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The Dancing Irishman’s First Birthday

5 Jun
The Dancing Irishman turns one today. All presents graciously accepted!

The Dancing Irishman turns one today.
All presents graciously accepted!

This day, one year ago I sent out a mass email to the majority of my facebook contacts asking them to check out my new blog, proudly titled “The Dancing Irishman”.

Since that day it has developed, haphazardly, into one of the most enjoyable endeavors I have ever undertaken.

At lot has changed in the past year; my goals, my dancing style, the focus of the blog and of course myself. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the excitement I feel every time I click “publish” on my latest post.

To celebrate the Dancing Irishman’s first birthday I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts on how the blog has evolved over the past 12 months. Despite having gained a lot of experience writing my articles I still sometimes find it hard to string my ideas together fluently so I decided to write this article using headings based on some of the questions I’m frequently asked by people I meet through the blog here in Cali or online, and some of the questions I’ve frequently been asking myself.

Where did the title come from?
Funnily enough I didn’t come up with it at all (I’m clearly not that creative). I’m Irish and I dance… in Colombia. I was ( and still am) a regular at some of the most popular salsa clubs here in Cali and I have a lot of friends in the international/traveler community here. I became known as the foreign guy who can dance (I am by no means the only dancing foreigner here but I think I just stuck out… it’s probably the beard… and the super paleness) and on more than a couple of occasions newcomers to Cali came up to me in clubs or blurted out during conversations with me “So YOU’RE The Dancing Irishman that I’ve heard about”!

A big thank you to all those unknowing passersby who helped name my alter-ego!

Is the actual writing process fun?
More than I can express in words. The truth is, if I don’t enjoy writing an article it never gets finished. I tend to find a topic that I’m particularly passionate about and end up getting sucked into it.

I write a lot on my phone while I’m using public transport or when I’m relaxing in a cafe. I know I’ve got something good when I can’t stop typing and I often ended up writing as late as 2 or 3 in the morning! When I have particularly strong feelings about a topic, that’s when everything really starts to flow and it feels almost cathartic to get things out of my head and onto paper.

I think one of the reasons I’ve loved writing the blog so much is that it’s encouraged me to genuinely put a lot of thought into what I do be it dance, exercise, languages or nutrition. I makes me study more and helps me verbalize why I love what I do so much.

Writing is pretty much the only creative thing I do and I never imagined how much pleasure I could get by putting my thoughts onto paper (or online at least). If you’ve never given writing a serious try before I highly recommend trying out blogging. Even if you have no intentions of developing a following it’s a great format to use as an outlet for that creative spark you have inside.

Has anything changed due to the blog?
Loads.

The first thing is that I now feel (almost) obligated to stay on top of my game dance-wise. Since I’ve chosen a name as assuming as The Dancing Irishman, I better make damn well sure that I can actually dance. It keeps me on my toes.

Something that I didn’t expect is that people sometimes come up to me in clubs telling me that they’ve read the blog. Often they’re travelers who were looking up information on dancing in Cali and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from them. I have to admit it actually feels pretty cool when people recognize me and say “Hey, you’re the Dancing Irishman”. Once again, the beard helps haha!

I also didn’t expect the blog to turn into a way to make friends but that’s exactly what happened. I’ve met some great people who are also bloggers and it’s been great interacting and learning from them and I’ve also met some great people through their comments on some of my articles.

As I write a lot about, Cali and life in Colombia I’ve also developed a lot of pride for my adopted city and I’m very proud to call myself Caleño.

Favourite articles?
I’ve published about 35 articles so far so it’s tough to pick a favorite so I’ll pic three instead.

I really enjoyed writing “How to be Great at Anything (Obliterating racial stereotypes in 10,000 hours)” because I really wanted to put an end to the idea that being able to dance was something you inherit in your blood. I think i made a pretty good point that it’s actually inherited through culture and therefore most people can learn to dance well regardless of their ethnic background.

I had a blast writing “The Etiquette of Salsa (All the stuff you need to worry about besides the dancing)” because it struck me as really important that newbies in the salsa world have a easy list of certain social rules to follow so they wouldn’t have to learn them the hard way i.e. trial and error. I also got pretty fired up writing that piece thinking about times when people have broken the rules e.g. when someone crowded up the dance-floor when it was already full and stole what little space I had (my blood boils just thinking about it now).

Finally I feel especially proud of writing “21 Things I F##KING HATE about Colombia!” which to date is the most popular article I’ve ever written (an exceptionally close second is “What I love about Cali, Colombia” ). I’m proud of it because I got to make some real social commentaries about life here in Colombia and the feedback I received was amazing. I knew that what I had to say wasn’t pleasant so I was expecting quite a backlash of angry comments from Colombians but the overwhelming majority of comments I received were positive and in agreement with what I had to say. One of the most aggressive, negative commentators actually contacted me a month later to tell me he had time to think about it and that he actually agreed with many of my points. He’s now a regular, positive commentator on the blog and I’m very proud to have him on board.

That article also reaffirmed one thing that I already knew; Colombians are very protective of their traditional cuisine (you won’t get far in an argument saying you don’t like it ;-)).

My Dance Goals
If anything, learning more about dance over the past year has shown me just how little I know and how far I still have to go to get better… and that feels amazing.

I’ve seen some spectacular dancers both in person and in videos who simply inspire me to get better and keep practicing. It’s some of the best motivation there is.

I’ve also come to terms that while I’ve not really taken to salsa caleña (the advanced moves are confined to choreographies and shows) I feel that my time here has really helped me feel comfortable when I dance and more willing to let myself go and actually move my body. As much as I loathe to say it, I definitely “feel the music” much more now.

