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To New York

14 Oct

This day, October 14th, exactly one year ago I arrived in New York city… absolutely terrified!

THE FOLLOWING MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE ACTUALLY HAPPENED

What I’m about to publish here is a letter I wrote exactly 1 year ago, at the start of the almost 24 hour bus ride I took to from South Carolina to New York.

I’m publishing it because I want people to know that:
1. Not all my travels have been the “happy go lucky” kind
2. Life can get scary but you can never let that hold you back… ever

In a sense, it’s my confession, that my time in New York wasn’t as spectacular as I may have made it seem.

To New York

13/10/2013

I’m fucking terrified.

I’ve felt this way all morning since I looked in my wallet and found a single hundred-dollar bill.

I needed to use the vast majority of that to buy my bus ticket from Charleston, South Carolina to New York. So, with the change from that and the cash I have in my pocket (and provided I don’t need to spend any more money along the way) I will arrive in New York City (arguably the greatest city on the face of the earth) with a grand total of $14.45.

I also have a €50 note that I’ve had in my wallet for years (along with other foreign currency) as an emergency fund. It looks like that emergency may really rear it’s ugly head.

I actually thought that there would be 2 hundred-dollar bills waiting for me when I went for my wallet so I genuinely think I must have lost one along the way. That’s pretty inconvenient to say the least.

$14.45
That doesn’t buy much in the good old U.S. of A.

When I get to New York, I’ve already decided that most of that money will go towards some essential groceries. Something cheap and healthy. Something to live on for my first week.

It’s going to be quite a change from how I’ve been eating here in the U.S. up until now. I have been eating well (my waistline will attest to that), especially here in Charleston, enjoying the local “southern” cuisine and being as generous with tips as I can, which hasn’t helped my finances but I’m hoping that it’ll bring me some good karma in New York, especially if I find a job waiting tables… I’m going to need it.

The people I’ve met along the way on this adventure have been great and have really helped me out along the way. Especially in Charleston where I hadn’t planned on staying too long. I had decided to get to NYC as soon as possible after I realized how little cash I had left but the salseros of Charleston managed to convince me to stay a whole week.

All the good times I’ve been having along the way have ensured that my financial situation will be dire when I arrive in the city that never sleeps. And I regret none of it.

I have seen parts of the U.S. I had never seen before, I have done things I have always wanted to do and met amazing people all along the way that make it all the more worth while. This has been an amazing journey for me.

I’m just going to have to pay for it when I get to New York.

The only thing that is keeping me from freaking out completely is the friends I have waiting for me in New York. I have a place to stay, with great people and that makes a huge difference when moving to a new city.

I remember when my mother drove me to the bus station over two years ago, just before I left Ireland to go to Colombia. She kept asking me what I was going to do for work, how I was going to get by, where I was going to live. I just kept replying that I “knew” I would find something. I knew that I would find work, meet new people, find a place to live, make a life for myself in Cali, a city where I had one single contact, a friend of a friend.

That said I also went with the confidence of having healthy savings account to back me up should I need it. That savings account is now empty as is my Japanese bank account that I tended to forget about and that had bailed me out on numerous occasions.

So that’s probably why now, I’m not brimming with the confidence that filled me when I left home for Colombia.

All the money I have in the world is $14.45 and a €50 note,

I will do anything I need to do to earn money when I get to New York. Even in Charleston I was looking for odd jobs and managed to earn $60 (and a great meal) by helping someone clean their house. I’m not “too proud” to do any type of work, you do what you have to do. $60, unfortunately, doesn’t last long.

The last thing I want to do, however, is to have to ask my parents for money. It’s not that I can’t, we have a great relationship and they would give me whatever I needed in the blink of an eye. I’ve just always been proud of the fact that I have never needed to ask them for anything since I graduated from university and got my first job. I don’t want to worry them and I don’t want them to think I’m struggling, like I need to come to them with my tail between my legs after all my gallivanting around the world. I am, it seems, “too proud” for that.

