Tag Archives: salsa

Salsa DJ-ing For Dummies

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Dear Mr. DJ,

I am going to be honest here. And not just honest-honest, but brutally honest. So, if you can’t handle that, stop reading now. I don’t mean to offend, I just want you to improve! (And I’m doing this for the greater good because I’m so tired hearing the same comments again and again that you suck. It hurts because it’s true, and it hurts more because you are not doing anything about it!)

Maybe you’re not cut out to be a DJ, but don’t worry, we’ll try to fix that! Fake it until you make it, right? But you have been faking it since I remember you starting to play music at salsa socials and you haven’t made it yet. Boy, that’s like three years ago and we still have a long way to go!

I’m only giving you two options here: either give up, or do something about it, damnit!

If you choose to give up, you will be doing all of us a big favor! Thank you very much! I hope I don’t see you in the music booth ever again. But we all know that’s just my wishful thinking. Because you will be there at your throne week after week. So, for the love of salsa your career, please, do something about it!

1. Never play the same song twice. I mean come on! Too many salsa songs, an abundance of salsa artists and even remixes, and you’re playing El Nazareno twice? Really?!

2. Remember that you are a DJ, not an iPod. I know that after Baila Mi Hermano, you will play La Excelencia. And after that song, you will play that Prince Royce bachata song. I have memorized your playlist and I don’t even have a good memory! Why else do we have a DJ if you’re just going to be an iPod?

3. Give me an answer. Know your music, mate. You’re a DJ, music is supposed to be your best friend. So, when I ask you for a title of a certain song that you just played two minutes ago, you don’t tell me that you don’t know because I will throw Armageddon shit at you! You don’t tell me that it’s track 13! You. Just. Can’t. Do. That.

4. Entertain us. Stop it, I’m not going to ask you to do cartwheels or join a circus or start a belly dance. I’m not even asking you to be like DJ Tono La Conga or DJ Henry Knowles. Let’s keep it real. I just need you to give us variety. Spin music that will make us, salsa dancers, want to get up on our feet and dance. That’s not even a hard thing to do considering we already want to dance in the first place. Salseros and salseras already did 50% of your job. Now all you have to do is play good music. Surprise us with something NEW, something we never heard before!

5. Observe. Guess what, you don’t even have to know how to dance salsa. You just have to know your crowd. Are we sitting down? How is the overall mood? Is the floor empty? Do we look like we’d rather go home? Are we dancing because you’re playing awesome music? Or are we dancing because we have no other choice? You’re not blind, you can see that energy levels are dropping. Do. Something.

6. And lastly, but I think the most important of all, if you’re going to call yourself a DJ, at least love music. In your case, salsa music! Listen to it while you’re driving. While you’re having lunch, while in the shower. Research about new tracks. Read about famous salsa DJs and listen to their sets! Listen to Latin radio channels online. I do that everyday and I’m not even a DJ. Certainly, that won’t be too difficult for someone like you who’s getting paid to play music. That’s like the least effort you can do.

See, piece of cake. I’m not even going to ask you to have a nice personality. I don’t need your personality. What I need is your music and it better be good!

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Mr. Nice Guy Versus Mr. Too Cocky For You

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Mr. Nice Guy

Last Tuesday, at a salsa social in Bellini, I was sitting in my usual corner, having a cigarette break, when this familiar-looking guy, took the empty seat next to mine.

I have seen him at salsa parties on many occasions and yet I never danced with him. He never asked me to dance either. I remember him because he is one of those few guys that I always see at salsa socials, but never on the dance floor.

Between puffs of cigarette, he managed to catch my eye and pull a little smile. I smiled back. In my head, I was counting how many seconds it will take for him to say something.

One. Two. Three–

“Hi, how are you?” He asked after the fourth second.

“I’m good, thanks.” I said. “I think we’ve met before, but I’m sorry I can’t remember your name.”

“It’s Mr. Nice Guy.” He said, as he reached his hand out.

I immediately put my cigarette on the ashtray even though I was only halfway through.

“Jennifer.” I said, taking his hand, and making a mental note of how his hand feels warm and comfortable against mine.

“Would you like to dance?” He said in a nervous tone as though he was already sure I was going to say no. “I’ve only started taking classes, but I will really appreciate it if I can try what I learned with you.”