I have some other, more definite goals lined up for the future which I should be revealing in the coming months, so stay tuned.

On Teaching
One unexpected side-effect of the blog is that a lot of people started contacting me for salsa lessons and that has now become a regular part of my life here in Cali. So much so that recently I created a page on the blog specifically dedicated to my lessons; “Learn Salsa in Cali”.

Teaching salsa has been an amazing experience for me as I simply enjoy teaching something I love so much. Especially, as I work mostly with beginners, I really get o see the “fruits of my labors” when I see my students who only a few hours earlier didn’t know the first thing about salsa, having a blast dancing in the clubs here in Cali. If they go on and develop a passion for salsa in the future, then I’m really happy.

I’ve been able to refine the way I teach and I feel I’ve really simplified teaching salsa caleña in a way that it generally isn’t taught here in many dance schools in Cali. That’s mostly thanks to the fact I’ve had some great teachers myself over the years and I’ve managed to hold on to and use the best methods that I found most effective when I was learning. So, thank you to all the teachers I’ve had over the years!

What I’ve learned about Blogging
You’ve got to give the people what they want.

Some of my most constantly viewed articles are those with the most practical information like “The Etiquette of Salsa (All the stuff you need to worry about besides the dancing)” and “How to find that goddamn “1″ beat in salsa” which deal with things that salsa learners really want to learn about. I’m going to try and focus more on developing more practical material for salsa learners in the future.

Also some of you may have noticed that while I say today is the blog’s birthday (June 5th), I have 5 or so articles published from May. This is because I wanted to have a number of articles ready for people to read when I finally launched the blog in June. I think it was a good move.

I’ve found that facebook has been my greatest promotional tool but within facebook, people actively linking to my articles has spread my blog much further than I actually expected. That was seen best in “21 Things I F##KING HATE about Colombia!“. That was probably the most strategic post I’ve published so far. I say strategic in that I worded the title specifically to get the most attention (use of expletives and a controversial topic) and it worked (even better than I expected). That got more hits in it’s first day than anything else I’ve published before or since and that was mostly due to “word of mouth” on facebook. Keep it up guys!

I’ve also learned that a good photo goes a long way towards catching peoples attention too, as seen with “The Women of Cali (Las caleñas son como las flores)” or “How to be stronger than you’ve ever been in your life!“. So just in case you’ve been wondering why I use so many images of scantily clad beauties, now you know that it’s for purely promotional purposes (teehee!).

The power of a fine bottom for promotional purposes should never be underestimated!

The power of a fine bottom for promotional purposes should never be underestimated!

Thank You!
Of everything that’s happened due to the blog, my proudest achievement by far is getting such a dedicated online following. You are the people who read my blog regularly and graciously promote my articles by liking and sharing them.

Without you, the blog would never have made it past it’s first month so I want you to know how grateful I am for your support.

I have plenty of changes planned for the blog in the coming months which I really hope you’ll enjoy. I am really looking forward to seeing where I can take this blog (World Domination anyone???) with your help in the future so keep on reading.

Thanks and keep dancing folks.

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The Worst Four Minutes of My Life

2 Apr

Last week I wrote about some of the GADs (God Awful Dancers) that can almost make you want to call it quits in your dancing career.

That post actually started out with me thinking about the worst dancing experience I ever had and the article took a slightly different turn. So this week I though I’d tell you about the horrifying event that inspired last weeks article.

Once upon a time…
… in a far away kingdom called Colombia, in the sultry heat of a city called Cali, there was a Dancing Irishman.

I was relatively fresh off the boat, having only arrived in the city a couple of months previously but I was already fairly familiar with the dance scene in the city. I was far from being a great salsa-caleña dancer but I could definitely hold my own in the clubs where a few basics will get you far.

It all started when a buddy of mine asked me to join him and his girlfriend on a night out dancing. To be more specific he told me that he “needed” someone to accompany his girlfriend’s sister. It’s normal in Colombia (unlike salsa scenes in non-Latin countries) for people to go out in groups or couples and just dance with the people in their group for the night. So it’s usually better to have an even number of guys and girls when going out in a small group.

My buddy told me that he really needed someone to dance with his girlfriends sister because they just “had to” take her out that night. That should have been my first warning.

Me being the (foolishly) friendly guy that I am, I said something that I would later regret for the rest of my life…”Sure”.

Who could say "No"?

Who could say “No”?

La Noche de Horror
The night arrived and we went to what’s called a “Cross-over” club just outside the city limits. A “Cross-over” club is one that plays a mix of different latin music sytles like salsa, bachata, merengue, reggaeton, cumbia and vallenato as opposed to “salsotecas” which just play salsa.

We all hung out a bit and chatted and drank at our table for a while until eventually my buddy took his girlfriend out for a dance. Seeing as her sister wasn’t much of conversationalist I figured that now would be as good a time as any to take her out for a dance.

We walked onto the quite crowded dance floor, I put my right hand on her back and with my left hand grabbed her right. I listened to the music, a nice standard salsa that I had danced to may times before and when the timing was right I gave her a gentle push back to start.

Nothing.

My initial thought was “What the fudge?”. I tried again and once more she was having none of it.

She then started her own “basic step”. It took me about 5 seconds to realize that this was not going to be pleasant.

She started doing something with her feet that resembled a combination of merengue and drunken staggering. I would say that she was dancing on the wrong beat but that would imply that she was actually dancing on a certain beat in the music. That was not the case. This girl was marching to her own beat, a style of dance that hasn’t been created yet and if it ever is, will probably end up being called the “Drunken Monkey” or maybe the “Try and guess what I’m gonna do next”.

