Santo Baile: Best Place to Learn Colombian Style Salsa in Medellin

Cali Style Salsa
Santo Baile
The entrance to Santo Baile on Carrera 35

“Vamos a Cali,” I wanted to shout while feverishly tapping my toes in new patterns on the floor.

It was my fifth Colombian style salsa lesson at Santo Baile, a studio located a few blocks up from Parque Lleras, and I was finally starting to get the hang of it.

I’ve danced salsa since 2009, and while it’s true I learned almost everything I know here in Colombia, every single lesson I’ve ever taken has been in the LA (Los Angeles) style.

LA style is characterized by dancing forward and backward in a straight line.

This is fine if you’re dancing with others who dance LA style, but the problem I kept running into here in Colombia is that the women are more comfortable dancing Colombian style, which is side to side.

If I tried to show a woman the basic LA style steps, she was immediately out of her comfort zone, whereas when I tried to dance side to side and lead my partner in the moves I knew, I’d lose all sense of timing. It was a recipe for frustration.

Entrance to Santo Baile dance studio
Entrance to Santo Baile dance studio

When Mayra Cutiva, Santo Baile’s Director and Co-Founder (along with Yul Amado), invited me to check out their Poblado studio and take some Colombian (Cali) style lessons, I couldn’t resist.

Mayra is a professional dancer from Cali who has traveled the world teaching salsa. She began dancing at the incredibly young age of six and has continued for the last 15 years.

The dance studio is located in what was formerly a clothing shop. Upon entering the front door, you’ll immediately smell a cinnamon air freshener. I know it’s a small thing, but it helps set the mood.

Veer to the right of the mirror, and ring the bell to enter the first practice space. Another detail I appreciate is the decorations. They’ve succeeded in creating a warm and welcoming environment for students.

In the front, there’s a reception desk where you can schedule classes. A small outdoor patio acts as a waiting room and connects the reception area to the second practice space. The floors are all cement.

One of the two rooms where lessons are held
One of the two rooms where lessons are held

My first three lessons were with Mayra, and they were a blast. Not only is she a skillful dancer, but she’s a patient instructor too. Most importantly, she’s fun to be around. Every lesson was filled with lots of smiles and laughter.

She began by showing me the basic steps for Colombian style salsa. It felt as though I was starting over from scratch.

At the same time, we also talked about the frustration I’d met in the past, trying to dance with Colombian girls.

She reminded me to:

  • Focus on showing my partner a fun time.
  • Dance at the level of my partner, and don’t try to force more complicated moves on someone who only knows the basics. It won’t be fun for her, or me.

My fourth lesson was with Gustavo, and we focused on my footwork and shoulders. This was my first time taking a private lesson with a male teacher, and he had no problems filling up the hour with exercises. It was more fun than I expected too!

My fifth lesson was with Juliana, and we practiced the footwork I learned with Gustavo. She also taught me a few new things.

The video I shot with Mayra above is the culmination of my first five Colombian style salsa lessons.

While I’ve learned a lot in the last five and a half years, I never felt as though I developed a personal style. But with the footwork I’m learning now, it almost comes naturally.

I still need to move my shoulders more, but these lessons have reawakened my wish to improve and progress as a dancer.

According to Mayra, dancers who know Colombian style usually know LA style too, thereby making them more versatile. Meanwhile, she said the opposite was not true. Those dancers who learn LA style first are less likely to dance Colombian style as well.

Since this video was shot a few weeks ago, I’ve learned more from Juliana, including new turns I can’t wait to perfect.

Santo Baile is open six days a week, from Monday to Saturday. I highly recommend private lessons, as you’ll learn faster, but they also offer group lessons if you’re on a tight budget.


My initial lessons at Santo Baile were free of charge, but because I enjoyed them so much, I continued as a regular paying customer.

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  1. Great stuff, I will def follow this up as another option – you may also know that Andres originally from Yamile’s school has started his own classes in Envigado, for my own part I will continue to learn Cali style here in London with my teacher Mina – have a look here for some alternatives. And I’ll get some more lessons in Tropical and Porro at Los Gemelos. I really prefer the Cumbia groove and there are quite a few places where you can dance but with less of a club atmosphere and more of a community feel – I think you would enjoy it, cheers for a helpful post. Alan

  2. Cali style is so fun! I originally learned to dance salsa when I lived in L.A.twelve years ago, but when I moved back to D.C., everyone was dancing on two, so I learned that. Now that I live in NYC, I sometimes get tired of on two. I found a teacher who teaches Cali style in NJ and have been studying with him for about a year now. You are in for an incredible workout once you get to the more advanced footwork.

    • Interesting that you say everyone was dancing on two in DC, because my experience dancing there (well, mostly at The Salsa Room in Arlington, VA) was that it was all on one. This was 2009-2010.

      I remember going up to NYC around that time and everyone danced on two and I quickly lost my confidence to try and dance up there (after going to a salsa bar in Time Square).

      Today in Medellin, I had lesson #8, and the footwork was already speeding up! I need to get back to the gym if I expect to keep up.

      • I danced salsa a lot in DC from 2002-2007, when I got more into belly dancing and didn’t go out as much. There were a lot of us who danced on two, but I think that by 2009, several of the teachers had either temporarily stopped teaching or moved away. If you come to NYC again, I will tell you where the Colombians go so you don’t have to dance on two 🙂

  3. I’d really like an update on the music scene and salsa lessons. I’m so ready for this! Thanks, now back to my Spanish studies..