Faking composure on the bus to NYC

Faking composure on the bus to NYC

My mam just sent me a text (yeah, I couldn’t believe my mam knows how to send texts now either!) asking where I am and what towns I’m going to pass through on my way to New York. I just replied and felt the urge to send her a picture of myself smiling on the bus and then finished it off with “Love you loads, mam”. I don’t know where that came from but it made my eyes well up a little.

I have had butterflies in my stomach since I realized where my funds were at (and after a thorough search of my pockets came up with nothing else). They’re like butterflies of dread, nagging me “how could you have let this happen?” “you’re supposed to be smarter than that”, “you’re not going to be able to make it on that”.

I don’t have a choice, I have to make it. I have to find work, work my ass off if I have to. If I don’t I have no way of getting home and I have absolutely no intention of outstaying my legal welcome in the United States, I want to be able to come back. I also have the added worry of getting caught working while I’m here as a tourist. That would mean an instant ticket home, but not the happy kind.

The people I’ve met have been encouraging too. Telling me to keep positive and positive things will happen. I appreciate it and believe it too (although I think they may not have been so ready to say it had they seen the contents of my pockets).

The confidence that I do have comes from my friends and contacts in New York. They’ll help me find a way. Just before I left Colombia, only 6 weeks ago, someone very dear to me, out of the blue, told me that if ever needed money over here, all I had to do was ask. This is someone who is far from well off but it doesn’t matter, friends help friends! I pray that I never have to ask anyone for money (stupid pride) but I can’t begin to describe the comfort it brings to have loved ones who you know have your back.

I will arrive in New York tomorrow. I will take my place on my friends couch. I will start looking for a job from the moment I enter her neighborhood. I will find work and then I can start looking for something I can do more professionally. I will try to find a way to stay in New York (legally) so I can start to really reach the goal of this dance-fueled jaunt around the globe.

I’m writing this now because I really need to get it out of my system. I think I might publish it in a year, well after arriving in New York. I have no idea if I’ll still be there in a year or what I’ll be doing.

Even if I am terrified, I can’t say that I’m not really excited about the whole thing. Fingers crossed!

So, what happened?

I found a job in an Irish bar in Manhattan less than a week after I arrived. I was working only for tips and the place wasn’t even busy at the beginning so the first couple of weeks were rough, one day I even needed to decide if I was going to spend the little cash I had on groceries or on a subway ticket to get me into work. The subway ticket won out!

I worked almost everyday for a minimum of 10 hours, sometimes as many as 13 and put up with one of the most tyrannical bosses I have ever encountered. I put up with it because I had to.

The first decent tip I made. I can't begin to describe the elation I felt when it was slipped into my hand through a slick handshake.

The first decent tip I made. I can’t begin to describe the elation I felt when it was slipped into my hand through a slick handshake.

Anyone following the blog from last year will know that I didn’t write much about the salsa scene in New York while I was there. I simply didn’t have much free time to enjoy it. The couple I did publish while in New York you can find here and here!

I made enough money to buy myself a ticket home to Ireland and the rest, as they say, is history. I never did find a way of staying in New York, but I survived it made it home (unannounced and to the surprise of everyone) and I’m writing this article from my new base in Barcelona. Happy, healthy and safe.

Thank you

To all the wonderful people I met along the way in the states and especially to those who were so good to me in New York (you know who you are) I want to let you know how grateful I am to count you amongst my friends. Thank you and I hope I can repay that kindness one day.

A year goes by quickly!

Keep dancing folks.

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Salsa: You’re doing it wrong!

29 Apr

“If you don’t have African or at least Latino roots you will NEVER dance Salsa well”.
Did you know that?

Or did you know that “Studio Salsa (whatever that is) is watered-down Salsa that has lost its sabor”?

Or that “Puerto Rican street Salsa is the only real Salsa there is”?

Were you aware that “for Salsa to be good it has to have a multitude of turn patterns, acrobatics and footwork”?