I tried to mirror what she was doing but there was genuinely no timing to her steps. I started grabbing at straws. I tried to bring her closer and change the steps to more of a circular closed style of dancing common in Cali, similar to close bachata. I figured if we were closer it would be easier for her to feel the rhythm from my body…

WRONG!
She clearly thought she knew what she was doing because she managed to distort the rhythm (and my body) to her own erratic beat once more. Every attempt I made to get us back on the beat was firmly subdued by unsmiling partner. Resistance was futile!

Even my attempts at a few simple turns to break the monotony were met with ridiculous wobbles and my arm nearly getting torn out of my shoulder socket by her vice like grip. She was being very clear: “I’m wearing the pants in this dance…bitch”.

I praised the Lord that the room was so dimly lit.

In the first 45 seconds of the song she had managed to reveal herself as a “Bossy Bertha”, “Lost Boy”, “Poker Face” and “The Claw” all rolled into one. I had met the “Anti-Dancer”!

At that stage I had realized that there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop this and, like many guys in prison shower-rooms, I was just going to have to take it like a man. I mentally shut down and tried to find a happy place in my head; someplace to hide for the remaining eternity (or 3 minutes, I’m not quite sure) of the song.

A “happy place” was not to be found but I did what I could to mentally distance myself from the the unspeakable horror that was being committed against me (and against dance in general). My legs went to automatic, but that’s not easily done when your trying to follow something that spits in the face of coordination.

I tried a couple of times to signal to the other dancers around me that I was in distress. I thought the look of pure despair on my face would convince some good Samaritan to put me out of my misery; maybe by throwing a bar stool at my head… or something equally effective. My pleas for compassion went unanswered.

I will be bringing one of these stickers with me for such emergencies in the future!

I will be bringing one of these stickers with me for such emergencies in the future!

Finally, just when I felt I couldn’t take any more and I might have try and pretend to pass out to get of the dance floor, that ray of light that is the wind-down in the music came to my hears and I screamed for joy internally, yelling to myself “You’ve done it lad. You made it. She can’t hurt you anymore”. The song ended and gave her the most untruthful smile and “gracias” that I have ever produced in my life.

I walked back to the table, frail from my ordeal.

There waiting for us was my buddy and his girlfriend. He pulled his chair next to mine and with a with a huge goofy smile, whispered in my ear “She’s a horrible dancer isn’t she”!

The Fall Guy
I then realized why it was so important that he find a partner for his girlfriend’s sister that night. Why I was so essential. He didn’t want to dance with her himself. I was the “Fall Guy”. Betrayed from the start by my own friend. I felt things couldn’t get any worse… until I remembered that that was our first dance and we still had a full night to go.

What about you guys? Have you had any horrible dance experiences yourselves? Let me know in the comments (seriously, it might make me feel better about how bad my experience was).

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Dancing Salsa like an Irishman

20 Mar
Dancing for truth, justice and good old St. Paddy

Dancing for truth, justice and good old St. Paddy

Last Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of everything Irish and a great excuse for a party. Never one to turn down an opportunity for a rumba (party) I held a “little” shindig in my apartment to celebrate St. Paddy (NOT St. Patty), Cali-style.

All in all I had about 70 guests and a great time was had by all with lots of great music, great dancing and a whole lot of sweating in the tropical heat.

Video Antics
As you know from previous posts like this one I’m a big fan of videoing oneself dancing in order to see where you need to improve and how you’re progressing.

So I got a friend of mine to grab a quick video of my dance-partner Kelli and I dancing a mixture of LA and salsa caleña. Check it out below.

First off, I know, I’m sweating like an animal. If people can sweat dancing salsa in Ireland in the winter, just imagine what it’s like dancing in the tropics.

For those of you unfamiliar with Cali-style salsa, you can recognize it here from the basic back step (side to side in some cases) and the more circular, cuban-style turns. The majority of stuff with complicated handwork is LA style.

Post Game Analysis
One thing that I’m finally starting to improve is my eye contact which is something that I’ve always had trouble with. It might just be the fact that I’m dancing with Kelli who I’m very comfortable with by I manage to get a nice amount of eye contact in during this dance.

One thing that annoyed the crap out of me is the fact that I still hold back from doing more complicated Cali-style moves and footwork when I social dance. I tend to stick with the safe stuff which doesn’t do me any good in the long run.

Help the Irishman Out
What do you think yourself? Where do you think I can improve or what do you think I need to work on? I thrive on constructive criticism so if you think you could offer me a little bit of advice please let me know in the comments.

Excellent New Song
The song we’re dancing to in the video is “Mother’s Delight” from the new Irish salsa group “Baile an Salsa”, check them out. It’s a mix of traditional Irish music and salsa and I really think it’s a fantastic song for dancing linear On1 or On2 salsa. It’s not the most appropriate song for dancing salsa-caleña, however, so that may explain why I didn’t do many Cali moves in the video.

Dancing Alone
You might want to know why Kelli and I are the only couple dancing in the video. I asked the same thing to a Caleño friend of mine that night and he told me it was because the locals weren’t familiar with the song (or the Irish-style music for that matter). He said that caleños tend to only dance to music they’re familiar with. I’ve noticed this when I’ve DJ-ed before, anytime I put on a song that isn’t heard regularly in the clubs in Cali, people tend to shy off the floor and get some conversation in instead. Just a little observation.

We had a great time here in Cali last weekend and I hope you all had a Happy St. Patrick’s Day too, wherever in the world you are.

