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Ibiza: Santhosh Dance Retreat

Ianthe Butt
15 April 2016

Far away from its crowded clubs, Ianthe Butt taps her toes (and works up a sweat) to a different beat at an energising dance retreat in Ibiza...

Visions of my first visit to Ibiza? All-night raves segueing into sunrise beats. I’m no stranger to an into-the-wee-hours warehouse party, and don’t like to miss sunrise sets at music festivals. The sun peeks up giving the ocean a peach blush, and my hips are shaking as music spirals through warm Mediterranean air.

“Screw the lightbulbs ... higher,” goes the refrain which lilts through the air. And I do, I reach and I screw, reach and screw, twisting and turning my arms sharply. As much as I’d like to say that a wild party resulted in me moonlighting as a DIY expert, the truth is –for me - just as unexpected.

“Think about the brilliant workout those lightbulbs are giving your triceps and biceps,” says Nileeka, the energetic Santhosh Retreats dance instructor who’s been tasked with motivating a group of eight women into an early morning Bollywood dance class. She’s done well – our foreheads are bindi’d, hips wrapped in neon coin-covered skirts and we are smiling (and sweating). Lots.

Santhosh Retreats –chic Ibizan villa holiday plus dance and fitness classes with a touch of wellbeing –  is the passion project of Samiya Noordeen, who also sports a bindi, tinkling skirt and is shaking it like there is no tomorrow. Nordeen, a high-flying lawyer and mum-of-three, was inspired to launch Santhosh when feeling unhappy with her body, and exhausted by the city, dancing brought her a new lease of life.

“Our main fear with dancing is getting up in front of others and being perceived as looking silly,” says Noordeen. “It is not until you learn to dance in front of other people and not care what they think, that you can then begin to live.” A burnt out, reluctant exerciser and a fairly malcoordinated dancer I’m here at her villa, Casa La Vista - on Ibiza’s northern coast, to see if I can inject some zen - and coordination- into my life.

The three day/four night retreat has a fairly packed schedule of one-on-one and group sessions with professional dancers (they teach at the likes of London’s famous Pineapple Studios) in Salsa, Cha-Cha, Bollywood, Bachata and other sweat-inducing activities including Aqua fit, Latin Burn and yoga.

Yes there are a lot of classes on the agenda, but immediately the relaxed atmosphere impresses me. In between classes there are al-fresco meals, time for relaxing in the gorgeous Moroccan-meets-the Med villa, and poolside lazing. There is no pressure as classes are not deemed compulsory. While sunny Noordeen will try encourage you to attend (her enthusiasm is fairly infectious), she’s not pushy. If you need a lie in, that’s ok. Don’t fancy those salsa turns? No problem. The result is that a stay feels more like a visit to see a healthy, motivated friend with a bit of dancing and fitness - that seems way more fun than time the gym or a regimented bootcamp.

The surroundings help. Restored by Noordeen and her husband from the remains of a dilapidated farmhouse, the villa – with its intricate vintage Sri Lankan doors and stylish interiors – now graces the pages of glossy magazines. There is a pine forest which sweeps down to a craggy coastline, and in the gardens juicy pomegranates and oranges jewel the trees.

There is categorically no way I’d get up for sunrise yoga in London. Lounging on an airy terrace with gorgeous ocean view in Ibiza? The appeal is a no brainer.

During the daytime we’re scattered across different terraces and indoor spaces. My first one-on-one class is with Douglas from Minas Gerais who bounds about like a bouncy ball. “Come on ladies ... high energy please, we have a Brazilian in the house!” he yells. Douglas moves as quick as Jumping Jack Flash when he demonstrates the Cha-Cha, but slows and breaks down the moves until I master the basic steps. Spanish music blasting we dance, I try to keep my posture up and feel like a pro until we add in twists, turns and reverses and my brain can’t absorb any more.

Dance sessions are interspersed with healthy food; quiches, rainbow salads, soups, focaccia bread, fruit platters, red rice with tofu, olive and tomato empanadas and leafy salads. In between mouthfuls there is intelligent conversation, all attendees are successful businesswomen who’ve travelled across the globe to be here – most cite forcing themselves to stop, switching off and not taking care of themselves as their reason for booking. In the evenings we don glad rags, dine well and have impromptu dance sessions round the villa – people grab instructors and each other and we hoot with laughter. My Bollywood steps, I am certain have improved after a pomegranate mojito or two.

On other days I try, and enjoy learning the Bachata with Atlanta-ite Jesus who insists I keep eye contact with him as we dance, improving my footwork immeasurably as I’m not focussed on watching my feet shuffle around.

Every day I get through more exercise by midday than I do in a week (read: month) in London and by the end of the trip I’ve conga’d and crunched through aqua aerobics, had the guts to master (read: have a go at) a choreographed group routine to Uptown Funk, and strengthened muscles I didn’t know I had during frenetic Latin Burn classes. Overall a brilliant mix of sweating, salsa beats, snacks and sunshine. My next Ibiza visit? You’ll find me in the nightclubs, dancing ‘til dawn, although perhaps now, my moves will be a little better.