the Dagara Music and Arts Center.
Do a little dance: It's hard to watch West African dance and not want to get out there. Before you arrive, sign up for one of Kaay Fecc's morning workshops, held at the Douta Seck House of Culture, in Dakar.
The dance: MODERN
Where to see it: San Francisco
Sexy factor: Like finding yourself backstage at Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity
The moves: Before Isadora Duncan's very dramatic exit (she died in 1927 when her long scarf got tangled in the open spokes of a convertible), the dancer tossed aside her torturous ballet pointe shoes and gave birth to contemporary American dance. Duncan angered moralists with her scandalous performances, on and off the stage, which included nudity and bisexuality. It seems appropriate that San Francisco, the city of Duncan's birth, is the site of the Lines dance company, which embodies her innovative force and physical sensuality. Lines mixes traditional ballet with Asian, African, and even animalistic elements. Their costumes conceal little as the lithe dancers morph and intertwine from one impossible shape to another in choreographer Alonzo King's seductive mÃ©lange.
The stage: The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Lines also has a full calendar of tour dates.
Do a little dance: San Francisco Dance Center studios are the company's home, with lots of daily open classes for all levels and dance styles.
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