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21 Things I F##KING HATE about Colombia!

12 Feb
Feel my Blogger's Wrath!

Where’s my bloody Christmas present?

Let’s get something straight right from the get-go: I love my life here in Cali and the great things about living here really do outweigh the bad. I consider Colombia like a second home and I have defended and will continue to defend this beautiful country whenever I hear somebody “intentionally insulting” Colombia or its people.

So BEFORE YOU READ THIS ARTICLE,  READ SOME OF MY OTHER POSTS:
Things I love about Cali
Proud to be Colombian
The Cuisine of Colombia

That said, as anyone who has lived in a foreign country knows, there will always be things that piss you off when comparing one place with another. I lived in Japan for four years and I can safely say they were four of the best years of my life. Despite that, there were a huge amount of things that annoyed the hell out of me about life in Japan or Japanese culture in general. It’s one of the reasons why it’s good to have a few expat friends to give you an outlet to vent some international rage.

Living in Colombia is no different and I’m going to consider this post a form of catharsis; a chance to blow off a little tropical steam. I often blow off lots of steam about my native Ireland’s MANY problems and the only reason I haven’t written an article about it is because if I started I don’t know if I’d be able to stop 😉

TO MY COLOMBIAN FRIENDS: This is not an attack on Colombians in general. Some of the things on this list will make you laugh but some touch on very deeply rooted social problems that I and many Colombians are very concerned about.

I AM ALSO AWARE THAT MANY OF THE POINTS I MENTION HERE ARE NOT UNIQUE TO COLOMBIA AND ARE, IN FACT, COMMON IN OTHER COUNTRIES. HOWEVER, THAT DOES NOT DIMINISH THEIR SIGNIFICANCE IN COLOMBIA, A PLACE I CALL HOME.

1. Safety
Colombia is (by international standards) not a safe country. In fact it is the most dangerous place I’ve ever lived in my life. I’ve been mugged twice here myself and I constantly hear of people getting murdered for their phones or jewelery, people getting drugged and coerced into emptying their bank accounts, kidnappings, hijackings of overnight buses… the list goes on. Add to that the threat of paramilitaries in rural areas and it doesn’t paint a nice picture.

With all that said, if you use your common sense and experience you can avoid most of the trouble that life in Colombia presents. Regardless, that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that it simply feels unpleasant to live in a place where you have to think so much about your personal safety. This apprehension comes from kind-hearted locals constantly reminding me to be careful in certain areas.

2. Worlds Slowest Cashiers
I love grocery shopping but I hate going to the cash register in Colombian supermarkets because the cashiers are probably the slowest in the world. One reason for this is people pay their bills (electricity, water etc.) at the cash register and something that should be incredibly quick and easy is drawn out to ridiculous lengths. The cashiers do everything slowly and even get up to find the price for products themselves even though there’s usually plenty of staff around to do it for them. What amazes me even more is that this doesn’t seem to phase Colombians at all; a culture of being late seems to have instilled the populace with the patience of saints.

3. Poverty
I have never seen (or felt) the gap between rich and poor as much as I have in Colombia. There are a huge amount of people in this country living below the poverty line and shanty towns are a common sight in big cities. In contrast there is a small but very visible class of super-rich that would make most well-off Europeans feel financially inadequate. The problem is that a lot of this is “new wealth” and the problem with families who come into new money is that often (but obviously not always) they can be very extravagant in their spending.

I know kids who barely bat an eyelid at breaking the screen of their iPad because they know that mommy or daddy will buy them a brand new one, or kids that show off their collection of Gucci belts and brag about how just one of them is even more expensive than buying a regular suit.

This poverty gap is what fuels social problems like crime and violence in Colombia and the more I become aware of it the more disappointed I feel about the world in general.

4. Phone service
Calling different mobile phone providers is so expensive that everywhere you go you find “minute sellers” on the street. They basically have a cell phone for each operator (usually attached to them by a small chain) and let you make calls to the operator of your choice and you pay after; like a pay phone for mobiles.So basically, people only use their own phone for receiving calls or calling people who use the same operator as themselves. Convenient, right!

This confused the hell out of me at first until I realized that my phone credit just didn’t last when I called other operators. Often you’ll see people who have two or more different phones with different service operators for “convenience”.

On top of that, the line connection is often really poor which isn’t fun if you’re not a master of the language yet and have to guess what the other person is saying (I will admit this has actually gotten me a few dates in the past from being frustrated at not understanding what’s going on on the phone and just asking the girl out so we can talk in person).

5. Postal Service
It’s mid February and I’m still waiting on my Christmas present from home… enough said!

6. Food
I’ve got a whole post coming on Colombian food but IN GENERAL, FOOD IN COLOMBIA LEAVES MUCH TO BE DESIRED and is one of the main reasons that I couldn’t live here long-term. Most readily available food here is uninteresting, unvaried and usually deep-fried. Good food can be found but you really have to look for it and it’s not cheap. There are some foods I love here but they are the exception and not the rule.

7. Inability to use Public Transport
A bus pulls into it’s station. The people outside wait in an orderly line while the people inside get off so there will be more room on the bus. Sounds logical, right? Not in Colombia.

Once a bus pulls into a station here it is a frenzied free for all with every man for himself. Before anyone on the bus can get off there is a chaotic mob pushing against them to get on. Forming a line is not a well understood concept here.

Even worse are the idiots who decide to stand in the middle of the station doorway with no intention of getting on and expect everyone else to go around them. There is a special place in hell for these people.

8. Driving
Many drivers here show virtually no consideration for other drivers as can be seen by people driving over the painted lines separating lanes, almost non-existent use of turn signals and drivers constantly cutting people off.

