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My introduction to salsa dancing

by Archives October 9, 2007

Back forward turn, back forward turn, turn, turn. My skin is getting damp with the heat, and I begin to feel my short skirt stick to my legs as I spin on the spot.
Hair is coming loose from my ponytail as it whips around my head. My shoulders are tense as I try to follow my partner’s lead; to remember everything he’s told me so far. I’m out of breath already and it’s only the second song I’ve danced to.
It’s my first time salsa dancing in a club, and I am beginning to feel trapped.
My first introduction to salsa has come from my salsa-dancing fanatic of a roommate.
It is not long before he is teaching me the basic steps in our living room, and I’m following him to a salsa club to see his dance troop perform.
Each step leading up to “Salsatheque” is lit with white, pulsing Christmas lights encased in plastic tubes and as I turn, right before the top of the staircase, I enter a studio that could have been the set from Dance With Me.
Actually, there’s a -Dance With Me poster on the wall next to the DJ booth, along with other dance movie posters.
There are two rooms for dancing, divided by metallic streamers, with couples dancing in both rooms.
A wall of onlookers on both sides of the room reminds me that you actually have to have a partner to dance; you cannot just dance in a group with all of your friends.
The show tonight is to raise money for an upcoming performance in Toronto. “Go, talk to people,” my roommate instructs. “It’s not like a regular club.”
I scan the room as he runs off to change into his costume for the dance routine.
I approach a group of girls I saw him speak to a few minutes before and introduce myself.
The music is not so loud that we cannot carry on a conversation, and I soon find out that they all dance salsa fairly frequently.
I stand in the corner nervously as the girls I am with take turns dancing with an overweight bald man in a blue button down shirt.
Watching everyone dance makes me feel the inadequacy of my few impromptu lessons.
Here’s a tip. If your salsa skills are limited, and you’re heading out to a salsa club, a short skirt and heels will get you everywhere.
Soon after my nervousness subsides and I have moved away from the wall, I begin attracting attention.
A shorter, older man in dark pants and a dark button down shirt heads my way.
“Would you like to dance?” he offers with an outstretched hand.
Hmmm, apparently asking someone to dance by gyrating on their leg is not the norm at a salsa club.
He is not dissuaded when I tell him I really do not know how to salsa, instead he offers to educate me.
Shortly after we start dancing my partner introduces himself as Enrique.
The basic salsa steps are not difficult to learn. My main problem is letting myself be led.
I struggle to keep my arms firm enough to maintain the basic form, but lose enough to allow my partner to manoeuvre me around the floor.
At first I interpret all upward arm movements as an indication that I should turn, but this assumption is false. There are a variety of other things those upward arm movements can indicate.
It soon becomes clear that making a mistake is not a big deal, and by my second partner, I am not always sure which one of us has made the mistake.
Even if you get mixed up and lose your partner, all you have to do is face him or her, find the beat, and start again.
Another important thing to remember about salsa clubs is each song goes on for what feels like forever when you are trying to keep track of your appendages and your partner.
By the fourth song, I am completely winded, retreating to the wall to find my roommate’s friends. Enrique comes up to me and asks for a second dance, but my hacking cough forces me to decline.
I head for water, and return in time for the show. By this time, other friends have arrived to watch my roommate and we stand at the back as a dance troop of three girls in booty shorts, black bras, and white satin tuxedo jackets dance in unison.
My roommate’s troop is up next, consisting of three guys in grey pants, pink button down shirts, and black suspenders; and three girls in pink and black polka dotted dresses.
They dance a lively swing dance, which brings me to my third observation of salsa clubs. People in salsa clubs do not only dance salsa.
In the four dances I danced, only two were salsa, the other two being slightly simpler, with the same types of moves, but with a different set of basic steps.
Along with the presentation, we also had a swing lesson, which again, has slightly simpler basic steps to those of salsa.
I leave the club with my friends after my roommate’s performance, and head toward Crescent St., eventually ending up at Karina’s.
After pushing our way through the dense crowd, we form a circle and start dancing, without having to wait for anyone to ask us. I finally feel like I am dancing, now that I don’t have to worry about my partner or my steps. For the first time tonight, I feel the rush of freedom dancing usually brings on. Hip swing right, hip swing left, hip swing right…

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