My heart melted with his honesty.

“Of course.” I said without hesitation.

He pulled me to the dance floor the moment Como Tiemba El Alma started playing in the background. It was a good start, and a good finish, and just like most of the beautiful dances, it was beautiful and unexpected.

Mr. Too Cocky For You 

Last Tuesday, at a salsa social in Bellini, I was sitting in my usual corner, having a cigarette break, when this familiar-looking guy, took the empty seat next to mine.

I have seen him at salsa parties on many occasions and yet I never danced with him. He never asked me to dance either. I remember him because he is one of those few guys that I always see at salsa socials, but never on the dance floor.

From my peripheral view, I noticed that he looked away from the dance floor to look at my direction.

“How are you?” He said in a very casual tone.

“Good, thanks.” I said. “I think we’ve met before, but I’m sorry I can’t remember your name.” I said feeling embarrassed.

“I can’t remember your name either.” He said in a very condescending tone. It was the kind of tone that was screaming are you kidding me? You don’t know who I am?

“It’s Jennifer,” I said reaching my hand to his direction.

“Oh, that’s right. I forgot that for a second. My name’s Mr. Too Cocky For You.”

Of course you ‘forgot that for a second’ because there is heaps of asian Jennifers who dance salsa in Cairo.

I immediately lit a second cigarette and rolled my eye.

“Are you sure you’re ok?” He asked. “You don’t look ok.”

Well who are you to decide whether or not I look ok? For one, you are crossing the borders of my space.

“I’m alright, thanks.” I managed to say instead.

“Are you sure?” He asked, raising an eyebrow that probably meant he was so sure that I wasn’t sure I’m ok.

I think I would be ok if only you can stop talking in your fake british accent for Christ’s sake! And that’s a big statement coming from me considering I don’t even believe in Christ!

“I think I would know if I’m not ok, thanks.” I said as politely as I could.

“What is the problem?” He probed.

That was just the nudge I needed.

“You want to know what’s the problem? You’re strange. And you’re so in my face.”

“In your face? I’m not too close, I don’t think.” He said defensively.

His arrogance only proved his ignorance.

“I didn’t mean it literally.”

“So, what do you mean then?”

“You suck at small talk. Usually, what happens is that you ask how I am and I say I’m alright. And I ask how you are and you say you’re fine. And that’s the end of the story. I keep my mouth shut, and you keep your mouth shut. Or you get up from your seat and move on to some place else where you can stick your nose in someone else’s business. You asked me if I was ok three times, and I gave you the same answer three times. Which is more than necessary. Usually, after I lit up another cigarette, you will take that as a hint that no, I don’t want to talk to you. And yes, my cigarette is a much better company. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m gonna go dance.”

Burn.

A Dance With A Boy (A Novel)

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In an underground salsa bar in Cairo, two dancers cross paths. Two dancers who are very different from each other find their lives intertwined to the same playlist. Will their passion for salsa dancing keep them together on and off the dance floor? Join Pamela and Tamer in a center stage romance as they dance under the spotlight.

A Dance With A Boy (Preface)

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If two weeks ago, someone told me that that boy, with short yellow hair, who started showing up at salsa nights at Bian Caffe approximately five months ago–yes, that same boy who always seems to be wearing a different variation of a red shirt every time I happen to run into him at any salsa social, and who always, always manages to sit in the same corner, the same corner that just happens to be exactly opposite my corner–and I will be dating, I swear I’ll be like, are you fucking kidding me? Because ha ha ha, that is so unfunnily offensive in so many levels:

1. I don’t know his name, and I don’t think he knows mine because–
2. We never ever danced, not once, and that leads us to–
3. He never ever asked me to dance. Not even once. And besides–
4. Even if we pretend that I know his name and he knows mine, and say that we’ve danced not just once, the idea of dating him or him dating me will be the last thing on my mind considering that–
5. I’ve just had a beautiful breakup with my beautiful Sicilian boyfriend who I’ve had a beautifully crafted four-month relationship with from the night I met him at a beautiful salsa party in Sydney.

So, seriously, ha ha ha. That’s the lamest attempt at a joke ever and the punch line is not even funny!