Even less respect is shown for cyclists (like me) and I have had plenty of close calls on my bike here to testify to that.

9. Time-keeping (or lack there of)
I once had to wait 3 days for a guy to come and install my oven. I had been told each day that he would arrive at a certain time and I waited like a an idiot until he finally came on the 3rd day. This generally doesn’t apply to big business (I honestly think Colombians can be very professional and hard working) but outside of work I have to talk in Colombian-time; the stated time with about an hour of leeway.  I lived in Japan for 4 years where being late means arriving 5 minutes EARLY so this bugs the hell out of me and what’s killing me is that it’s starting to rub off on me too.

10. Prices
OK, Colombia is technically a “developing country” so the cost of living is obviously much lower than in the “developed” (I’m not very happy with this description) world BUT for the wages that most people make here, things are expensive. Electronics are so expensive that rich Colombians often bring back electronics from vacations to the United States. Good food, nice clothes, mobile-phone plans and many more goods are ridiculously expensive and European produced foods are even more expensive than they are in Europe. This means that people are using credit cards more and more which is not good in the long run.

11. Common Courtesy
When you get to know them, Colombians are incredibly friendly and helpful but on the street there is a certain coldness that doesn’t sit well with me. My mam raised me well so I hold doors open for people and I yield when walking in narrow spaces to allow others to pass. One would expect a courteous “thank you” in return for these actions but it rarely comes here in Colombia.

Another thing that bugs me is that people will block narrow passages and even if they have seen you coming will not think of moving out of the way until you ask for permission to pass.

Nor will anyone ever call you to tell you they’ll be late, even if it’s more than an hour. Common courtesy is not all that common here!

12. Dishonesty in Business
This happens everywhere in the world but really pisses me off here just because I have to deal with it regularly. I am clearly not Colombian and a lot of store owners take advantage of that by charging me ridiculous “gringo-prices” when I ask about the cost of something. I’m good at haggling and enjoy it from time to time but when you have to do it regularly it’s just tiring.

13. Things Men say to Women
I have many times seen an attractive woman passing a man or group of men on the street only to hear those men say the rudest, most foul mouthed “compliments” to the woman in a deranged attempt to get her attention. It’s apparently common in all Latin cultures but it is disgusting and if I was a woman I’d be breaking guy’s jaws on every street corner here.

14. Racism
Colombia is a very racially mixed country and has been so for hundreds of years. People here are a mix of European, African and indigenous South American. Despite that I have heard some of the most racist comments of my life here in this country. As I mentioned earlier there is a small but very visible wealthy elite here, most of whom are amongst the “whitest” or most European in the country. In light conversation I have heard wealthy people say some terrible things about darker people and especially Afr0-descended people.

What’s worse is that they pretend everything is all hunky-dory and that Colombians all consider themselves equal. Afro-descendants and indigenous Colombians still occupy the lowest socioeconomic strata here and even if they are not discriminated against because of their skin colour, it’s because of how much money they have. Some of the upper elite really do seem to look down on the poorer classes here.

To make it worse, there is a saying amongst many darker skinned Colombians called “improving your blood” which means marrying someone with lighter skin so that your kids will be lighter and have better opportunities in life. The amount of times I have heard this here saddens me!

15. Guns
The police force in Ireland, called the Gardaí, is unarmed. The only time I saw guns in Ireland was when the military was escorting armored cars with deliveries of cash to banks. Here in Colombia I have the pleasure of seeing security guards walking around shopping centers carrying shotguns. This is something I will simply never, ever get used to especially since thy walk around with the muzzles of their guns pointing upwards, at head height of many people walking by. I’m not sure they even receive any training at all.

16. Potholes
Being from the Irish countryside I have a certain nostalgic affinity for potholes. Colombia, however, doesn’t just do potholes, oh no, Colombia has “craters”! The state of some of the roads, even in some of the nice neighbourhoods is shocking. And the sidewalks are even worse, so bad in my neighbourhood that I prefer to walk on the moon-like, cratered roads.

17. Big Bills
ATM machines almost always pay out in 50,000 peso bills. Unless you try to spend these in a large department store or supermarket the person at the cash register will probably just laugh at you and tell you to go find some change. Seriously.

18. Airing Dirty Laundry
Some Colombians don’t seem to have any problem shouting or arguing on the street. If they have something to say they will let the whole world know about it and it seems to be the national pass-time to stand around and watch as such altercations transpire.

19. Milk in a bag
I know….

20. Lack of Books
Books can be  found easily in Colombia but are unbelievably expensive; new hardback editions can cost more than half a days wages for some people here and that is contributing to a distancing of the youth of the Colombia from the written word which in my opinion is a crime against humanity. This country is trying to educate its populace to create a better future for themselves and yet the majority of people can’t even afford books to open their minds to new ideas.

The cost of literature has even contributed to a strong trade in counterfeit books of which I have had to become a customer. I simply can’t afford to buy original copies here.

21. Missing Toilet Seats
This is probably the greatest Colombian mystery there is. For some reason in men’s public toilets in Colombia the toilet seats are almost always missing. I have never heard an explanation for this and would love to hear why if anyone knows!

I'm convinced there's a flood of stolen toilet seats on the Colombian Back Market!

I’m convinced there’s a flood of stolen toilet seats on the Colombian Black Market!

And breath….

I may not have any Colombian friends left after this and I may have to watch my back for motorbike drive-bys for a while but it feels good to get that off my chest. And you know what? I love Colombia! This is one of the most beautiful and diverse countries on Earth and I am very proud to call it my home for now (despite the things I don’t like).

