Tag Archives: Salsa Dance

You NEED to be OK with Dancing like an Idiot!

24 Apr

It is probably what holds us back most in life, not just in dancing but in everything we do.

That most irrational of fears, that is powerful enough to paralyze us in our actions and hold us back from achieving what we want. In reality, it’s unfounded and ridiculous. In practice, it’s crippling.

I am, of course, speaking about THE FEAR THAT EVERYBODY’S WATCHING!!!!

I feel like I’m being watched
Most people have felt this, if not when dancing then when doing something (virtually anything) in a public setting. The fear that everybody around is not only watching us but also judging us, is strong enough to stop us from attempting anything where there is a risk (real or merely conceived) of failure.

I’m not going to attempt to get into the psychology of it but if you’re reading this then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It’s the fear that stopped me, on my first night at a salsa club, from asking anyone other than my girlfriend to dance (until it was almost the last song of the night and I danced with a stranger for the last 30 seconds of a song… oh yeah, totally fearless!). It’s the fear that overcomes us the first time we ever sing karaoke and it’s the fear that forces many people to resort to “Dutch Courage” in social situations.

It is a futile fear that does a great disservice to the endeavors of mankind!
(Give me an Amen!)

Learning to dance like nobody’s watching
So, how in the name of all that is good and latin are we supposed to overcome this paralyzing fear and become the great salseros that we are destined to be??

Easier said than done, right!

Easier said than done, right!

We’ve all heard this a million times right! It’s one of those stupid motivational phrases that’s supposed to help us break free from the self-imposed chains that are our fears… blah, blah, blah! It’s usually followed by some equally nauseating sentences on a cutesy poster… just like this one…

I'm trying to control my gag reflex!

I’m trying to control my gag reflex!

Normally my response to things like this is best expressed by the following

However, for the purpose of this article I feel it serves a purpose. If we could learn to dance like nobody’s watching we could finally relax into the dance, free up our movements and really starting enjoying the intricacies of the music that moves us. We need that sense of freedom to dance well!

I’m certain that all you’re thinking right now is something along the lines of “But everyone IS watching me when I dance, waiting for me to mess up so they can point and laugh at my failure forcing me to run from the dance-floor, hiding my tears with my hands and later moving to a small, middle-of-nowhere town on a different continent so that I can begin my life anew, vowing to never make the near fatal mistake of dancing in public again”….that’s what you were thinking right!?

Well have no fear, fellow student of dance, for I once again have the solution needed by all of us socially awkward dancers.

Come closer… the secret to learning to dance like nobody’s watching… is to actually dance WHEN nobody’s watching!

The inspiration for this genius piece of advice came to me tonight when I put on some music and decided to practice some shine’s I had seen in a class this week.

So I danced… by myself… in my living room… in front of an audience of NONE! AND I LOOKED LIKE AN ABSOLUTE IDIOT! And that’s exactly what I needed.

When you are genuinely free from the anxiety of being judged by others you don’t care how much of an idiot you look like. You loosen up and the magic starts to happen!

You can practice moves you would never dream of attempting on the dance-floor for fear of making a mistake. You can listen to the music without the worry of having to lead or follow a partner and appreciate the way it changes. You can loosen up all those muscles that automatically tighten up when you’re in public.

This new, relaxed you can now practice the body isolations, shines, rumba or even just the basic steps while enjoying the music, reacting to it organically instead of moving like a clunky, rusted tin-man.

While writing this article I’ve actually stood up a few times, when a song I liked came on, and just danced to it; On1, On2, shines, assorted stupidness etc. I lost count of how many times I lost the beat (or my balance) but it doesn’t matter. NOBODY’S WATCHING!

It's good to dance like a crazy fool... at times!

It’s good to dance like a crazy fool… at times!

And here’s the beauty of dancing like and idiot when nobody’s watching. If you do it regularly enough you start getting better at what you practice and amazingly you’ll eventually be able to do it IN PUBLIC!

You’ll become more comfortable with yourself and how you move and that translates to confidence on the dance-floor. There ain’t nothin’ sexier than confidence.

My one caveat for this exercise is that you try and do it in front of a mirror so that you can make sure the movements you’re getting used to aren’t completely… ridiculous 😉

Get comfortable dancing with more freedom... just not too much!!