Until it is.

A Dance With A Boy (Chapter 1)

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Pamela

Baila Mi Hermano is one of those old-school salsa songs that I will always, always hear at any salsa party in Cairo. I could be dancing salsa at Bellini on a Tuesday night and that song will play. I could be sitting at Nile Maxim on Wednesday and that song will play. I could be standing next to the DJ booth at Bian Caffe on Thursday and I can put my money on it, that song will play.

I don’t especially hate that song, but I don’t especially like it either. I don’t have any idea what baila mi hermano means in English, and I certainly don’t have the time to google translate that now because, speaking of the devil, that song starts playing on cue and it is absolutely no good for drowning out creepy guy number four who starts sprinting towards my direction in an attempt to ask me to dance. So, I quickly maneuver to my table and dig my face to a slice of pizza.

“I’m eating. Maybe later.” I say between mouthfuls that my voice sounds chewy, wet, and stuffed all at the same time. The disgusted look on creepy guy number four’s face is priceless! He gives me an uncomfortable nod then turns around. I think he gets it now: later means never.

I have been dancing salsa long enough to know that there are only two types of guys at any salsa venue–there are the guys who I say yes to because they are there to dance, and then there are the guys who I say no to because they are there for something else. At the moment, there are seven guys who belong to my guys-who-I-say-no-to list and about 100 different ways on my how-to-say-no-to-guys-who-I-say-no-to list.

No, I’m having a break.
No. Maybe next dance.
No, I’m smoking a cigarette.
No. I’m too tired.
No, I told Alaa that I will dance with him on this song.
No, I told Mokbel that I will dance with him on this song.
No, I told [Whattheheck?! Insert any guy friend’s name here] that I will dance with him on this song.
No, I don’t like this song.
No, my dancing shoe broke!
No, I’m eating. (Even though there is absolutely no more slice of pizza left on my plate.)

No. No. No.

But saying no is not the only thing that I know and absolutely not the only thing that I do. I also know the seemingly new faces that pops at a salsa event every once in a while. I know because I am watching closely. I am watching closely not because I am creepy, but because I have been dancing and observing the same people at least two nights a week for the last three years that I can tell who is who just by looking at their shoes. So, if there is a new shoe on the dance floor and that new shoe is killing it, I’m hoping those shoes are from a guy who I can potentially say yes to. But how can I say yes to them if they never ask me to? And if they never grow the balls to ask me to dance, then the answer is always a ballsy no.

However, there are occasions when I do the asking because chivalry is apparently dead and forgotten. Nine out of ten times, I would get an easy yes. No sweat, except when–

“No, Pam, I can’t. I promised Radwa I will dance with her on the next song and this is the next song. Sorry, habebty, next one,” Amr says when I tried to pull his hand to the dance floor the moment Adele Set Fire to the Rain. All the guys who I like dancing with are already doing cross-bodys and underarm turns, and whatnots on the dance floor while I sit on my spot and watch as one of my favorite salsa remixes goes to waste untouched and unloved and unjustifiably danced. The one out of ten times that someone says no, and it has to be on an Adele song!

Despite this minor glitch, I do love going to salsa parties because it can be the only social thing that I do and it can also be the only non-social thing that I do. Usually, when I walk in at a salsa party, I always feel like I’m walking to a red carpet night minus the red carpet designer long gowns and paparazzi. I say hello to everyone and do the cheek-to-cheek a bazillion times before I can find my seat. Or everyone will come and pull me for a quick hug and howareyous before I can change into my dancing shoes. As much as salsa dancing is very social, it could also be very anti-social. Once DJ Migo starts blasting music in the background, that’s the cue for everyone to shut up and start pairing up on the wooden floor. So, for someone like me, who always fails at small talks, and who thinks silence is awkward, dancing salsa is the best bet. I don’t have to speak more than six words to people who aren’t my friends and who I have no interest in being friends with. I can just simply say a non-committal hello, or shrug, or nod, or wave, or smile, or not smile, and no one will think that I’m being rude. In fact, no one would suspect that I’m being rude. It’s like, yey! I get to be rude in your face and you don’t even know it! Awesome!

