Apr 16, 2024 - News

Cumbia pop-up quenches Salt Lake City's Latin dance drought

People dance at a crowded bar.

People dance cumbia at Alibi Bar & Place. Courtesy: Vibras Del Lago

At a crowded Salt Lake City bar, dozens of dancers sway their hips and spin their partners to cumbia-pop hits like Karol G's "Mi Ex Tenía Razon" into the early hours of the morning.

On a recent Thursday night, the cumbia party pop-up Vibras Del Lago took over the intimate Alibi Bar & Place and transformed it into one of Utah's hottest dance venues.

Why it matters: Few settings in downtown Salt Lake City exist for social dancers seeking Latin American genres like cumbia, merengue, salsa and bachata.

  • Before the pandemic, many dancers traveled to Provo for Afuego Fridays, a weekly college dance club.

Driving the news: Since 2023, Vibras Del Lago's free monthly events in Salt Lake City have gained a massive following, with people driving from as far away as Logan and St. George to attend the dance parties.

Between the lines: Cumbia, which has been referred to as the "musical backbone of Latin America," is a percussion-heavy genre with African and Caribbean roots, featuring gaita flutes and guacharacas.

  • The genre's basic steps make it accessible for beginners to pick up.

What they're saying: "A lot of Latin American countries have their own variety of cumbia so it resonates with a lot of different Latinos," Vibras Del Lago's co-founder, Steven Guzman, 30, told Axios.

People dance at a crowded bar.
A crowd dances at Drift Lounge in Salt Lake City during a Vibras Del Lago event. Courtesy: Vibras Del Lago

Catch up quick: Guzman and his friends launched Vibras Del Lago in 2019 after noticing a lack of cumbia events targeting younger adults in the Salt Lake Valley.

  • The dance parties didn't pick up steam until 2023, after they increased their social media presence with footage and photography.

The bottom line: Guzman is intentional about the venues he chooses and doesn't foresee hosting the pop-ups at clubs.

  • "We're not here to pop bottles. We're not here to flex. We're not here to show off and start fights. We're here to dance," Guzman said. "It's very welcoming. Everybody is welcome."

What we're watching: Guzman anticipates word about Vibras Del Lago will continue to grow, and hopes to bring the pop-up to other U.S. cities.

What's next: Vibras Del Lago will hold "Cumbia Prom," the group's first paid event, at Varley cocktail bar on April 20. Tickets start at $10. Guzman expects 150 people will attend.

  • Free pop-ups are slated for May 2 at Alibi and May 17 at Drift Lounge.
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