It seems I freaked a lot of people out with a previous post about “My Left Foot.”
Those that freaked out either don’t know my humor or missed the details leading to the culmination that it all took place in my MIND.
Wanting to strike a balance I wrote this two-parter.
Standing at my local station stop waiting for the train to Shinjuku, (central Tokyo) a thirty-minute train ride, to pass the time I often listen to music. Being in a particularly good mood reflected in my musical choice I was listening to Salsa. While listening, a flood of memories came and I knew this was my next blog post topic.
As you may or may not know I lived in New York City for about 8 years back in the 1990s and early 2000s. I call this period life training. Living in the city was not easy thus the training. It was here where I shed my Minnesota nice skin, a painful process, and grew a new thicker New York skin. Besides skins there were all kinds of confrontations including physical as well as personal. In all my years in New York the one that stands out has to do with confronting one of my worst fears–dancing.
Prior to New York, anytime I was expected to dance, such as weddings or school dances, I would either be drunk without a care in the world, or if alcohol was not around then barely move my body so anyone observing couldn’t tell how bad I was.
Of course, it makes complete sense to sign up for a salsa dance class. No, it does not but I did out of love–That is love for my girlfriend. After a few years of living in Greenwich Village it was time to venture out beyond the comfort zone and my girlfriend and I went to a Cuban salsa club in neighboring Chelsea. I will admit the music was infectious. Seeing everyone freely dancing with their partners moving in such a way that these Swedish hips of mine had never done before did make it a bit easier to sign on the dotted line for a three month, twice a week class.
To say those first few weeks of classes were hell is to understate it. The teacher, a Columbian dance instructor was in a perpetual state of salsa dancing anytime he walked across the room. It was truly in his blood. I wasn’t sure if my blood would allow such a foreign substance to take over and allow body parts to soften up in such a way. But this was love and I was determined.
First rule of salsa? Throw out any sense of self-consciousness. There is no room for this whatsoever. We were in a beginner class and all beginners. The class was taught first individually, as we all lined up across the room with the teacher in the front showing us moves. We learned the foundational New York Salsa style of moves of back and forth and stepping on 2.
Having been a drummer for many years I could wrap my head around timing. So, the initial foundational steps came relatively easy to me. Getting a little cocky, I was brought down to size once the teacher threw in turns and slides. It got worse once we had partners and had to learn moves.
Being the male, it was up to me to lead my partner. Now the only way I can describe the experience, it’s like learning a new language. The words are the moves and putting the moves together make up sentences and a routine. That is with your partner you move them around with signals and arms lifts. Anytime you aren’t clear this throws off your partner. It is imperative you learn the moves, make the decision and be clear about it.
The instructor after having broken down a new move put us in a circle, men on the outside women on the inside. He would start the music and we would practice the new move with our partner. After a few minutes he would stop the music and the women on the inside of the circle would move and men remain so that we got new partners to dance with every few minutes. This in and of itself was interesting because the experience of dancing with a new partner was so different. Some of the women were more sensitive than others and respond easily. Others were more controlling and would do the move without and signal.
The first few weeks were spent reviewing and getting comfortable with individual and partner moves. Then the teacher would layer what we knew with knew more intricate moves. This is where I met myself. That is wanting to be perfect and do it right, I found that I tried too hard and being in my head not listening to the music or trusting that I knew the move. Add to that comparing how my male counterparts were progressing only made matters worse.
Over time and with constant practice after class and in our apartment I moved past this plateau and was able to put together a routine of sorts with my girlfriend. My problem was that doing the same routine over and over I thought was boring her. She had picked up the moves even moving beyond my ability and jealousy crept in. Did I mention dancing is just as much about psychology as it is about, well dancing?
After nearing the completion of the second round of classes it was time for us to take our routine public. The Cuban salsa club in Chelsea that I had first gone to was to be the same venue for our coming out. My girlfriend had already frequented the club without me and had friends there ready and waiting for our arrival. The pressure was on after checking our coats, meeting her friends, and getting the lay of the land–code for procrastination. The live band was on fire tonight and everyone could feel it in the air as those already on the dance floor were tearing it up with far more elaborate moves than I could ever dream to do in this lifetime and with these hips.
My girlfriend came up to me grabbed my hand and pulled me on to the dance floor. I stood there for a moment looking around–My first mistake. Comparison brings on self-consciousness. Not diving in with the moves I knew well, instead I started to dance on my own to get a feel for the rhythm as she followed my lead until I felt comfortable. She was such a sweetheart putting up with my issues.
Suddenly the music found its way into my body past the barricade of self-consciousness and I started moving unSwede-like. I grabbed her hands, brought her close and we started to move together. First back and forth until we were in sync. Then I started to lead her into turns, as she turned so did I as we ended up facing one another in perfect unison. I kept adding more and more of those moves I learned in class and it all seemed to come to me naturally as long as I let go. This went on for the remainder of the song. Afterward a newfound confidence took over and I felt lighter and dare I say on top of the world. But as you know all good things must come to an end.
First my girlfriend cajoled me into dancing with one of her friends. She was so different than my girlfriend and I was not accustomed to how she moved. I immediately felt like I was in class and fell back into self-conscious, insecure mode. What made matters worse, the song dragged on for an eternity. If you don’t know, when salsa bands find their groove they tend to play the same beat and rhythm over and over and over.
Finally, the song ended and I thanked her friend and walked off the dancing floor looking over to see that my girlfriend was dancing with one of her friends, who happened to be from the birthplace of Cuban Salsa. To see how poised, confident, and passionate in the way he led her through elaborate moves with ease, moves that she hadn’t even learned to do in class yet, I knew I was way out of my league.
What confidence I had gained during our first dance in public was put to shame after seeing the two of them together. What I didn’t consider was that he grew up dancing to this music from an early age. I came to learn that the style of Cuban salsa, which is soft and fluid has to do with the fact that many learned to dance in the ocean to the music. There was no ocean in Minnesota. We had lakes which were frozen six months out of the year, not to mention those hips. “I bet he cannot cross country ski,” I thought to myself as I glared at the two of them dancing for the next three songs as if they had been together a lifetime.