I’m not forced to be with anyone either, yet I am here with everyone at the same time. I can be an insider as much as I can be an outsider. I can introduce myself to new people, start chit-chatting with anyone at an arm’s length. I can connect and totally disconnect. I can give a fuck and not give a fuck. There will always be loud music playing which means I don’t have to deal with the silence until the party ends, and even then, the silence won’t be so bad because I’ll be huddled and snuggled, and cuddled to goodbye hugs and drowned to seeyounexttimes that it won’t be totally silent at all.

It’s just the best of both worlds for the social-non-social me, and that is probably why I keep coming back every Thursday night even though Bian Caffe is a two hour drive from home on a really bad day. And even though I don’t drive. And even though the only person who can possibly give me a ride home tonight has said no to dancing with me when Adele Set Fire to the Rain, and is still, in fact, dancing with Radwa even after Adele’s voice fades out and Yo No Se Manana fades in.

He better say yes to driving me home tonight!

A Dance With A Boy (Chapter 2)

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Tamer

I consider my options:

1. I could walk back home. The salsa party will end at 10 and the curfew is not until midnight. Pro: I have time, I can walk from Mohandiseen to Heliopolis. Con: after dancing for three hours, I probably don’t have the energy to walk an extra hour and a half.

2. I could call a cab driver I know. Pro: I don’t have to walk an extra hour and a half. Con: the driver is not picking up!

3. I could try to kill Mostafa for not coming to salsa tonight when he lives beside me and could have easily given me a ride home. Pro: Lots! Con: Lots!

4. I could dance on this Prince Royce song. Pro: I like Prince Royce. Con: I don’t dance bachata.

“Guys! Last song!” I hear DJ Migo shout from behind the music booth as soon as Que le den Candela surrounds the entire room. Two things–One, I love DJ Migo for saving the best song for last because Que le den Candela is my absolute favorite salsa song. And two, I have absolutely no idea what que le den candela means.

As usual, I make my way towards my favorite salsa dancer. She always has a quick smile on her face, she has a great spirit on the dance floor that the dance floor would light and fire up, literally. She is absolutely a crowd’s favorite. For some reasons unknown to me, she just has this ability to stand out even in a pool of faces. Maybe it’s because of her super short hair? Maybe it’s because of the elephant tattoo she has at the back of her neck? Maybe it’s because she loves dancing because she loves dancing. I don’t know. What I do know is that I absolutely love dancing with her and that I have never ever danced with her ever before.

I decide to walk straight to her direction. If my calculation is correct, it will take me about eight steps so I can ask her to dance with me. So, I take the first four steps towards her direction. But before I can take the fifth step, a tall and lanky guy with a shaved head grabs her by the hand. I take the sixth step, and the same guy pulls her to the dance floor. Seventh step. He smiles. She smiles. Great, now they’re both laughing. I take the last step and find myself face to face with an empty chair while my favorite salsera with the pixie short hair dance to the tune of my favorite salsa song. So, I turn around and go back to where I started from.

And as usual, I love dancing with her, but as usual, I have never ever had the chance to dance with her.

Six months, Tamer, and you never spoke to her, never danced with her. Nada, nada, nada, how could you possibly do that?

Ya Tamer, you have been taking salsa lessons at Dansation! Don’t be intimidated!

Who says I am intimidated?

You are intimidated!

Why would I be intimidated?

Because you have a crush on her!

No, I don’t.

Then why do you watch her dance every time you see her dancing?

Because yes you do!

Because it’s difficult not to? Because she is a great dancer? Because she’s really lovely and seeing her smile makes me want to smile too even if she’s smiling at someone else and not me?

See, you have a crush on her!

No, I don’t.

Yes, you do!

“You do or you don’t?” Amr blurts out real loud and real fast that, for once, all the voices in my head stops debating all at once and I am brought back to the now half-empty Bian Caffe. The music has stopped, the dance floor is empty, DJ Migo is packing up, and Amr is still waiting for an answer.

“Huh, what?!”

“Do. You. Need. A. Ride. Home. Tamer.”

“I do. I do! I do!”

“OK, yalla, let’s go!”

Pro of riding with Amr? I don’t have to think about options one to four. Con? Zero! And that is why I start following him outside Bian. But before we can reach the door, I see my favorite salsa dancer walking to my direction, except, she is actually walking towards Amr’s direction.

