Monica Pal and Raul Jimenez are twirling around the wooden dance floor to a pulsing Latin beat.
The beat's supplied by Mambo Loco, a live four-piece dance band with pounding pair of conga drums.
"You can really feel the drums through the floor," says Pal, 27, a doctoral student from Baldwin. She met Jimenez, also 27, a carpenter from Freeport, when she asked him to dance bachata at another Long Island nightclub.
"I'm not Latin, but I fell in love with the [Latin] culture," Pal says.
A little (Latin) night music
Latin Night is a continuation of the Allegria's popular summer dance nights. "We wanted to keep something going throughout the winter to heat up the cold months," said Laura Vivonetto, marketing manager at the 143-room boutique hotel on the Long Beach boardwalk.
Although some nights draw as many as 150 people, there were 35 dancers on a recent night.
Among them were Maria Luisa Gonzalez, 52, of Long Beach, a teacher and dance instructor, and her daughter, Stefanie Vera, 22. Gonzalez said she learned to dance Salsa in Cuba, where she lived during the 1970s.
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"If you are sad, Latin dance makes you happy," Gonzalez said.
Lessons, then a whirl
Latin dances such as bachata, merengue and salsa involve a few basic steps, which can be picked up in a single hour lesson, said the hotel's dance instructor, Alfred Peña.
"Then you can be dancing all night long," said Peña, 28, of Valley Stream, who also is a professional salsa performer and runs the Rhythmology dance school in Westbury.
A number of the dancers on the floor on a recent night have the steps down pat; others are not so sure about their footwork.
"I can't dance salsa to save my life," said Dinu Ionescu, 53, of Roslyn Heights.
However, Aleksandra Kozlowska, Peña's dance partner and fellow instructor, soon has Ionescu moving his feet to bachata, a Dominican social dance.
"This is awesome," Ionescu said.
An international jukebox
The music is a mix of live and recorded tunes. On the second Monday of each month, the Long Island-based Mambo Loco performs two 45-minute sets. Salsa predominates but they also play cha-cha, merengue and, occasionally, bolero. Their repertoire includes international Spanish language classics, such as "Guantanamera" and "Besame Mucho." The four-piece band includes a Latin singer who also doubles on keyboard, a bass player and two percussionists, one on the congas and the other on the guiro, a hollowed-out gourd.
When the band takes five, Peña acts as the DJ, choosing from a library of more than 3,000 songs on his computer.
Peña scans the crowd and picks music he thinks will make them get up and dance. Said Peña: "I try to mix the music to appeal to people of different backgrounds."
Setting the scene
In addition to the music, the Allegria attempts to provide a bit of Latin ambience. There are two large potted tropical trees in the ballroom.
Angel Santi, a Peruvian immigrant who is the hotel's sous chef, enhances the night's Latin flavor with a buffet of tapas appetizers. Recent choices included anticuchos (Peruvian beef kebabs), seviche seafood salad in mussel shells, chicken tacos and whole red and green chili peppers.
WHERE | WHEN 7:30 p.m. dance lesson, then dancing until midnight to DJ music and, once a month, a live band at the Allegria Hotel, 80 West
Broadway, Long Beach
INFO 516-889-1300, allegriahotel.com
COST $10, which includes dance lesson and Latin tapas buffet
Other Latin Nights
HAVANA NIGHT Wednesdays at the Café Havana Bar & Grill, 944 W. Jericho Tpke., Smithtown, free admission, 631-670-6277
A 1 ½-hour lesson begins at 8 p.m., followed by dancing until 1 a.m.
SALSA NIGHT 7-11 p.m. Thursdays at the Holiday Inn, 369 Old Country Rd., Westbury, $10 admission includes a free glass of sangria, 516-997-5000.
An hour of dance lessons, then three hours of dancing as a DJ spins salsa, bachata and merengue.
THE WINNER'S CIRCLE 39 Post Ave., Westbury, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, $8-$10, 516-997-4050.
The veteran dance club now offers Latin music and dance on three nights. Free lessons, DJ.
CHI 103 Post Ave., Westbury, Thursday, free lesson, 8-9 p.m., dance party from 9 p.m.-1 a.m., free admission, 516-385-3795.
Mostly bachata, reggae, salsa, merengue.
AVANTI NIGHTCLUB 272 Post Ave., Westbury, Saturday, $10 admission includes free lesson and a professional dance exhibition. 516-833-5733
EL HUECO NIGHTCLUB 112 Wheeler Rd., Central Islip, Sunday, lessons at 7:30 p.m., dancing afterward, $10, 631-234-2596.