If you’re Colombian or you’ve been to Colombia before I’d love to hear what you think (no death-threats please).

Here’s a request: If you’re thinking of leaving a hate-filled comment (of which I’ve received many since this article was first published): Stop, read the this article again (CAREFULLY), read my other articles about Colombia and think about what I’ve written here. I wrote this article because I want people to be aware of these issues because it’s only when people are aware of issues that something gets done to solve them. I didn’t write this article to offend people, remember that.

Keep Dancing Folks!

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What is Salsa Caleña (a few educational videos)

20 Dec
Pura salsa caleña! No hay nada mejor!

Pura salsa caleña!
No hay nada mejor!

Before I came to Cali I knew from glancing at a few videos on Youtube that they danced a very different style of salsa from what I had learned in Ireland and Japan. Add to that the fact that some people who had actually been to Cali before had told me that I wouldn’t get to far dancing the way I did and you’d be right in thinking that I was a little worried about strutting my stuff on the dance floors of Cali.

With the world famous “Feria de Cali” (a week-long party that begins right after Christmas) just around the corner and for the benefit of those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit the world capital of salsa, I’ve found a few videos showing just what salsa caleña (in it’s many forms) looks like. Enjoy.

Here’s a great example of what the local dancers call Salsa Cabaret which is basically salsa caleña on steroids (as many twists, flips and displays of showmanship as possible).

Here’s another lightning fast cabaret performance.

Here’s some great footwork from the 2 time world champions Ricardo and Viviana (pity about the awful commentary)

Here’s a solo performance that shows the level that some caleños achieve with their footwork.

On the other end of the scale here’s an example of how salsa is danced in Cali on the streets at a typical neighborhood party.

and here’s another example of a style of street salsa that has become very popular recently.

Finally here’s one of the most famous videos of Cali club style dancing (although this is much more professional than what you normally find).

I hope you liked them. Watching them has really put me in the mood for a rumba tonight.

Keep dancing folks.

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The Women of Cali (Las caleñas son como las flores)

3 Nov

Girl (at Spanish exchange): So why do you want to learn Spanish?
Me: Well, I’m planning on moving to Colombia next year.
Girl: Really, what part of Colombia?
Me: A city called Cali.
Girl: Really? Wow, I lived there a few years ago. You know, it has the most beautiful women in all of South America?
Me: Really? I hadn’t heard that at all 😉

Truth be told, it was virtually impossible NOT to hear about the famed beauty of the women of Cali. Once I started doing some research on the place, after I decided to move there to learn Spanish and salsa, virtually every website, blog and article about the city thoroughly emphasized Cali’s reputation as a veritable heaven of latin beauties.

Truth be told, even the Caleña (as the women of Cali are called) who first gave me the idea to move there when I lived in Japan, was stunningly beautiful.

The Spanish in the title of this post is the title of this song, which translates as “The women of Cali are like flowers”. There is whole host of songs dedicated to the city of Cali and none of them fail to mention the qualities of Latin America’s most adored women, their beauty and just as importantly, their skills on the dance floor.

An added benefit
Let me make one thing clear. I came to Cali to dance and learn Spanish, not because of its reputation for stunningly beautiful women…

…that said, it is virtually impossible to not notice how stunningly beautiful the women here are and it has been a nice little perk during my time in this great city because, surprise surprise, I love beautiful women. Go figure!

A Japanese buddy of mine once asked me what 3 things could I absolutely not live without (besides the obvious family, friends and all that other sentimental stuff) and I, without a moments hesitation, answered: great food, great dancing and beautiful women! My sentiments haven’t changed since then.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that!
One thing that makes the women of Cali so special is the sheer variety of women there are here.

Cali has a very eclectic ethnic background made up of the European (mostly Spanish) settlers, the Africans they brought over originally as slaves and the indigenous South Americans who were here before anyone else (which they are understandably very vocal about). What results is a city with a population of people ranging from white to black with every possible gradation in between. This gives Cali its blanquitas, negritas, indiginas, morenas, mulatas, canelas, trigueñas and a whole host of other “colorful” names thought up by the inventive latinos.

Add to that the whole variety of body shapes, eye colors, facial features and hair types from all these diverse backgrounds and you have one of the most physically diverse populations on earth.

The beautiful women of the pacifico region are just one of the many ethnicities in Cali.

The beautiful women of the pacifico region are just one of the many ethnicities in Cali.

All in the attitude
But for me, what really sets the Caleñas apart from other women I’ve met in my life is their attitude. I can’t talk about all latin women but I have to say that women here are a hell of a lot more confident than those from Europe, North America or East Asia. And I like confidence in women.

It’s pretty hard to sum up how I quantify that statement so I’m just going to list a few observations I’ve made:

