If you’ve ever taken a salsa dance class, you’ve heard this numerical pattern more than you care to remember. People actually count to music? I was shocked. I mean, can’t you just feel the beat?
So there I was, in a beginner salsa class dancing by number, or so I thought. This is too easy I thought to myself. I’ve got this down. Just as I was patting myself on the back for the rapid progress I had made in my beginner class after just 15 minutes of instruction and 5 minutes of partner practice, the real dancers showed up.
I would soon learn that people that can actually dance don’t need to bother with taking a beginner salsa lesson (unless they were looking for a date, but that’s another topic).
I would also soon learn exactly how bad I sucked at salsa.
The comfort of my Zumba class was gone, and now I was faced with dancing with a partner. What I also didn’t know at the time is that some of those partners also sucked. I now know how bad two virgin dancers trying to figure out where to put their feet and when to turn actually looks, but at the time I was having fun.
But my lack of skill didn’t hinder me. Once the music started I was hooked, and soon got up the nerve to ask people to dance. I started taking any class I could find anywhere, and regularly going out to salsa parties. So there’s a class an hour away that starts at 9pm on a weeknight? No problem. I would stumble back into the house around 1am, get up for work in a few hours, and do the whole thing all over again the next day.
You could say I was addicted.
Like most addictions, or loves, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how it happens. One moment in your life, you’re doing OK without something or someone and then all of a sudden you can’t imagine your life without the object of your obsession.
The thing is, I wasn’t trying to be on Dancing with the Stars or anything like that. I was just having fun. There is a high that comes with dancing to good music with a good partner and not screwing up.
It’s a way to communicate without words. And I think anyone who has experienced it is like a junkie looking for the next hit.
Inevitably the next dance isn’t as good as the last one, so you keep trying to find that first high again. Then, there’s always a new move to learn, a new salsa opening night to go to, a new song to dance to (or as I found out, a newly discovered old song that’s even better to dance to). Once you’re in, you’re in.
Now admittedly, my first attempts at going out I still looked a bit out of place. I was still dressed like I was going to a mosque meeting, but soon found the futility of trying to do turns with a head scarf hitting my partners in the face. OK, so no scarf. Then there were the clothes. I’ve never been accused of being a fashionista, but at some point the oversized shirts and baggy pants weren’t working for me either. I didn’t feel very salsa-y (no, that’s not a word). I also learned the impracticality of dancing in long sleeved shirts. It would be like going jogging outside in the summertime at the height of the afternoon wearing a sweatsuit. You are overdressed and extraordinarily uncomfortable. So jeans and a t-shirt it was.
I was officially a slut.
But my moral dilemma about being the perfectly behaved muslim girl were always drowned out by the sound of the clave and yet another dance. I felt alive, and I wasn’t keeping score of my demerits anymore.
Am I still a (good) muslim? Maybe, maybe not. But this was a healthy addiction I’d take over drugs and alcohol any day.
Nevertheless the wardrobe change was a big deal. Suddenly men were paying attention to me (surprise!). Mostly this was unwelcome attention, but it didn’t matter because I was just about the dancing.
Eventually all of my practice and obsession paid off. The night when I ran into the person who branded me a working girl, I was heading to one of my favorite salsa spots. I went in, danced with a bunch of people, had a great time, and felt pretty confident. A few years ago I had been to the same place for a networking function and was a complete wall flower attached to my cell phone.
So, am I an amazing salsa dancer?
No, not by any stretch of the imagination. I learned to appreciate the subtleties of good dancing when I see it. It’s really amazing once you learn it’s really not as effortless as some people make it look.
I met a bunch of interesting people, had lots of fun, and made a few friends along the way.
I decided to bring in my 30th year on the planet doing my new found love, passion, and obsession. I got a small group together and headed for Puerto Rico. I figured if I could hold my own dancing in Puerto Rico, I’d be doing alright with this salsa thing.
And that’s just what I did.
So how did it go? And how did I end up in the middle of a hurricane in the process?
More on that tomorrow…