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TRAVEL

LIVING LA VIDA LATINA

By Malcolm Beith

So you wanna salsa? Join the club. Salsa--the music and dance, not the condiment--derived from the traditional Cuban son in the 1950s. It later underwent various stylistic changes in New York, Miami, Puerto Rico and Colombia, among other places. In recent years salsa has undergone a second revolution, becoming the hottest hobby to take up from Seoul to Seville. (There's now even a blossoming salsa scene in Beijing.) Aspiring salseros around the world are signing up for lessons in droves, then hitting newly opened salsatecas to dance the night away. But if you want to experience the real thing, head to one of these salsa hot spots to learn from true masters.

Havana: This year's Festival Caliente, a salsa extravaganza held every March, has already come and gone. But there are still plenty of good clubs where you can practice your moves or just watch the best in the business. For tourists and richer locals, the Casa de la Musica clubs (the original is in the upscale suburb of Miramar, but a new one's opened up in the center of town), which offer spectacular live performances and lots of opportunities to dance, are numero uno.

San Juan, Puerto Rico: If you can, hit July's Puerto Rico Salsa Congress, a nine-day performance and competition extravaganza ($400 for a full pass at www.prsalsacongress.com), and watch some of the world's top salseros show off. When you feel inspired, polish your own footwork at the various workshops.

New York: The New York Salsa Congress from Aug. 19 to 22 is the Big Apple for competitors. (Tickets, including workshops, are $300 at nycsalsacongress.com.) But New York boasts plenty for the average salsero, too. The Copacabana nightclub in midtown has got the Latin spirit down--from the stiff cover charge and metal detectors at the door to the made-up, scantily clad nenas inside. This place sizzles even in midwinter.

Cali, Colombia: Like every other city with a little ritmo, Cali calls itself the world's "capital of salsa." But Cali at least works for the title. Avenida Sexta boasts more than a dozen salsatecas like Las Cascadas de la Sexta and Las Brisas de la Sexta, which in turn boast no cover charge. The best venue though, especially for those who like only to watch, is Chango in the suburb of Juanchito. The grace and agility of the dance-floor regulars will sweep you off your feet.

Specialty tours are another way to satisfy your salsa cravings. Check out www.danceholidays.com or cubasalsaholidays.com for more info on package tours of salsa hot spots. The trips usually cost about $1,000 or more--which might sound a little pricey, but everything's normally included, from your flight to dance lessons with local salseros. Some sites, like salsacrazy.com, even organize cruises in the Caribbean for salsa aficionados (eight days of dancing off the Mexican Riviera from just $799--azucar!)

If you don't plan on visiting the bastions of salsa, don't worry; chances are salsa has already come to where you are or where you're going--salsapower.com and salsatecas.de offer comprehensive listings of worldwide salsa clubs. Or just Google "salsa club" or "salsa festival" and your hometown. Besides having its own great salsa bars, almost every major city in the world, from London (our recommendation: La Finca, in Islington) to Bangkok (our fave club: La Rueda, on Sukhumvit, which offers classes, serves a mean mojito and doesn't have bar girls), now hosts its own festivals each year. They'll make it easy to find your footing.

Sublime in Summertime

Jazz lovers will find a host of cool grooves across Europe this summer. Some of the highlights:

The Blue Note Jazz Festival, Paris, France (bluenote europe.com), April 5-May 1. Wynton Marsalis, Medeski Martin and Wood, and more.

Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland (montreuxjazz.com), July 2-17. The Continent's oldest festival; no public lineup yet.

Molde Jazz Festival, Molde, Norway (www.moldejazz.no), July 12-17. Branford Marsalis, Stevie Wonder and jams along a fjord.

San Sebastian Jazz Festival, San Sebastian, Spain (jazzaldia.com), July 24-29. Herbie Hancock and Van Morrison are expected.

Vilnius Jazz Festival, Vilnius, Lithuania(www.vilniusjazz.lt), Sept. 16-19. Eastern European greats and jazz masters like Finland's Quintet Moderne.

LEISURE

Cooling Cocktail

One of the best ways to stay cool as the weather heats up is to sip an inspired cocktail. Here are suggestions from some of the world's hippest bars:

London: At the Electric Brasserie try the litchi-rose martini, a mix of litchi vodka, litchi liqueur, rose syrup and the exotic fruit itself.

Dublin: At Cocoon the potion is called paradise: gin mixed with apricot brandy, a dash of lime and a shot of orange juice.

Moscow: At Santa Fe, a Tex-Mex restaurant near the Moscow River, strawberry Margaritas are the order of??the day.

Paris: At the Ritz's Hemingway Bar, the Benderitter--champagne, ginger extract and a twist of orange--is the drink to sip.

Rome: Try the cucumber cosmo martini with vodka, fresh cucumber, cranberry juice and triple sec at the posh Stravinskij Bar.

Tokyo: The Orchid Bar's Diva, with champagne, mangos, amaretto and shochu, is delicious.

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