Get comfortable dancing with more freedom… just not too much!!

So here’s your homework: lock the door, put on a playlist of some of your favorite salsa songs (the funkier the better), find a few youtube videos of some of your favorite dancers for a little inspiration and just start moving. The music will let you know what you need to do!

Keep dancing folks!

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What Women Want… from a dance! (Tips to make you a better lead)

10 Feb

What do women want?

This question has stumped MAN-kind since the dawn of time and continues to frustrate the less-attractive sex on a daily basis.

Obviously, I’m not talking about knowing what women want from a potential mate in the dating-game… clearly I’ve already mastered that (hahahaha… excuse me, I couldn’t keep a straight face with that one!). No, today I want to talk about something far more pertinent to those men that spend their free time on the dance floor. I’m going to talk about what women want from a dance… not from a potential mate but from a lead!

“As if a MAN could answer that!!!”
… I can hear all you ladies screaming at your screens right now! You are right to doubt my opinion on this matter, I doubt it myself! So, with my gender-imposed shortcomings in mind I decided to take it upon myself and do something most men never do… “ask”.

R & D
I decided to write this article quite a while back so I began my research by asking a multitude of salsera friends of mine to tell me what, exactly, they most enjoyed from a dance/lead. For the sake of completeness I asked women from various different countries in Europe, Asia and North & South America who dance different styles of salsa socially and/or professionally. Basically, what that means is that I’ve ended up with information from a culturally diverse group or L.A., New York & Cuban social dancers, teachers and performers (the scientist in me wouldn’t have it any other way).

My eyes have been opened
I ended up getting a lot of different opinions but there were clearly quite a few common points that all of my sources brought up; some things I instinctively knew (after so long dancing, one would hope so); some things I needed a little reminder of and some things I had never even considered before. I imagine a lot of the gentlemen reading this will be in the same boat. In other words, I’m giving ya pure gold!

I’ve listed this cornucopia of knowledge with which I have been bestowed, below. Any points that were mentioned by multiple ladies appear near the start of the list with less commonly mentioned points following. Any commentary after the points is my own (influenced by what my sources wrote themselves).

So, without further ado, I present you with, quite possibly…

The most important tips that a salsa lead will ever need…

(you know, besides actually learning how to dance… which is kind of important too).

  • Show your partner you’re enjoying yourself
    There is nothing worse than dancing with someone who looks like they’re either bored out of their mind or terrified of making a mistake. Dancing is meant to be fun so feel it and show it. Smile and you’ll make your partner smile too.

    Letting your partner know you're having fun is one of the best things you can do as a lead.

    Letting your partner know you’re having fun is one of the best things you can do as a lead.

  • Show your partner that you’re dancing with her
    In a dance there is only the couple and the music and once you’ve asked someone for a dance you’ve basically committed to them for the entire song. Show your mutual connection with eye contact. You should only be focused on your partner when having a dance and not on whatever else is going on on the dance floor. Equally the dance is “not all about you” so don’t use your partner as prop to show off your moves.
  • Have a clear but NOT forceful lead
    You do not need to tear off a woman’s arms to get her to follow you. A good lead should be able to indicate clearly and painlessly which way you would like your partner to go. Timid leads (due to being afraid to touch your partner) and (sometimes) leading by the hips or the stomach are no good either. Also, don’t forget that if you use your thumbs to clamp down on your partners hands, she has the right to dig her nails into you in return. If you want an idea of what a good lead feels like, check out my article on the Cloudy Dancer.
  • Musicality
    This is by far the hardest concept to explain to those that don’t yet understand it. Be familiar with the music, appreciate the changes in tempo, start slow, get to know your partners style and build up into the dance, allow breaks for some shines and know when you need to up the ante or chill things out a little. I hate using this phrase but you need to learn to “Feel the Music” and translate it into your dancing.
  • KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid
    “A simple dance, danced well and on time is much better than a dance packed with moves that don’t work and end up off time”. Don’t dive straight into a dance by stringing together a unending combination of turn patterns and tricks without even listening to the song itself and exhausting your partner after just 3 minutes. Yes, use your tricks, but learn to enjoy the simpler aspects of dance.
  • Adjust to your partners level
    Just because you can do a certain move with certain people doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to follow you. It’s really disheartening and frustrating to a girl if she has a lot of trouble following you just because you’re trying to show off and don’t care if she can keep up. Start slow, adjust to her level and you can still have a great dance.
  • Don’t teach during a dance
    Following on from the last point, just because a girl can’t follow one of your moves doesn’t mean that you should stop right there in the middle of the song to show her what she’s doing wrong. It can be pretty humiliating. Finish the dance, have fun and maybe if she want’s to learn how to do it you can show her, off the dance floor.
  • Take care of your partner
    “Using me as a battering ram to clear yourself a space is NOT a good thing”. You are the lead and from the moment you lead a girl onto the floor to the moment you escort her off, you are in charge of her safety. Keep an eye out for potential collisions on the dance floor, don’t preform any dangerous moves, don’t tug roughly to lead. A good partner will of course keep an eye out for you too 😉