  • The clothes Caleñas wear are generally very revealing (my life here in Cali clearly sucks, right?) even in professional environments where semi-transparent blouses and visible bras are not uncommon. Cleavage is almost universally on display and in a city where plastic surgery is so common that makes for near whiplash like head turning).
  • Caleñas have a much better body image than women in other places. Being slightly (or significantly) overweight doesn’t stop women here from flaunting what they’ve got by wearing very tight and revealing clothing (this clearly is not always a good thing). I do however have to admit it’s very refreshing to meet women who are so comfortable with their bodies as it has always bothered me how women in other parts of the world, who, despite having beautiful bodies, are almost ashamed to show any part of it because of poor body image. Further proof is to be seen in the fact that women don’t take offense if they’re called something like “gorda” (fatty). It’s not used as an insult nor is it taken as one. I can’t imagine a man surviving an encounter with a woman if he ever called her “fatty” back home.
  • Women here are much more forward when it comes to flirting and in my experience it’s not uncommon for women to come up and start conversations with men in clubs or even on the street. And before anyone comments, they are not working girls (at least not as far as I know, although I may not be the best at picking up on these things) . That has rarely happened to me in other parts of the world (maybe I’m just not attractive to women from other parts in which case I’d really appreciate a heads-up people… by private message 😦 ). Anyway the world could do with more women flirting (can I get a “Here, Here!” guys).
  • Women here also seem to be much more sexually liberated and don’t feel “ashamed” about sex in the way they do in places like Ireland (thanks to Catholic guilt) and Japan (thanks to a whole host of social stigmas I couldn’t possibly touch on here). Sex is a much more socially acceptable topic here, not the taboo that it is in other parts of the (mostly English speaking) world.
  • I also think that competition amongst women here makes them a little more forward and “aggressive”. From what I understand (literally what I’ve been” told” as I fail miserably in my “understanding” of women) there is competition amongst women to look good and I’ve seen women being very competitive around men they’re interested in and very protective of their partners around other women. This probably has a lot to do with Colombian men’s reputations as being slightly less that completely faithful.

One way this “self-confidence”, competition and pride in appearance comes to a pinacle is in two things that have really stood out to me here, “Reinadas” and women’s Facebook pictures.

Reinadas are basically beauty queen pageants and they are an exceptionally common occurrence here in Colombia. They have them for everything from queen of local agricultural festivals to “Best Ass in the Valley” contests. Unfortunately they have them for kids too which I think could really mess with a child’s moral compass from a young age. This is where Colombia’s reputation as a haven of Beauty Queens comes from.

As for the Facebook photos, well, let’s just say that some women here put a serious amount of effort into posing for their photo’s. Some of the poses are ridiculously over the top or even sexual but it’s almost considered normal here. In fact, once after just meeting a woman (in her late thirties) at a dance class, during a 5 minute break she asked me to add her on Facebook and proceeded to show me her pics so I could “find her better”. Her pics were all professionally taken shots of her in an exceptionally short skirt and high heels doing various provocative poses on top of a wooden stool (shudder).

Just one example of the many beautyr pageants here in Cali. Yup, life here is rough!

Just one example of the many beautyr pageants here in Cali. Yup, life here is rough!

Conquistadors
Another thing that makes interaction between the sexes here a little more interesting is the Spanish language itself.

You’ve probably heard it before and scoffed but Spanish is genuinely a much more romantic language than English which you can’t help but notice if you’ve ever listened to the lyrics of most salsa or bachata songs (I won’t even get into what they say in reggaeton).

The word for flirt in Spanish “coquetear” itself just sounds fun to say and I couldn’t believe the word that people here use to mean being successful with women or to win a woman’s heart which is “conquistar”. That’s right, men here “conquer” women and that’s a completely socially acceptable turn of phrase. If I used that with a European girl I’m fairly sure I’d be walking away with a black eye and maybe even a few teeth less.

Add to that all the pet-names that people use for each other like papasito (I melt when I hear this one ;-)), mamasita, guapo, hermosa, preciosa, mi reina etc. and the words used by couples for each other such as amor, corazón, mi vida etc. and you can see exactly why this language is just made for getting intimate.

Touchy Feely
This being a latin country, physical contact is much more common place than back in Northern Europe or the U.S. and I am very, very grateful for it.

Not that I’m some sexual deviant that gets off on the slightest touch from someone of the opposite sex… or anything like that. I just think that the world would be a much happier place if people just touched themsel… I mean each other a little bit more.

Caleñas are masters of this. Once you’ve befriended a girl here you can expect to always get greeted warmly with a hug and a kiss, to have them throw their arm over your shoulder when they’re standing next to you, to have them hold your hand or repeatedly touch your elbow or your knee during a conversation and basically just make you feel a warm, human contact that makes that moment feel ten times more special than it otherwise would.

It took me quite a while to get used to it (especially after 4 years in Japan) and some people thought I was quite cold here at first but now I am a devote believer in regular human contact and I’m very grateful for the caress of the Caleñas.

Viva the Surgeons Knife
Another thing that everyone notices as soon as they get here are the surgical, ahem, “enhancements” that are so common place in Cali.

My first night out dancing here, I was amazed by how many women in the club who had boob-jobs and ass-jobs too (I can only imagine that the ass balances out the boobs and stops them tipping over). I quickly realized why this city has such a reputation for plastic surgery.

Apparently, this fascination with surgical perfection stems from the days of the drug cartels when the big drug-dealers used to show off their wealth by having the girlfriends with the biggest “T & A”. It came to be seen as a sign of success and wealth and over the years, the accentuated hour glass figure has come to be something of an “ideal” amongst certain Caleños and plastic surgery to achieve this “ideal” has become a huge industry here. You can even pay for you’re new body in installments.

All that said, I think a lot of women go way overboard on the boob sizes they choose and I think the fake butts look just ridiculous (imagine a football sliced in half and stuck onto someones butt-cheeks and you’ll get a pretty accurate image). Looking natural here is most definitely not the goal amongst some women.

Tienen sabrosura, porque mueven la cintura
Finally I can’t leave out the famed skills of the Caleñas on the dance floor.

I’ve written about how people in Cali really dance and I still feel the same way. Technically, Caleños don’t really meet many expectations but one thing that the women here do have is “sabrosura” or flavor on the dance floor.

