There just aren’t enough social dancing venues in the city, says Marta Martinho.
“I got tired that we’re always looking for places, trying to find places that will be reliable, that the food is okay,” says Martinho, a swing-dance teacher.
She’s wearing a white shirt with small zebras on it and a long, calf-length khaki skirt with a lace-up front.
“Any teacher or organiser that is a social dancer, they will all tell you crazy stories about places that they lost,” she says.
In mid-January, Martinho and Seán McKiernan opened Mind the Step cafe at 54 Great Strand Street in a quest for stability.
They offer speciality coffee, baked treats and a haven where social dancers can jive or Lindy hop for a few hours, without pressure to leave or buy pints, McKiernan says.
Finding Their Feet
Martinho is sitting at a table with McKiernan, the high ceiling and windows letting in tons of natural light.
Black, ceramic Portuguese swallows on the left wall fly towards the door. There’s a little reading area with cushioned chairs and a bookcase with books on wine, cooking and Irish history.
They didn’t want a “dance cafe” theme, says Martinho. “We wanted a neutral space.”
Mind the Step serves loose-leaf teas, “cacao and matcha bliss balls”, spiced carrot and pistachio cake, and other treats – with vegan and gluten-free options.
When Martinho starts talking about the coffee they’re serving, from roaster 3FE, she stands up and walks over to the counter to grab a bag of it that tells the story of where the beans come from.
They have a rotating selection of single-origin coffees – meaning that every bean comes from the same farm, she says.
They’re for “pour over” coffees (€4.50) where the hot water is poured over the fresh grounds and into a mug below, to better extract the aroma and flavours, she says.
This week, they plan to open their kitchen too. The menu will be “minimalist”, says McKiernan, taking inspiration from a cafe in Belfast called Established.
Established has an eight-dish menu with a cheap base price, he says. “It’s something like £5 for your poached eggs on toast. You can add the ingredients for a few cents.
Says Martinho: “We like something that you don’t have to Google the ingredients.”
McKiernan has a background in managing businesses. His family owns Arthur’s Pub on Thomas Street in the Liberties.
He works there – and it’s where be began blues dancing, too, when Martinho, his fiancée, starting to teach lessons there, he says.
Jazz and blues gigs drew the crowds and the money, though, so the dancing had to go, McKiernan says. “I was even attending the classes and I had to kick my own class out of the pub because it wasn’t profitable,” he says.
Says Martinho: “A lot of my friends are dancers so they are excited for us to get this place going.”
Learning the Steps
Mind the Step has a full schedule of evening dance classes: Korean ballet, Tahitian dance, yoga, Brazilian zouk, and zumba. Classes cost from €8 to €25.
Upstairs last Thursday evening, in one of the dance studios behind a thick red curtain, Martinho led a class of 30 people through beginner’s Lindy hop.
It’s a swing dance that originated in Harlem, New York in the early 20th century – and her favourite.
Alihan Zihna, another instructor, says he likes Lindy hop because there’s less pressure to look perfect. “It’s all about being in the moment and being silly,” he says.
“Don’t stick to the wall,” says Martinho, to the group. “Come close!”
She has divided the class into “leads” on one side, and “follows” on the other. She runs through the basic steps: the rock step, and the triple step.
“In Lindy hop, we take small steps because we’re lazy dancers and it gets hot,” Matinho says.
“We’re going to have some movement now,” she says, later.
Martinho and Zihan demonstrate how dancers can turn a partner, moving from a triple step to standing next to them.
It’s easy enough, says first-timer Lourdes Codes. “In Spain, I usually dance salsa. It’s quite similar.”
Swing dance was “love at first sight”, says Lais Carvalho, outside in the fresh cool air after the class.
She saw a performance in Stephen’s Green and took it up. “Everyone is so welcoming,” she says.
Inside, the lights have dimmed for the next session – a two-hour social dance.