And that’s it. There were a few more points mentioned but these were the most common ones amongst the women I asked.

If you need anymore tips, check out my guide to salsa dance etiquette to get the ball rolling.

Men: Read them, learn them and most importantly, apply them and watch your salsa cred grow.

Ladies: What do you think? Is this what you want on the dance floor? Have I left anything out? I’d love to hear your opinions so let me know in the comments.

Keep dancing folks.

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What to do when you F&#K up while Dancing!

24 Nov
You’re never so good that you don’t mess up every now and then!

While perfection is a wonderful goal to aim at, helping us aim higher, it is “addictively” unattainable (an important point to keep clear at all times lest you drive yourself mad pursuing something you’ll never have).

However, even though you’ll never be perfect, with practice, you might get pretty damn close (like my ability to put off writing for this blog, I’m getting better but thankfully I haven’t perfected it). This applies to everything  from dance, to languages to professional air-hockey.

So, even if you consider yourself “hot shit”, YOU’RE GOING TO MESS UP SOONER OR LATER!!! How you deal with those little mishaps will play a pretty big role in how you approach your activities in the future.

Make a mistake… You suck… Quit!

If Bill Murray says so, it must be true!

If Bill Murray says so, it must be true!

When I used to teach salsa in Cali, I had one student in particular whom I had to “talk down from the ledge” of quitting salsa on more than a few occasions.

He had some major confidence issues but he was a dedicated student and learned well. His main problems stemmed from his lack of confidence; he was afraid to try new things on the dance floor (especially anything to do with body-movement) and whenever he made a mistake or a dance didn’t go well for him he would pretty much decide to NEVER dance again. On more than one occasion I got text messages from him at 2 or 3am announcing his resignation from the world of salsa, all due to a bad dance. I’m pretty sure I spent about 15% of our time together trying to convince him to get back out dancing and that everyone makes mistakes now and then.

For him, every mistake was a screaming symbol of his incompetence (which he wasn’t) and those beliefs really held him back. It was especially hard to see him like that because I could see both how much he wanted to improve and how much he was sabotaging himself.

Suffice is to say, this is not a good mentality to have when dancing. If everyone gave up when they made a mistake we’d have some pretty empty dance-floors!

It just looks so sad without people dancing on it.

It just looks so sad without people dancing on it.

Learning to laugh at yourself!

I remember one particularly eventful night of dancing in Cali. I was out with a big group of people and we decided to go somewhere different. The place had a huge dance floor, full of people. Near the end of the night the floor started to thin out and I invited my friend Francy out for a dance. 

Francy is a professional dancer and she was one of the few people I could dance LA style salsa with in Cali so we used to have a ball together whenever we got to dance. Now for those who don’t know, typical “social” Cali-style dancing is a pretty simple affair, lots of sabor (hopefully) but simple. So when two people start dancing something a little more involved than Cali style, the people nearby tend to notice. Especially when one of those people is white enough for everyone to safely assume that he’s not Colombian.

We were tearing it up. We had loads of space and the night was coming to an end so we pulled out all the stops. At one point I noticed that we had garnered the attention of quite a number of the people sitting at tables around the dance-floor. For some reason that really got my adrenaline flowing so I may have started throwing caution to the wind. I could hear the music nearing it’s final few beats so I decided to finish it all off with a dip. I thought it would look great as Francy (as a pro) was all about the show and would have struck a great pose at the end.

