From a barbecue place to Mexican restaurant, and now one of the main venues in the Philly dance scene, Lucha Cartel is one of the dedicated lounges that clear out tables after dinner rush to allow its visitors to make a dance party.
There isn’t a lack of dance clubs or musical variety in Philadelphia, but five years ago Michael Andino, founder of Estilo Dance Studio and Lucha Cartel’s owner, saw potential in creating what they felt was missing from the Philly dance scene. They wanted to create a more relaxed environment, beginner-friendly without the pressure of “I forgot my dancing shoes” kind of place.
“We wanted to do something very low-key,” said Andino. “That would bring a different kind of demographic into the scene.”
While there’s pioneer clubs like Brasil’s that advertises Latin nights and also offer salsa lessons. It’s the free admission that sets Lucha Cartel appart.
“Every other place charges,” said Andino. “We were advertising free cover so that we could bring the new people. For the first two and a half years, even the people that knew how to dance very well, even though it was free, they still wouldn’t come.”
The free cover advertise wasn’t enough to attract the more experienced dancers. It wasn’t until the beginner crowd became bigger that Tuesdays at Lucha started to gain popularity.
“The free classes,” said Tykee James, a frequent Lucha dancer, “are an excellent opportunity for newer dancers to grow and for more experienced dancers to help, that way everyone has fun.”
While some of the beginners have become regulars, others have moved on to local studios, such as, Estilo, Art in Motion and others, but still manage to visit after a couple of weeks or even a months, which explains the feeling of always seeing new faces on Tuesdays.
During the beginning stage of the project, Andino was the only instructor for the Tuesdays lessons, but now two more instructors were added into the equation.
“You will most likely not get the same lesson back-to-back,” said Brandon Walker a, professional dancer that frequents Lucha. “Part of that is that instructors aren’t the same each week. A lesson may be repeated, but when that happen an entire month may have already gone by.
The exact price for a salsa lesson may vary depending on the area and other details, such as, how long the classes are, the number of lesson and whether those will be imparted in the instructor’s studio or the student’s location.
In the case of Lucha, the lessons start at 9:45 p.m. and end at 10:30 p.m. The average price for a 45-minute class, according to Thumbtrack a website dedicated to connect customers with skilled professionals in different areas, is $65 and while you may be wondering how this nightclub can afford instructors, DJs and bartenders without charging cover.
The key is their Tex-Mex style bar. As Michael Andino explains it, since the audience on Tuesday is predominantly beginners, they’re more likely to have more than one drink.
“The chances are,” said Andino. “If you are a hard-core dancer, you’re not a drinker, because you will most likely be doing tricks and a lot of turns.”
This explains why bachata Thursdays, another popular night at Lucha—that is directed to more experience dancer—does have a cover of $5.