No? Well, neither did I… but according to some of the angry comments that I received on last weeks hugely popular article, this is what some “Salseros” actually think (and very adamantly at that). All those ridiculous statements you’ve just read above were the opinions of people who wrote some rather unpleasant comments on my blog or Facebook page last week.

They were either deleted or never allowed past moderation (my house, my rules 😛 ).

Controversy
Last week’s article did exactly what I had hoped, just on a MUCH larger scale. It went viral and created one of the biggest international dialogues in Salsa that I’ve ever seen (although, in fairness, my Salsa history is pretty short).

People from the entire Salsa sphere gave their two cents; social dancers (like myself), performers, instructors, promoters, club owners… the whole shebang! It was like an international Salsa focus group 😀 . A massive array of opinions and ideas were shared and I couldn’t care less if people agreed with the article’s content or not. The simple fact was: It got people talking and that kind of dialogue is great for the salsa community and I really am proud that this blog was part of it.

The Killers Within
Unfortunately, there were some particularly vocal individuals (and I call them individuals because I’m certain they don’t represent the views of the groups they claim to speak for) who made me aware of the unfortunate way some people think of Salsa. The people who seem to be fighting to keep Salsa segregated.

Salsa-Factionists
Some people got REALLY upset at the article. After reading their comments I realized that the vast majority of them completely misunderstood what I was getting at. The title was intentionally misleading, most people got that, but some people decided to carry their anger from reading the title with them through the rest of the article (assuming they actually read it :/  ) and then took the wrong meaning from virtually everything I said. Also a lot of people completely misunderstood what I meant by a Bah! dancer (someone who, after years, doesn’t even manage the basics well but has no desire to even get their rhythm in order… it’s all about a Bah! attitude i.e. they don’t care about salsa!). People seemed to think I was demanding everyone train to be a performance level, fancy footworked, acrobatic Salsa wonderkid! Nothing could be further from the truth.Some people made some seriously inaccurate ASSUMPTIONS and that unfortunately led to the misunderstanding.

How I felt reading some of the comments! (that guy's almost as white as me!)

How I felt reading some of the comments! (that guy’s almost as white as me!)



Anyway, anger at the article turned into anger at me and that’s when I realized how segregated our Salsa community is. Some nasty comments directed at me opened my eyes wide open. There were even some people who were supporting my views but who had some completely ridiculous (elitist) ideas too which I would never be in favor of.

Our salsa is best
Basically, the gist of everyone’s blame throwing was this: Everyone considered their particular faction to be the best!

I had people telling me that the only way to dance Salsa is studio style (?) with as many crazy combos as possible. Nope, can’t agree with that!

Some said too many Latinos in clubs were the cause of Salsa’s decline. Really? The people who brought us Salsa? I didn’t know where to begin with that one!

Others said that people who “learned” Salsa in a classes couldn’t hold a candle to those on the street. A universal untruth in my experience.

Some told me that Cuban Salsa was the only authentic way to dance with sabor. Funny that I’ve seen people dancing every other style of Salsa with sabor too.

Some people told me that white people like me (I really am as white as you can get :/ ) would never be able to dance well. I know a lot of dancing albinos like myself who’d take offense to that lie.

Some commentors even suggested I should start refusing people dances based on their style or level. Can you believe that? I, for better or worse, just don’t say “No” to a dance. It’s one of my most important rules of Salsa etiquette.

Some people misinterpreted my comment about Cali (which I’ll gladly admit wasn’t worded well enough). Just to be clear, Salsa in cali is “Rica” but if you don’t know what that means look it up because, according to one angry commentor, if you don’t speak Spanish and understand Latin culture you will never dance with real sabor (I know, seriously, so many salseros are doomed).

Apparently we've all been completely mistaken about Salsa!

Apparently we’ve all been completely mistaken about Salsa!

 

***You know what, don’t even worry about what I said last week, these might be the attitudes that are actually damaging Salsa!***

And there I was worried about peoples skill level when there’s a whole heap of people spreading hate like that in the community!