Caleñas, thanks to their confidence, really know how to move their bodies and don’t think twice about doing it. They appreciate the music and interpret it beautifully, they let it take them over and and they “flow” with the music better than a lot of social dancers in non-latin countries. What this means is that slow dancing, be it salsa, bachata, reggaeton or whatever, is a real pleasure here and is where Caleñas really shine.

The women of Cali are famed for both their beauty and their skills on the dance floor.

The women of Cali are famed for both their beauty and their skills on the dance floor.

True Flowers
I’ve been here in Cali over a year now and I’ve been truly blessed with the wonderful women I’ve come to know here. I have made wonderful friends and amazing dance partners and every one of them has made my time here in Cali memorable in their own special way.

Their friendliness, their beauty, their sensuality on the dance floor; all of these qualities are what make Caleñas so special and so famous in not just Colombia, but in South America and the world.

Reading about it really doesn’t even scratch the surface of the wonders of the Caleñas so the only thing to do is to come to Cali and meet them for yourself. And with the “Feria de Cali” coming at the end of December, timing couldn’t be better. Hopefully you’ll make it. Drop me a line if you do.

Keep dancing folks.

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Be inspired!

23 Oct

Dancing with great partners really keeps you on your toes!

I dance well!

I am far from being a great dancer but I get by. I stay on the beat, I use a variety of moves to keep things interesting, I adapt my dance to the level and style of my partner, I avoid stepping on toes and probably most importantly I haven’t dropped anyone on their face in months!

What this adds up to is that at times I can begin to “believe” that I’m good. Don’t mistake me, there’s nothing wrong with confidence, in fact it’s essential for all aspects of dancing. From actually getting you out on the dance floor in the first place to allowing you to feel comfortable doing things outside of your comfort zone which is the only way to improve; confidence is essential.

Over-confidence on the other hand can be detrimental to your progression. Thinking you are the Shiz-nit (I’ve always wanted to use that word) may make you FEEL like a great dancer but it doesn’t MAKE you one at all.

Searching for Swing
Case in point: I recently took advantage of a 4-day weekend with a little trip to Bogota to give the salsa scene there another try after a mediocre experience there a few months back. I went out dancing two nights and had two very different experiences. Both nights I went out with some very talented Caleña dancers as partners (I’ll admit I didn’t hold out much hope for the local dancers) so for the experiments sake let’s say that that factor was fixed.

The first night we went out we strolled around a particular nightlife hot spot in Bogota looking for a little rumba. We tried two places, “Quiebra Canto” first and then “Salsa Camará”. In both places I can unfortunately say that I was the best dancer there. Now before everyone turns there nose’s up and scoffs at the cocky Irishman who’s full of himself, allow me to clarify. What I’m saying is that the standard was very low!

My dance partners and I were the main source of visual entertainment that night, both because we danced well and because we danced a lot, which can’t be said for the other couples there. I’m not criticizing the other couples though; they were social dancers and were content with having a little wiggle on the dance floor every 6 songs or so… and that’s fine!

I, however, am not interested in just “a little wiggle” on the dance floor. I want to be good! After some great dances with my partners we left the club and as we were doing so I thought to myself: “I really don’t want to be in a place where I’M the best dancer”. The next morning, all I could think was that Bogota is missing some “swing”, the word dancers use here to describe a combination of feeling, emotion, musicality and skill when dancing.

Eye Opener
The second night was a very different story. We went to “El Panteón de la Salsa” a place that had been recommended to me by an Italian salsera who had lived in Bogota. She told me it was the only place to get some real dancing in the capital. It’s in a slightly dodgy part of Bogota and I was advised by quite a few people not to go there but after coming all the way from Cali and for the sake of my “research”, I had to go!

I knew things were different as soon as I stepped through the door. The dance floor was full, the air was hot and humid and the atmosphere was alive with salsa. People were dancing salsa caleña, linear salsa and salsa cubana. There were people doing moves I’d never seen before, people sweating buckets in the heat and best of all everyone was having fun with the dance in there own unique way. There in that one little club with it’s two little dance floors was Bogota’s Swing!

I danced the night away and apparently got plenty of attention because I was the only foreigner there and I knew how to dance. However I was far from the best dancer there and that’s what made it so much fun. I could happily sit down and watch the other dancers, wishing I could do some of the things they could do. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the whole night!

Being around people that are better than us makes us want to improve. If you’re the best dancer in a certain club or certain city or even a certain country, what incentive do you have to improve?

Probably not much, right? This is one reason why the big international salsa congresses are so beneficial. They give people who have gotten used to a certain salsa scene the opportunity to see, dance with and learn from amazing dancers from all over the world! For example I’ve heard some great things about the recent Berlin salsa congress after a lot of my Irish salsa dancing friends attended it a few weeks back.

Finding Inspiration
To avoid developing a false sense of over-confidence we need to put ourselves in positions or places where it’s obvious that we’re “not all that”.

Try dancing with the the person you consider to be the best dancer in the club. Try going to a new club or class to learn from dancers you haven’t seen before. Try to keep yourself on your toes. There is nothing worse than becoming complacent.

I’m lucky to see amazing dancers every time I go dancing here in Cali. They are the minority but they exist and seeing this amazing minority is enough for me to want to make myself a better dancer.

Remember, confidence is a good thing as long as you temper it with the knowledge that there will always be someone better than you. This is what it’s all about, getting to see all those amazing dancers out there that are better than you and being inspired to better yourself.

If you can’t find anyone who inspires you in your current situation it’s time to shake things up, time to try new things, maybe even time to go somewhere new. Find that new source of inspiration. That’s how great dancers are made!

Keep dancing folks!

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Fiona Uyema

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