By Paul Cochrane in Beirut
The New York Times ranked Beirut as the number one destination to visit in 2009, while the travel guide Lonely Planet named the capital as one of the top 10 liveliest cities in the world. Deserving accolades for this party town, but when it comes to dancing, Beirut would not seem to be a natural contender for a ranking as one of the top 10 cities to shake your booty.
Indeed, when dance-starved friends descend on Beirut from the Gulf, Damascus, Egypt or the more provincial cities of the West, there are the inevitable questions about where to go out and party, as well as where to dance the night away. It's easy to answer the first question, but the second requires a bit more brain power, simply because there aren't that many places to dance. And by dance I mean really dance, where your cares are lost in the beat and your body is at one with the rhythm, not shuffling between revelers, shaking your shoulder blades, or trying to dance without kicking a chair or risk falling off a table. For while the Beiruti two-step is an acquired skill to carry off gracefully, confined as it is to a half a meter square radius, it is not a carefree dance.
That all said, Beirut is not devoid of dance spots, it's just thin on the ground when it comes to dance floors. And what's more, cavorters don't seem to mind being crowded into a tight space, shaking, gyrating and swaying their bodies amid all the other dancing bodies. It's a “fuck the dance floor” mindset as any space will do.
One of Beirut's liveliest night spots, Basement used to have a good amount of dance space, but was reworked to pack in more tables. Music Hall, Buddha Bar, Element and the like in downtown and off Monot street mix up the table-and-dance concept, as White and the notorious Sky Bar do in the summer.
BO18 remains the perennial favorite as a dance hub in the early hours, pumping out electronic beats from 2am until sunrise, whether under the stars when the roof is open or coffined in the macabre interior. Acid in Sin el Fil is still a magnet for frenetic dancing, and in Gemmayzeh, Electro Mecanique, Trend and Green Door are warm up dance spots for after-hours clubs.
Those are the permanent places. With Beirut on the map as one of the world's hottest cities, there is a steady stream of international big-name DJs playing at events, usually summertime in the capital or at beach clubs. Then there are the independent, entrepreneurial dance organizers that have one-off, biannual or regular events at different locations to keep the more hardcore dancers dancing. Cotton Candy has become a regular on this circuit, building up a reputation for often outrageous parties in offbeat venues with heavy rhythms fueled by an open bar.
So while circling tables may be the standard Beiruti dance, there is plenty of full-on dancing happening on the sidelines, under the stars, and even in abandoned places reclaimed for the night. Perhaps it all just depends on your spatial needs as a dancer.
Photograph - Kate Brooks/Polaris, for The New York Times