I’ll stick with what works
After all those wonderfully “inclusive” suggestions I received I think I’m just gonna ignore them completely and keep doing exactly what I’ve been doing up until now:

  • I’ll continue dancing with everyone regardless of style or level (good thing I never suggested such an extremist approach in my article. I guess I’m a monster for wanting to encourage beginners 😛 )
  • I’ll continue dancing as many styles of Salsa as I can (there’s a reason I’ve traveled around the world dancing as much as I have {LA, Colombian, Cuban, NY} it allows me to dance with almost anyone I meet on the dance floor. Puerto Rico is on my list too, I’ll get there eventually 😀 )
  • I’ll continue trying to learn and improve whenever I can because I’m still convinced I’ll be able to shake this bright white booty with as much sabor as anyone with adequate melanin levels).
  • And you know what? I think I’ll continue encouraging people to do the same.

I‘m sorry for having such monstrous views. Clearly I’m an awful person

Be different
You know, people will always prefer and dance different styles of Salsa and that’s beautiful. It means we’ll always have the beauty of variety in the Salsa community.

It’s just not cool when people start promoting the idea that one style is better than the others and then ridiculing those who dance those different styles. That is most definitely NOT what I wrote about in my last article.

Thanks for everyone’s opinion
To those of you who wrote ridiculously angry comments to make your point, I’m sorry you’re so angry, the internet seems to bring that out in people. At least you provided the inspiration for everything I’ve written here. And to those of you who gave well rounded, mature comments with genuinely insightful suggestions I want to say thank you for contributing to our Salsa community… And it most certainly is “our” community (see my article on why), no matter what the angry comments say, no matter if your style is Cuban or Puerto Rican, NY, LA or Colombian… no matter if you’re African, Latino, European or Asian… or if you dance street or studio, technical or simple… We are all part of one big Salsa community. I’ll see you all on the dance floor.

Keep dancing folks.

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What to do when you’re S#!T at Dancing (or anything else for that matter)

7 Jan

I wrote this article last month, less than a week before I left New York. I’ve waited until now to publish it because January is a time of many, new (usually self-imposed) challenges for lots of people and I genuinely think that this could help a lot of people to break through their limitations and succeed where otherwise they might have given up. I got a little worked up writing it so please excuse the profanity. I hope you find it useful (the article, not the profanity).

Why they hell do I even bother? I’m just useless. Why have I been wasting my time for all these years? I have absolutely nothing to show for it.
I’m still an awful dancer. I should just give up already!

Things like this have been running through my head a lot lately. Some nights when I’m dancing I even let them get the better of me. Those are pretty shi##y nights.

Almost two and a half years ago I left Ireland, moved to Colombia and started learning Cali-style salsa. While it’s not the most technical type of salsa (at least in the form that it’s danced in the clubs there) I wanted to learn to loosen myself up when I dance, to dance more naturally and relaxed, to dance more “like a Latino”.

Many times I just wanted to give up. Who was I to think that I, an Irishman, could ever dance naturally… with “sabor”?

But I didn’t give up. I just kept going, as much as I kept telling myself to do otherwise.

Eventually, I loosened up. Now I dance salsa caleña.

About 3 and a half months ago I left Cali and landed in Cuba. I got straight into learning Cuban-style salsa, pretty intensively. I progressed quickly in the classes but as we all know, when it comes to dance, learning something in class is one thing, applying it on the dance floor is another.

On some of my first nights out dancing in La Habana I couldn’t remember any of what I had learned that very day and kept giving up and just reverting back to LA style. I kept a journal while in Cuba and I remember one particularly bad night at a club where I just slipped into a complete state of self loathing and wrote this while sitting outside the club:

“I’m just getting so pissed off with dancing.
I can barely remember the moves I learn let alone put them all together in fluid combinations. And then my body movement is awful, there is no sabor to my dance. I see other people dancing so well, making the dance their own doing incredible styling and I can’t go up and share the same dance floor with them. I feel too embarrassed to do it. I don’t know how I can have such highs and lows as this. Sometimes I feel like I wasted the last 2 years of my life in Cali…”

That night, the bad thoughts got the better of me and I left angry and disillusioned. However, the very next day I went right back into class and practiced again and again and again.

