Boston's salsa scene finds a new home every night of the week. One local dancer brings us along for the ride.
- Photo by Melissa Mahoney
Hip shimmies and fancy footwork are Jean DiGiovanna’s favorite indulgence. The 39-year-old former competitive ballroom dancer has left the sport behind, but she still shakes it along with the rest of our city’s salsa aficionados. “I go through withdrawal if I don’t dance,” she admits. DiGiovanna spends her days running two businesses—ThinkPeople, an executive coaching firm, and Flames of Grace, a jewelry design company—but kicks up her heels at a different Boston-area dance club every week.
>>7:30 P.M. Thursdays bring the shifting salsa scene to Inman Square in Cambridge, so DiGiovanna meets up with three girlfriends for dinner at Magnolia’s Southern Cuisine (1193 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-576-1971). Done up in sparkly fitted tops and chandelier earrings, the ladies dish about fried foods (thumbs up), male and female “salsa sluts” (thumbs down), and Boston’s dating landscape (mixed reviews). They pass around plates of cornbread and fried sweet potatoes, and down plenty of water to prepare them for their next stop.
>>9 P.M. After settling into a first-floor table at Ryles Jazz Club (212 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-876-9330), DiGiovanna reaches into her leather tote and discreetly sheds her sandals in favor of three-inch, suede-soled heels (just one of many pairs buried in her bag). “Never wear rubber soles,” she says, as they can inhibit fluid stepping. Mellow jazz music fills the club as the ladies order the evening’s only cocktail, a round of DiGiovanna’s signature vodka-spiked lemonade. “Nobody good comes before 11 o’clock,” she says. All the girls agree, but they head upstairs anyway.
>>10 P.M. On the lively dance floor, DiGiovanna spins, dips, and steps to fast-paced Latin songs, while a diverse crowd of men and women fortifies its courage with drinks from the dimly lit bar. One man after another approaches DiGiovanna—most are regulars she’s partnered with through the years—so she boogies without a break for two hours straight. “I get a great workout from dancing,” she says between songs. As an experienced dancer, she works the perimeter of the floor, while the rookies gravitate toward the center. Just after midnight, DiGiovanna takes a breather to chug a bottle of water. Then she piles her hair on top of her head, digs out a second pair of shoes, and her feet don’t stop until the 1 a.m. closing time.
Originally published in Boston Magazine, June 2006.