I heard the final beats, lead her into a cross body lead with turn and as she was turning realized that there were still a couple of beats left in the song… it threw me completely and what happened next involved various flailing arms and legs and a sudden drop in altitude accompanied by the sound “Rrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiip”!

As soon as I came to my senses I realized I was lying on top of Francy, sprawled out on the dance-floor with a decent crowd of people looking at us. I looked at her and she looked at me… and we both burst into laughter!

Seriously, in the milliseconds I had to process everything I decided that it would be far better to take what had happened in my stride and laugh it off together with one of my good friends, than to run off the floor crying and moaning about how awful a dancer I am.

We dusted ourselves off and skipped off the dance-floor together… at which point I realized that I had ripped a gigantic hole in the seat of my jeans when I did my belly flop. Oh well, at least it was the end of the night! (additional lesson to be learned: always wear dark solid color underwear when dancing… pink hearts on a white background tend to be a little to visible in the event of tears!!!)

Even if you mess up and it results in the dance equivalent of this pile-up... just dust yourself off and laugh (or run away quickly)

Even if you mess up and it results in the dance equivalent of this pile-up… just dust yourself off and laugh (or run away quickly)

Laugh it off

At the end of the day, laughing off our mishaps really is the best way to deal with them.

I’m notorious for obsessing over my shortcomings but I always make sure I don’t let that bad attitude get the best of me. If I did I certainly wouldn’t be dancing salsa or doing much else  for that matter.

So, the next time you make a mistake (which if you’re anything like me should be pretty soon) be it missing the beat in the music, forgetting a combination or doing a bellyflop on top of your partner, remember you have two options:

1. Give up right there and then because you’ve made a mistake and no one who has ever become great at salsa ever made any mistakes

OR

2. Laugh it off and get back to doing what you love

Keep dancing folks

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Do Choreography-Groups make Better Salsa Dancers?

21 May

This is it.

Months of practice have culminated in this moment. Your heart is racing. Your palms are sweaty (blah, blah, mom’s spaghetti etc.). You run through what you need to do in your mind. No backing out now. You hear the announcement followed by the cheers of the audience. Your heart stops for a split second with the surge of adrenaline (if you needed to lift a car off someone right now you could probably do it). You grab your partner and strut out. You see lights and camera flashes but you don’t see a single person in the audience, you have more important things to focus on. You move into position and grasp your partner as you’ve done what seems like a thousand times before… but this time is different! This time is real!

Everything goes quiet. Ominously so. You center yourself. Take one last, deep breath and… the music begins.

The next thing you know, you’re holding your partner in the final pose, breathing heavily, the audience  is roaring, applauding and whistling. You line up, smile, bow, smile again, turn and walk away.

Once off stage, you finally snap out of the trance you’ve been in. You realize that it’s all over and you don’t remember anything from the last 3 minutes. Post-Traumatic Amnesia. You don’t care… you did it!

Choreos
A lot of people who dance have experienced exactly this. When people start dancing, be it Salsa, bachata, tango, swing or whatever, inevitably they’ll be presented with the chance to join a choreography group or maybe even asked to do a pair presentation.

I’ve done a few myself over the years; Salsa in Miyazaki, Japan (when I was just taking my first steps in Salsa), Bachatango (I know, I know) in Dublin, Salsa caleña in Cali, Colombia (wearing the most flamboyant costume you can visualize) and Bachata in Belfast this past weekend (hence the inspiration for this article).

Let's not forget the real reason people do performances... Flamboyant Costumes!!!

Let’s not forget the real reason people do performances… Flamboyant Costumes!!!

I’ve always been reluctant to get involved in choreos (I’m a pretty shy guy and despite all my experience with public speaking, shaking my booty in front of large groups of people still freaks me out a little). Despite the initial unease, though, I usually feel pretty happy with myself once a performance is over. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment that anyone who has done a choreography will attest to.

Worthwhile… just not in the way you’d think
Specifically for that feeling of accomplishment , and for a few other reasons I would happily recommend people give choreos a try.

However, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few people that may be under the wrong impression as to what doing a choreography will do for their dance ability. Worse yet, I’ve met way too many people that feel that doing a choreo makes them a dance superstar. Some folks (thankfully a minority) feel that simply having done a choreography makes them advanced dancers. I think everyone reading this will agree that just isn’t the case.

We've all met them!

We’ve all met them!

Choreos and Social Dancing
I think a major assumption that some people have is that skill in a choreography translates directly to skill in social dancing. This isn’t necessarily the case.

Practicing a choreography will make you good at one thing in particular: doing that choreography! Usually you practice with the same partner who knows exactly what to expect. They know what they have to do and they do it, probably even if you make a little mistake here or there. That’s what a good partner does.

Try to do some of the moves you’ve learned in a choreography, however, and you may end up pretty frustrated.

Bruce Lee, often compared practicing martial arts without actual sparring practice to “dry land swimming” and left us this quote:

“If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you”

You can compare a performance to practicing to swim on dry land; you may learn the movements but I wouldn’t rely on it to save your ass if you fall into a lake. I’ve said it many times before that the best practice for social dancing is… social dancing. It teaches you how to adapt what you’ve learned in class to other dancers in real life, to react to their idiosyncrasies. There is no substitute for social dancing! (and appropriate practice).

So why join a choreo-group?
Choreography practice and the performances themselves do, however, have benefits to offer that can improve your social dancing.

  • Confidence: going in front of a group of your peers and performing, despite being pretty nerve-wracking usually does wonders for improving confidence, particularly for beginners. Anything that improves confidence will improve someones dancing. Just don’t become so full of yourself that you think you’re ready to give Frankie Martinez a run for his money 😉
  • Styling & Shines: This is particularly important for but not limited to female dancers. Performances are choreographed to look pretty so all the practice will usually give you a few ideas of how you can “sex-up” your own individual social dancing.
  • Socializing: Joining a small choreo-group will mean you’ll be spending a lot of time with some people you might not initially know well or at all. By the end, you’ll have probably made some great new friends and feel better connected to the salsa community. This was actually my reason for doing my latest choreo. It was an excuse for me to go to Dublin regularly and I ended up meeting some really wonderful people 😉
  • Muscle Memory: Again, this is something that really benefits beginners but the constant practice of a choreography helps to lock certain basics into your muscle memory. I found this really handy for getting the hang of some of the fast footwork of Salsa caleña.
  • New Challenges: Sometimes we set ourselves new challenges… just because! It’s something new and different and makes us step out of our comfort zones which in my opinion is something we should try whenever we can.

Give a Choreo a try… or not!
Will doing a choreography make you an advanced dancer?… I doubt it.

Will it make you a little better?… Probably (especially if you’re a beginner)

Will it be a bit of a laugh?… Yeah (and you may meet some great people)

If you fancy the challenge, go for it. It definitely won’t do you any harm. If you don’t feel like it, don’t. It won’t hold you back from becoming a great dancer.

Either way, 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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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 😉

The Salsa Community: All Warm and Fuzzy

5 Mar
If you're in a salsa community you're in one of the best communities around.

If you’re in a salsa community you’re in one of the best communities around.

Let’s get all warm and fuzzy.

Salsa offers us many benefits; new friends, exercise, a new social outlet… I’ve written about them before and the list is long.

Like many others, I started salsa years ago and I’ve stuck with it all this time to reap all these benefits but recently I’ve been appreciating one of them in particular; the sense of community.

I was born and raised in the countryside, in a small village where everyone knows everyone (for better or worse). I was BORN into a community. Whatever social events I went to I would see the same people. I’d see them at mass or at a football match. If ever something happened in my life, good or bad I knew people in the community would always be there with a word of encouragement or congratulations or whatever I needed to hear.

When I moved away from home at 18, my classmates in university became my community. When I worked as an English teacher in Japan, the people doing the JET Programme just like me, became my community. However, as someone who has moved around more than their fare share in life I’ve come to realize that as we get older and move to new cities, it becomes harder to feel part of a community. I think many people will agree with me that the places with the most people are usually the places we feel most alone.

That’s where salsa has helped a lot in my life.