At the end of my 3 weeks there, I could dance salsa cubana and hold my own on the dance floor.

Sometimes it can seem easier just to give up.  Nothing was ever achieved that way!

Sometimes it can seem easier just to give up.
Nothing was ever achieved that way!

A little over a month and a half ago I found myself in New York city and about 2 weeks ago I started learning to dance On2. My first ever dance On2 was actually a three minute long shine as I didn’t even hold hands with my  partner. It wasn’t completely On2 but it was a start.

I’m writing this post, one week later, on the train ride home after another night of dancing in the same club where I danced that first “dance” On2. I had promised myself that I was going to try to dance On2 as much as possible.

I started off awfully. I was stopping and starting, messing up my timing, just making a general mess of things. I wanted to stop right there. I looked at the other dancers, at how well they danced, at how well they maintained their timing, at how much better they were then me.

I danced with someone else. Not much better. I was so close to just walking out, right there and then… But I didn’t. I danced with someone else. Terrible; I kept slipping off time and ended up apologizing to each of my partners at the end of each song.

Some of them were so nice, even saying they didn’t even realize I had slipped into On1 during the dance. I doubt that’s true but I appreciated the fallacy.

I would walk away, mentally face-palming myself, praying that no one had watched my pathetic attempt at New York style.

Then came the last dance. With pretty much the only girl remaining with whom I hadn’t already danced. I let her know in advance what she was in for, just as I had done with all the others, out of courtesy.

It was a relatively slow song, smooth… nice. I stepped back and started leading, frantically counting “1,2,3…5,6,7” in my head, applying the moves I knew from LA-style. 3 minutes later, the song was over, we were both still standing… and smiling. I had danced the entire song On2…

Tonight I won.

She thanked me and told me she had no idea why I warned her at the start of the song. I thanked her back.

Tonight, I didn’t let the voices in my head get the better of me. Tonight I ignored them. Tonight I won.

Learning to ignore the voices
Whenever we try something new, something that requires skill, we inevitably get to a point where we feel that we’re only wasting our time. The voices that tell us that we’re no good, that we’ll never be any good, get louder.

I’ve heard them many times with so many things that I’ve dedicated time to: dance, karate, surfing, cooking, languages etc. Sometimes I listen and that’s it for me with that endeavor… for that day!!! However, I come back the next, with a clear mind and I get right back to it.

And that’s how we win.

No matter what we do in life, the voices will always be there, we can either listen to them and give up or we can just get better at ignoring them.

We will have days when the voices win. Days when we concede defeat and go home, with our egos bruised and our heads hung low. It’s ok, everyone has days like that at times but the only way we will ever savor the sweet taste of victory, the only way way will enjoy the fruits of our labor is if we keep those days to a minimum.

And how do we do that? We stop listening to the voices. We will always hear them but we don’t have to listen. They might scream out “You Suck” but you can hit ’em right back with a “F@#K OFF!” and get back to what you were doing… winning.

At the end of the day it’s all in our heads. Seriously, in the VAST majority of cases the culprit behind our failures in life is that stupid part of our brains filled with self-doubt. That’s where the voices come from.

To enjoy victory, it’s just a matter of ignoring those voices and saying “You’re wrong, I can do this. Just watch me.”

I did just that tonight and it was hard. I wanted to throw in the towel after every awkward dance… but I didn’t. Tonight I won and victory, my friends, is sweet!

Success comes when you scream louder than the defeatist voices.

Success comes when you scream louder than the voices.

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Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular 🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”I’d really appreciate it 😉

Hands-Free Salsa (a way to switch from On1 to On2)

30 Nov
Switching from On1 to On2 can be tough. Try this  hands-free follow method to automate your new timing.

Switching from On1 to On2 can be tough. Try this hands-free follow method to automate your new timing.

