Once upon a time I went to a restaurant called Bongos, owned by Gloria Estefan, and I fell in love with Salsa dancing. It’s a Cuban restaurant, and in the center is a very large dance floor where you can find, on occasion, very experienced Salsa dancers, of all ages, showcasing their talent right there while you munch on chips and dip. The thing about Salsa is that draws you in with this whisper of hope that makes you believe that if you had just the right amount of lessons that you could competitively hold your own on an episode of Dancing with the Stars (says the very hopeful and inspired two-left feet individual).
Salsa Lessons, Level 1
I eventually stumbled upon Yuca, a restaurant in South Beach that had early evening lessons organized by Salsa Fever Dance School, and a post-lesson dancing forum. The school taught Cuban Rueda style salsa, which is a choreographed, circle, group approach to the dance where you switch partners (often and quickly) and a lead quickly belts out the next move over music. The move names are in Spanish, and this fun fact, paired with my previous dancing history, lead to one big social experiment for me. Thankfully, when I casually mentioned that I was going to be taking Salsa lessons to my Latin America and Caribbean- blooded co-workers, about five of them exclaimed, “we are coming with you”. I took this to be more of a demand than a request. And so, we all headed to South Beach’s Lincoln Road every Friday for liquid courage and lessons. Our weekly routine consisted of practicing our moves during breaks in the office each week, while the rest of our co-workers observed and critiqued, intrigued and entertained by our newfound hobby.
I bought salsa shoes, struggled through steps, attempted to learn Spanish, researched the history and types of Salsa, and I squashed a whole lot of feet. Here’s the thing about immersing yourself in someone else’s culture: It has this tendency to sneak into your being slow and steady, and all at once it’s overcome you as if you were part of it all along. Through my struggle to keep up, I had a heightened awareness of how unique and intriguing the whole experience was, and at times I would stop in awe that I was even a part of it.
Graceful, Pointy, White Shoes
When arrived at my first class and I snubbed my nose at the white shoes of some of the male salsa dancers. I gawked at the unfashionable, pointy, glaringly awful white shoes. But guess what? These shoes were the key to picking out the best dance partners; the ones that could carry you along and promised not to step on your feet. I learned to shut up about the shoes and pay attention to the presence of an individual and their interaction with others. I learned to appreciate the mere grace that a partner would provide me, after I ungracefully stomped on their feet over the next several hours. That grace transpired through the flash of a smile, and the guidance to the spot on the floor where I was actually supposed to be, selflessly making me look seemingly flawless.
The men with the white shoes were also some of the older gentlemen that would arrive during the open dance portion of the evening. They could very well be in their 80’s, on their arm toting a matching 80-something Cuban bride. I will tell you, without exaggeration, that I would never in my life dance anywhere in close proximity to that couple because they were wining the Yuca Dancing with the Stars competition. I, however, was was shamefully scurrying to the deepest, darkest corner to hide. Wasn’t it past their bedtime?!? THEY WEREN’T AGING! They were showing up every single person on the floor and I was limping away with blisters, fifty years younger. This is when I decided that I wanted to be Latin (I joke, I joke- no really I wished that a Latin family would adopt me nearly an entire year).
When Salsa Steps Inspires Confidence
It is a special thing to learn a culture in an environment where people give you grace. When I was completely butchering their language and stomping on their feet, these people extended their hands and gently took me aside to teach me the way and revealed to me that attitude was the most important part. Forgetting my self-consciousness and opening my eyes to the celebration of life was what Salsa, my instructors, and my co-workers refined in me. These dancers taught me that it wasn’t about the age or the shoes, it was about self-assurance and practice, commitment to learning the dance and showing up again and again after feeling like the worst dancer in the room. This experience was about setting heights on dancing into my 80’s, well after eleven PM, with unmatched poise and a passion for living la vida loca, “the crazy life”.
Part of my confidence came from Salsa lessons! What scary and daring situations have you tried that has built you up?