“Are we going?” She asks, totally ignoring my presence.

“Yes we are!” I hear Amr answer, totally forgetting my presence.

A Dance With A Boy (Chapter 3)

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Pamela

“Give me your phone, we need to call mum!” Amr says in a rush the moment we are standing outside Bian. “My keys are in mum’s bag! And she already left with her car.”

I give Amr my phone then realize we aren’t alone. One of the new guys at salsa is standing in front of us. And he is looking at me, looking at Amr, and then at me, and then at Amr, and then at me. And it’s weird, because I mean, he is really looking at me. This time he catches me looking back at him. I immediately looked away for comfort.

God, Amr, when are you going to finish talking to mum? This guy is still looking at me and our ping-pong match at looking at each other is getting awfully awkward!

“Mum’s on the way.” Amr says to me, but for some reason, it feels like he isn’t just saying it to me.

A minute passes and Amr’s mum still hasn’t come.

“Mum’s car is red, right?” I ask as I try to look on the streets for a familiar red car.

“No, it’s green!” Amr says.

How can I possibly forget that Amr’s mum’s car is green? Amr and his mum are probably the two people I genuinely love and enjoy seeing at salsa. They are this mother-and-son tandem who always attend salsa parties. They dance with each other, they attend salsa workshops together, they watch salsa shows together, and I think that their relationship as mother and son is much, much sweeter than a kilo of basbousa.

I think I’ve seen mum dance a few times with this new guy who is, strangely enough, still looking at me. And if this new guy has danced with mum, and mum has danced with him, then I shouldn’t feel awkward that he is still standing in front of me and making me more aware than usual that he is still watching me. I trust mum’s judgment in character.

Another minute passes. When is this guy going to flinch? He doesn’t move, except when he starts talking to Amr in Arabic. I don’t like him talking to Amr in Arabic because I feel left out. I feel a void, a lull, a gap, a hole. It’s like I’m here but I’m not here with them. It’s like I know what to do but I can’t do anything other than stand here. So, I reach for my phone and pretend to be engaged to whatever happens to be so interesting on my phone even though I ran out of mobile data and therefore cannot do anything other than stare at an empty blank screen.

I think I could also trust Amr’s judgment in character. So, if he is talking to this new guy too, then this new guy could potentially be on my guys-who-I-say-yes-to list, if only he asks me to dance. Which I don’t think he ever did.

Another minute and the three of us have all gone silent. Amr’s looking out on the street for Mummy, this new boy is still looking at me, I am still trying to not look at him. I wish I can just look out on the street but this new boy is blocking my view of the street.

Another vague minute, and someone just has to talk or I will go deaf in this awkward silence. I decide to make eye contact and before I can stop my mouth, the words are already out. “I see you at salsa but we never danced together.”

“Really?” Amr interrupts before the new boy can say anything. “Pamela is a perfect dancer!”

“Do you think I don’t know that?” The new boy says looking at Amr instead of at me. Amr looks back at the new boy and nods his head.

“How come you never danced with her?” Amr asks over the honking of the cars on the now crowded street.

The new boy looks at me, and then looks back at Amr. “I don’t dance with her, but that doesn’t make me blind.”

We hear more repeated honking before we realize that the honking is directed to us. There on the street is a green car, inside it is Mummy waving Amr’s keys. So, Amr sets off to mum’s side of the road, leaving me on my side of the road, alone, with this new boy.

“How come you never asked me to dance?” I ask again. It’s my turn to make him feel uncomfortable after the looking and the going. I am not going to be easy on him.

“I don’t know. Maybe because I don’t know you, and maybe because every time I try to dance with you, you are already dancing with someone else? How come you don’t ask me to dance?” The new boy says in one casual breath.

“Because like you said, I am always dancing with someone else. And because I don’t know you as well.” I say truthfully.

“Tamer.” The new boy says as he extends his hand to my direction.

“Pamela.” I say as I shake his hand with mine.

“Guys, yalla!” Amr says as he flings his right arm on Tamer’s shoulder and the other on mine.

“Tamer, are you coming with us?” I ask the new boy as I call him by his name for the very first time.