Don’t worry folks, I’m still alive.

Due to some unexpected circumstances I’ve been unable to update the blog this month (hence this quick post I’m writing just to make sure I at least publish something for the month of November).

The same unfortunate circumstances have meant that I have done virtually no dancing since I arrived in New York. For those of you following what I’m up to you’ll realize that I’m not very happy about this. Anyway,starting a few days ago, I finally have some time to take some dance classes; a total of two, with the lovely Maria Torres. I’ve also been out dancing on 3 occasions; Jimmy Anton’s Social, Santo Rico’s social in Queens and Candela Fridays where I danced last night.

My Confession
Now, I have a pretty major sin to confess. Every time I have danced here in New York, I have danced On1. But wait, wait, before you turn up your noses and decide to never read this blog again, hear me out.

My first two nights out, my jaw was literally hanging around my ankles watching the level of the dancers I saw. If I had attempted to dance On2 (without any practice whatsoever) it would have been the salsa equivalent of watching two white Americans hugging; Awkward!

I didn’t want to put anyone through that and also… I just wanted to dance (I really needed to dance off some pent up stress). So I just asked around, found out who could dance On1 and had a great time dancing with them (one girl actually told she hadn’t realized it could be so much fun to dance On1!)

Last night at Candela Friday on 34th street I had one dance with a girl who I had noticed was not completely comfortable dancing On2; she was an excellent dancer but I could see from the expression on her face as she was being turned that she wasn’t completely comfortable with the timing. It turns out she was German and much more used to On1. So I started my night off with LA style and figured that it was going to stay that way for the rest of the night 😦

However, I noticed this one girl who was dancing beautifully but she wasn’t holding hands with any of her partners. She was pretty much just dancing shines the whole night (and dancing them with an awesome Hip-Hop style that I would definitely be happy to see more of).

Anyway, my Irish accent has giving me a lot more confidence when approaching people here so I had no problem in moseying up alongside her and asking, point blank, “So, do you just really like dancing shines or what?”. I got an instant laugh and an explanation. Turns out she was nursing a rotator cuff injury and wasn’t comfortable using her arms but she also couldn’t resist the urge to go out dancing (with such an awesome scene as in New York, I can’t blame her).

She asked me if I wanted to dance (specifically, she asked “would you like to dance across from me?” 😀 ) and I (with my usual awkward laugh indicating I’m not comfortable with the answer) told her that I couldn’t dance On2. I gave the explanation you guys just read up top.

Ms. Motivator
She gave me pretty much the exact same advice I would give someone in the same situation. You’ve got to practice to get comfortable with the timing and to make everything automatic. Absolutely spot on! However, I was intimidated by the level of everyone else and didn’t want to look completely uncoordinated (I know, I’m such a hypocrite).

Then she did what it appears most girls have to do with me these days and took the bull by the horns. She walked out on the floor and told me we were dancing (and I had no say in the matter).

And we danced, with no hands, starting back and forth and then doing cross body and lots of shines… On2. Fair enough, I slipped back into On1 on occasion but I caught myself and got right back On2. And you know what? I had a blast.

And that my dear friends, is the story of my first ever dance On2.

No major disasters, no uncomfortable fumbling with combinations… just a really enjoyable dance with a really cool follower (or should I say lead in this case?).

Lesson learned
So yeah, I just learned a great way to switch over from On1 to On2. Dancing hands free with a partner who knows New York style well to “lead” the timing helps you maintain your footwork On2, and not having to worry about your hands frees up your mind to improve the muscle memory in your feet. Also it’s great for working on your shines.

If you’re considering switching over to On2, give it a shot.

Ciao from New York and keep dancing folks!

Note: This whole post was typed up, edited and published on my iPhone in about an hour and a half. It was a total pain in the backside and I’m going to blame it for any errors or irregularities in the text. My apologies, I’ll be using my laptop next time.

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Have you been working-out lately? Because you look spectacular 🙂 If you liked this article go ahead and share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”. I’d really appreciate it 😉

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