A few weeks ago, my special lady and I completed a pretty darn fantastic beginner salsa class. Our group included people from pretty much every culture, socio-economic background and “beginner” skill-level imaginable, and we were lead by an excellent dancer and teacher, the amazing Karlos Reyes: http://www.salsavancouver.net/classes.html.
With this collection of aspiring dancers and Karlos leading the pack – joined by a few of his friends who showed up every now and then to help out – it was impossible to not have a good time as we salsad (functional grammar is so in these days) our way into a smiling, healthy and semi-coordinated community.
Now. The correlations between dance and community as it relates to our class were pretty substantial. Take equality: background, status, income, culture, age and/or style becomes irrelevant when you step on to the floor. Dance: the great leveller! And with a Cuban at the helm, equality (as well as baseball and outstanding health care) were sure to join rhythm, laughter and basic salsa moves as most excellent outcomes of the class.
But don’t just take my word for it. Michelle is going to weigh in on the community of dance as well. We have outlined a few themes and highlights from the class, and are happy to provide a balanced perspective on ‘em for you, the reader. And here we go:
Dancing in a Circle with Different Partners
John: “When I signed up for salsa lessons, I was under the assumption that Michelle and I would be doing all of our dancing together. I was wrong. Due to the gender imbalance (about 70% of the class was female), we men had to be shared with all the ladies. Learning how to adapt to different styles and skill levels – not to mention body types, smells and talkativeness – made the experience all the more interesting and enjoyable. For example, a lovely woman, who happened to be about five feet tall, struggled to not be stretched and lifted off the floor during a move called “sombrero,” as my 6’3″ and misinterpretation of “leading” saw me rigidly not bend down to accommodate her. She was a good sport, gave me feedback and we shared a laugh.”
Michelle: “On the flip side of this experience, being in the more represented female component to the class oftentimes left me partner-less in this circle of dance. John speaks of having to adapt to different partners? Try adapting to a solo sombrero. While not as much of a “community” experience, it sure makes you aware of what moves you’ve got down pat … and which you don’t!”
The Actual Steps
John: “It’s not that men are slow-witted and poor dancers. It’s just that women are smarter and, therefore, are asked to carry out all the complicated steps to all the complicated moves. Fellahs, if you like simple, then salsa is your thing. Let me walk you through it: ‘one-two-one-two-one-two-one-two’… Yeah, and sometimes to spin the young lady ’round and ’round. But that’s pretty much it. Way to go, ladies!”
Michelle: “John, I have to disagree. As Karlos so enthusiastically demonstrated in class … if the women aren’t given direction as to the next move (you young men have to be assertive!), they’re left spinning aimlessly in circles of confusion and pacing in perplexity. While it’s true we women may move our feet a bit more, you strapping gentlemen give the overall guidance and really drive the dance, if you will.”
John: “They totally ran the gamut of sensation. We saw some flowing dresses, emo-hipster-punk-hippie-hipsters, button-down retirees, and serious dancers in serious heels.”
Michelle: “Which totally speaks to the notion that our community of dance really was a community of acceptance. Within our circle of dance, flowered dresses, skintight emo-jeans, corduroy jackets and mumus complemented on another like, well, well-paired Salsa dancers.
Michelle: “There’s nothing like a 10 second conversation while spinning and turning between dame unas. Like in every community, you don’t always have an ideal amount of time in an ideal setting to get to know all of the fantastic people out there. But the friendships we created in these short bursts of time just goes to show that a few sentences to get to know your grocery store clerk, librarian, waitress, bus driver, or the neighbor-up-on-the-fourth-floor-who-you-hardly-ever-see-but-plays-his-music-really-loud, can go a long way.”
John: “An icebreaker I liked to try was asking a woman if I had the sweatiest hands. And if I didn’t, that I wanted to know who did and who was ruining the good name of men in the room. Yeah, it usually went well. The group was very open to shenanigans.”
Etiquette & Teamwork
Michelle: “Karlos kindly provided us with some general “rules” for leaders and partners. As I read through them, I saw how they hold true for any community:
- Be aware of the space between you and other dancers. Just like you need to be conscious of the impact you have on your neighbours and your environment.
- Maintain a good connection with each partner. In salsa, so much depends on the way you hold your wrist, your elbow, and how you respond to your partner. If we’re not able to connect with those around us, well, we just won’t be as good at what we do.
- Help each other out. During salsa class, people would miss the dance move call. Sometimes, it was because the music was too loud. Other times, it was because the person in question was “talking a bit too much”, or has a bit of “trouble attending”. Okay. These ones “may or may not have been me”. Regardless, as a community, we’d help each other out by letting your partner know what they’d missed. And we were all better because of it.
John: “And the laughter. Once you’ve shaken your bum and grinded your hips and yelled very animatedly in front of people, well, you’re all pretty much part of a special community. So much support, sharing and ideas came out of this class. It started with Karlos, and was contagiously taken up by everyone very quickly!”
Every Tuesday, our community of dance would convene at Brittania Community Centre. While in our “non-salsa-lives”, we’re teachers, musicians, electricians and stay-at-home-moms, on the dance floor we melded into Cuban Salsa Rockstars, teaching, learning, and having a great time doing it. Now that’s community.