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BEST PLACE TO SALSA Minneapolis 2000 -

Latin dance nights have loomed grande in downtown Minneapolis ever since salsa eclipsed swing as the rigorous couple dance du jour. But salsa kings and queens seeking cutting-edge Spanish-language techno and live Mexican dance music should tool down East Lake to Vannandy's restaurant and ballroom, where gringos will find few conversation partners, but everyone finds a dance partner. Well-dressed Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and other Latinos swamp the upstairs hall every other weekend or so, donning cowboy hats or Saturday dresses, sometimes even bringing the kids. As they all know, the club routinely sponsors concerts at Armory Hall in St. Paul, and also brings some of the best Mexican bands in currency to its Minneapolis cavern, rarely advertising in English yet always drawing a near-capacity throng that lines the walls and fills the floor. Bands such as Los Tucanes, Temerarios, La Banda El Recodo, and Los Tigres Del Norte have all blown through here without so much as a nod from the local press. At these concerts you'll usually find a column of security at the door (no doubt where much of the $20-$30 entry fee goes) and a short beer line in the back, where cans of Tecate and Modelo sell for $4 (domestics go for $3). After a band winds up its set of norteño--the waltzlike music meant to keep even the older folks on their feet--the floor clears for youthful showoffs to wiggle to a surprisingly savage and hip-hoppy mix of salsa, banda, cumbia, and merengue. The tracks are spun by expert DJs or played on prerecorded mix tapes, and soon everyone here is a potential partner. One night a young Latina even asked a looming cop--white and twice her size--onto the floor for a spin. He was on duty and declined, perhaps regretfully, handing another small blow to community relations.

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