Meet Dancers At El Chispas

Mood music, from lively to laid-back, sets the scene at this Latino nightclub.
Imagine an adult quinceañera that trades in puffy dresses and snazzy suits for tight skirts and cowboy boots. That would be El Chispas—translated as “the spark”—a cavernous music hall located in a Lafayette Square strip mall. Owner Miguel Cardenas books bands with different styles, from regional Mexicano to bachata, guitar music that originated in the Dominican Republic and is now overwhelmingly popular among American Latinos. Locals from the northwestside neighborhood cram this spot every weekend, where some nights, a duo might take the stage; other times, it’s a 14-man band, complete with a tuba and clarinet, dressed in matching red jackets. Couples crowd the dance floor, bouncing up and down and side to side with the beat. They move as if connected by the hip (and try to avoid crashing into the people near them). High-tempo—and super sexy—songs get your heart racing as fast as your feet on the dance floor that fits hundreds of people, surely putting the last wedding you attended to shame. And if the party really gets going? El Chispas is ready with smoke machines, balloon drops, and an overflow room for more dancing.
As the night goes on, the music gets louder and faster, and the fancy footwork gets even more impressive. Until around 2 a.m. That’s when the night’s dance contest begins, and the diehards hit the floor, spinning and twirling around for the biggest cheer. There’s a slow song, then a fast one. The couple that wins the most applause is met by hosts in bedazzled masks straight out of a Mexican wrestling match who present them with the grand prize: a bottle of booze lit up with sparklers.
Eventually, the band packs it in, the last light flickers out, and El Chispas closes to sit empty—until the grown-up quince next weekend.