All in a year of dancing salsa

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“Yo no se manana…” you know you have been dancing too much salsa when you start singing songs even when you have absolutely no idea what the words or meaning are.

February marks my first year of dancing salsa. Applause! (Queue Baila mi Hermano in the background.)

One year means I have danced at least 500 dances with at least 70 people, and met more than 200 people on at least 25 salsa events. One year also means at least 30 pounds lost and at least 50 liters of water if not diet Coke consumed.

Well, that’s not really accurate, but you get the idea.

I started dancing salsa in Manila on September 2010. Anna, one of my dearest friends was the one who dragged me to my first and last salsa class.

You know how it feels when you know that you are bound to be really good at something the first time you tried it? Well, I didn’t have that feeling. In fact, I didn’t like it at all. I couldn’t follow any of the dance steps and I just felt so inferior by mere watching other people dance gracefully and flawlessly on the floor.

When I moved to Cairo, I decided to give salsa a second try. My first ever salsa night was at Stiletto in Dokki on February of last year. I remember how I was so shy and felt alone. I came by myself. It’s quite frightening when you walk in a restaurant and just feel so left out and disconnected. Everyone’s dancing, everyone’s talking except you. Everyone knows everyone. Your eyes sweep the floor and all you see are awesome dancers who will probably put you to the hall of shame should you dance next to them. And then you are left with nothing but that feeling of wishing you are as good as them. You start dreaming that maybe one day you can dance as beautifully as they do even when you think it is very unlikely. That’s how it felt for me.

I sat on a table closest to the dance floor where there were a few ladies sitting. The first girl I met is Dajana, a German girl who, eventually, became one of my best girlfriends. She is a phenomenal dancer and she lit up the environment for me that first night. She introduced me to everyone and made me feel so comfortable. She brought out in me the confidence in dancing that I didn’t even know I have.

And it was through her that my first dance in Cairo was made possible. She introduced me to Amr, the first guy I danced salsa with in Cairo, and just like Dajana, he is also one phenomenal dancer. What is more admiring about him is the fact that he can make you feel that you are good enough in the dance.

It is only after a few months of dancing salsa that I will realize how there are certain people who wants to shine or showoff in the dance floor, but with Amr, I have always felt that he is the kind of dancer who wants whoever he is dancing with to shine brighter than he does. That, to me, gives him the gold medal!

So, that night, I had one dance and that was it. But I met new friends, who, even after a year, still remain to be my good friends. No time or opportunity wasted.

It’s interesting how the salsa community in Cairo is so small. There are four different places you can go to for a salsa party on different days every week and yet if you go to every single one of them, you’ll find that you’ll be seeing the same people and dancing to the same songs.

Eventually, I came to know mostly everyone who goes to the salsa events and they came to know me. I have become a household name, while salsa has become a slight addiction.

I started breathing salsa. I lived in it. I’m not being melodramatic or exaggerating when I say that salsa keeps me alive because it does. I have times when I feel worse than being sick when I don’t dance in a week, let alone in a couple of months. There is something truly inviting about salsa. It’s the way people sing to every single Spanish song without even knowing the words or the meaning. It’s the way people celebrate their individuality and own style. It’s about the people you meet, their characters and different backgrounds and how they own both the dance and the floor. I guess, most importantly, it’s about the dance itself, the way it can look so sophisticated one minute, and so street the next, the way it can lift your sorry mood and indulge you in moments of pure dancing bliss. I’m sure every salsero and salsera will agree with me on this.

I remember during my first couple of months, every time a guy asks me to dance I would have to say a disclaimer that I am a beginner. It’s quite nerve wracking especially when you’re thinking that this person you are about to dance with is bound for disappointment when he learns you haven’t even passed beginners level. That’s how I used to think and feel and it didn’t help me because it only made me more nervous than I already was, thus, making it much easier for me to screw up the dance. And then I will have to apologize and throw a pity party for myself afterwards.

But it’s really true, that old man saying that practice makes perfect. Through time, I was able to improve and dance so much better compared to when I was just starting. I guess it would be a shame on me if dancing 500 times throughout the year did me nothing good.

Remember what I said about just dancing once on my first night of giving salsa a second chance? Well, now, whenever I go to a salsa party, I come home really exhausted. I would be dancing non stop for at least three hours to the point where I have to politely say no to guys who are asking for a dance. On average, I dance about 25 songs on one salsa event.

So, what has a year of dancing salsa taught me? If anything, it taught me that I met some of my really good friends (and by really good I meant these are people that I also see outside salsa and the same people I trust, feel safe, and most grounded with like Katie, Lucy, Mana, Star, oh, they know who they are) at a salsa party. It taught me that I can be good at something even when I wasn’t good at it at first. I also remembered how I danced salsa on the streets of Zamalek one night in October, with my friends and we are positive that we are the first group of people who’s ever done it (at least in Cairo.) One year of salsa also reminds me that I used to be a beginner who felt so little about herself before, and that I shouldn’t have.

I think everyone who’s learning or trying out something for the first time shares that common feeling of being shy, embarrassed, and little.

I try to talk to them and bring out the confidence they don’t know they have the way my best friend, Dajana, did to me. I like to encourage new dancers and make them feel that they own the dance because they really do. I like dancing to beginners too. If it weren’t for the amazing dancers, who spent their four minutes to dance to a beginner like me a year ago, I would probably still be stuck with my two feet. I like to think that giving my four minutes to a guy who is just learning salsa will do him good eventually. Maybe it will give him the confidence to dance more, maybe it will make him relax and feel comfortable in the salsa scene. Maybe it will make him feel that he’s good enough and that he is accepted and that there is no need to feel shy or embarrassed or small. Maybe this is my way of giving back to the salsa community for all the good parties and events and workshops I had, for all friendships made, and for all the amazing dances and smiles, and bloopers and memories during the last year.

So, here’s to a year of dancing salsa and more!

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