In a society that gets too much of its Latin flavor from Shakira’s Pepsi commercials, the patrons of Detroit’s Parabox Café opt for something a bit more authentic.
Saturday nights bring people of all ages and backgrounds to the Parabox Café’s Latin night for dancing, drinking and a celebration of culture. The club is located about halfway to downtown from Mexican Town near Tiger Stadium.
“We just want to get people dancing,” says Edwin Salazar, the club’s dance instructor.
Salazar, who moved from Colombia to Detroit at the age of 11, teaches free beginning salsa lessons every Saturday night at the Parabox. He’s a professional dancer who has performed or competed throughout the United States — “everywhere from Hart Plaza to Miami.”
According to Salazar, salsa music and dancing have been a part of American culture for decades. He attributes the first wave of popularity to Desi Arnaz’s mambo tunes in “I Love Lucy.” Salsa music influences many forms of dance and song, including pop music and professional ballroom dancing.
“There is a new worldwide interest in salsa,” says Salazar, “thanks in part to people like Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony.”
Salsa’s resurgence is evident on the Parabox dance floor. The demographic is broad, including people of many nationalities and ages. Although most of the clubgoers — some 70 percent — are Hispanic, African-Americans, Asians and the occasional gringo are represented. Expect to see everything from twentysomethings looking to mix and mingle to couples in their 60s who would rather shake their bonbons than go to bed early.
And strangely enough, no one seems to mind.
Claudette Bond, 60, treasury manager at the Detroit Medical Center, began taking salsa lessons at the Parabox after her son piqued her interest; he got a job at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia.
“It’s a nice place to go,” Bond says of the Parabox. “Everyone is so friendly and you don’t run into the riff-raff crowd.”
Bond meets with a group of other beginning salsa dancers once a month at the club, learning new techniques and enjoying the atmosphere.
This ambience is what brought Jamaican D.J. Gordon Neil to the club 11 months ago from Atlanta. Now the regular Latin night DJ, Neil is also a professional dancer who leads a Detroit-area Latin dance company called “Revolu” (Spanish for “Chaos”).
“The music is full of soul,” says Neil. “The rhythm. The beat. The drums, horns, percussion. You can’t help but move.”
He says Parabox is different from many Latin clubs.
“There are some Latin clubs that will only play Mexican music … Tex-Mex and Mariachi, which leaves other non-Mexican Latin Americans feeling uncomfortable,” says Neil.
“One thing that attracted me to this club is that it brings people of other cultures and races together and exposes the people to all of these other cultures. It’s a great experience. … ”
Martina Guzman, who promotes Parabox’s Latin night, takes pride in the club’s diversity.
“We have people from all different backgrounds coming to our club,” she says. “We have Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans and Venezuelans.”
Guzman and her two sisters convinced Parabox Café owner Frank Moore to incorporate a Latin night six years ago.
“There are so many Latin Americans in this area but there was nowhere to go and dance to Latin music,” Guzman says.
Ever since, the Parabox transforms every Saturday night from a more pop music-based dance club to a jumping cantina. The Justin Timberlake ditties are shelved in favor of the pounding rhythms of Tito Puente.
Six years later, Moore is satisfied with the business venture. He says Latin night is here to stay, and he’s looking forward to upcoming special events and the warm summer months bringing out more clubgoers.
Starting June 14, Parabox will begin preliminaries for a merengue contest that will last throughout June. The club will host live Latin entertainment periodically throughout the summer. The Parabox also staged a fund-raiser recently for the students of Our Lady of Guadalupe Middle School to help foot the bill for the students’ summer camp.
Latin night is all about a sense of community.
“The club has become a mixer for a bunch of generations of Latin Americans,” says Salazar. “There are older people and young people who may be second or third generation looking to know more about their culture.”
“People who feel lost come here, and they have fun and they dance and they are reminded of home.”
“There is something about this music,” concludes Neil. “I can play songs from the ’50s and the ’60s and they still get people moving. It never loses its soulful feeling. It never gets old.”
For more information on Latin night and this month’s merengue contest, call the Parabox Café at 313-268-2325.Don Jordan is a Metro Times editorial intern. E-mail [email protected]