Salsa: Community in the City
I recently moved back to Ireland after almost two and a half years abroad. I’m back home in the countryside but I’ve been going back up to Dublin a lot lately and I love being there. Despite the fact that a lot of time has passed, I simply slotted right back into the salsa community. There are a lot of new faces but there are plenty that I recognize from before and they couldn’t have helped me feel more welcome after my time away.

It’s not just Dublin either. When I lived in Colombia, my main group of friends were those I went dancing with regularly. I would see the same faces out dancing every week. Exposure breeds familiarity and those faces became friends, my Colombian family.

When I lived in Japan, during my final year, I started organizing salsa parties in an attempt to start building a community. I guess it worked because that community is still going strong in semi-rural Miyazaki and I’ve maintained my strongest links, amongst my Japanese friends, with those people whom I danced with.

That sense of community doesn’t even have to be confined to a place where you live either. It can just as easily be formed while traveling.

During the course of my three weeks in Cuba I spent virtually all my time with the instructors from the salsa school I went to. We ate meals together, chatted throughout the day, visited the beach and of course danced our asses off every night.

The best example probably comes from my time in Charleston, South Carolina. When I arrived there in mid-October last year I had only intended on staying a couple of days and moving on to New York. Luckily for me, my first night there I went dancing and met a great bunch of people in the small but close salsa community that is growing there. They welcomed me with open arms and I ended up staying for a week, doing workshops, eating out, going for drinks and dancing our asses of every night (I see a pattern emerging here).

When I was in New York, I was lucky enough to have friends who I knew through salsa who gave me a place to stay and even helped me with some of my first steps into dancing On 2.

I had no connection with virtually any of the people above apart from one thing: We All Love Salsa!

And that’s the real amazing thing about salsa. It brings everyone together. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, the color of your skin, your religion, where you’re from or whether you love Marmite or not. As long as you want to dance, you’re golden!

Love it or Hate...It doesn't matter as long as you dance salsa.

Love it or Hate…It doesn’t matter as long as you dance salsa.

When I go out dancing in Dublin I get to spend time with the most diverse group of people you can imagine; gardeners, tennis coaches, bakers, truck drivers, doctors, geologists, bankers, immigrants, parents, students and manly men with beards (grrrrr!). All brought together by our love for shaking our booties in time with music. It never ceases to amaze me the incredible mix of people I find at a salsa night and eventually end up calling my friends.

I felt the need to write this after the past few weekends in Dublin. Whenever I visit, I always end up crashing on the couch of a salsa friend (thanks Dave). When I go out for coffee, it’s with fellow salseros. When I randomly bump into someone I know on the street there’s a 90% chance they’re someone I know from salsa.

This weekend I went to birthday parties for salsero friends, went dancing and met people who I haven’t seen in years and was greeted with the warmest of hugs, made new friends with people more recent to the community and even learned a load of bad words in European Spanish… all thanks to salsa. I even went out to brunch on Sunday with a huge group of people of whom I had only met two before but ended up having an amazing day and instantly making some new friends because… just because everyone danced. It was beautiful!

Diversity united through salsa!

Diversity united through salsa!

Dublin may not be a huge city by international standards but it is still a city and in any city it’s easy to feel alone or lacking a sense of community. Salsa gives us the community that we need. It makes us feel like we’re part of something bigger, something special and I think that we’re all looking for that… to feel part of something that’s bigger than us.

This may sound ridiculous but I genuinely feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I go into a salsa club alone and spend the first 5 minutes shaking hands and hugging and kissing all my friends who I may have seen as recently as the night before. There aren’t many situations in cities these days that allow someone such a sense of intimacy and belonging amongst the masses. Salsa is a true blessing in this sense.

Nothing’s Perfect…
…nor will it ever be perfect. Just like every community in the world (or just like every family) there are issues. We can however chose to ignore them and just focus on the good (which is what I’m doing with this article).

Basically, what I’m trying to say is: if you’re part of a salsa community you should feel damn proud of it. Appreciate it. Appreciate the wonderful things it has brought you in your life, not least the amazing friends it has probably blessed you with.

Be happy that you have found such a healthy, wholesome way to spend your time.

Keep Dancing Folks.

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Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

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