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    Dancing adds twist to new restaurant

    [Times photo: Jim Damaske]
    Joaquin and Josefina Salcido dance on the stage of their new restaurant and dance theater, Las Ramblas, in downtown Clearwater on Friday. They have been dancing together for about 40 years..

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- The sounds of castanets and tap dancing are coming to downtown Clearwater.

    A dancing duo once famous in Mexico, where the couple had a long-running television show, is opening a restaurant and dance theater in Clearwater next week. Las Ramblas, named for a famous avenue in Barcelona, Spain, is at 528 Cleveland St.

    The restaurant's proprietors, Joaquin and Josefina Salcido, are inviting the public to their grand opening at 6 p.m. Wednesday. It will include a visit from the Mexican consul in Florida and a show of their dancing talent, along with dinner.

    Their dance repertoire includes tap, flamenco, American-style ballroom, tangos from Argentina, merengue from the Dominican Republic and mambo from Mexico, just to name a few.

    "We want to show the people different types of dance," Mr. Salcido said Friday as his family made last-minute preparations for opening the restaurant. "It's going to be high-class, the music and the show, the food and presentation and everything."

    The Salcidos were drawn to Clearwater earlier this year after they heard about the city's plans for a sweeping downtown redevelopment. The plan failed in a referendum, but the Salcidos decided to stick it out.

    They have been cleaning and remodeling this fall to get ready for their grand opening, transforming the space they're renting into a room full of mirrors and white decorations. They built a stage to dance on, complete with silver curtains.

    The project has been a family affair, with their children -- Jose Raluy, 36, and Maria Isabel, 38 -- helping. The Salcidos said they hope their endeavor will be a success -- although they have been a little worried about downtown.

    In their favor, said Mr. Salcido, Clearwater has plenty of retirees who might be nostalgic for the days of Fred Astaire, and there are also lots of tourists at the beach looking for something different to do.

    In Mexico, the Salcidos had a restaurant of their own called Pingajos, which means "a little bit of everything," Mrs. Salcido said. She led performances of flamenco and other kinds of dances nightly for patrons.

    Before that, the Salcidos were the stars of their own television program, called Vamos a Bailar!, which means Let's Dance! Their antics and dancing finesse were broadcast throughout Latin America for more than a decade, and they have a pile of honors from various groups for their show.

    Mr. Salcido flipped through an old album last week with a Times reporter, showing off old fliers that heralded him as "El Rey de Tap," or "The King of Tap," for his prowess at traditional Celtic dancing, the genre made famous by productions such as Riverdance.

    There are also photos of the couple moving through graceful ballroom dances and appearing with a host of Mexican celebrities and sometimes comic characters such as Bozo the Clown in various sketches.

    The Salcidos met when Josefina took a dance class that Joaquin was teaching some 40 years ago. They've been dancing together ever since, studying under many respected teachers, including a member of Martha Graham's company.

    City officials are glad to see the arrival of the new restaurant, which will spice up a building that has been mostly vacant for the past year. The owner of the building has been planning renovations to the facade and trying to attract other tenants this fall.

    "Our downtown has to have things that people can't find in their neighborhoods, and one of those things is fun, ethnic restaurants," said Bob Keller, assistant city manager for economic development. "I'll try to get there in the first week."

    After next week's grand opening, Las Ramblas will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and from 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner during the week, with a dance show at 7:30 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Salcidos are planning to stay open until midnight, with an additional performance at 10:30 p.m.

    A dinner show with a Spanish meal that includes an appetizer, soup, entree and dessert will cost $30. Lunch entrees will range from about $9 to $7 and include tarts, tacos and sandwiches.

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