Home CommentaryStudent Life An extreme self-esteem risk: Learning to salsa

An extreme self-esteem risk: Learning to salsa

by Archives February 3, 2009

It all started innocently enough. It was the first class back from winter break and amongst the recaps of what I’d missed during the past few weeks was a single standout comment.
“I joined a salsa class,” said my friend Charbel. It was unavoidable – having a natural inclination to willingly throw myself into ego-deflating and potentially irreversibly humiliating situations, it was only a matter of when and where, before I too, was signed up.
To be honest, I’m neither a hopeless nor a gifted dancer. The generous have sometimes called the random flailing of my limbs graceful, and my friends have even ventured to call me good. But deep down inside I never felt flattered, mechanically attributing these meagre compliments to (a) my own polite flattery of their technique, (b) their own total ignorance of anything dance-related, and (c) alcohol.
In retrospect, I now realize that I should have been concerned with my complete lack of dance knowledge, but instead I innocently worried about my outfit for the first class – dress and heels or sweats and running shoes? I stood in front of my wardrobe considering the dilemma when really I should have been desperately searching Youtube for an edge before the first class.
Still the first lesson went well enough. There were around 50 people, and to my surprise, half were men. For the most part men who couldn’t dance, much less lead, but men nonetheless.
One of the first things our instructor Ridley said was, “Do you know what salsa means? It means sauce.” And then fluttering butterflies drowned out the sound of his voice, but I assumed by his smooth hand gestures he went on to say something resembling “just try to look sexy.”
On a more academic note, which is of course completely useless when thrown onto a dance floor, salsa dancing invariably involves three steps for each four measures. It’s generally agreed that these steps are the descendants of Cuban dances, in particular the son, which combines Spanish and African influences.
By the second class I had already developed a tendency to lead. It was as though Charbel and I were listening to a completely different soundtrack. Starting to see the frustration rise in my eyes, Charbel called the instructor over. And then I tried to lead the instructor.
“Don’t do that,” he seemed annoyed. I nodded and apologized, but inside my stubbornness irrationally told me I knew best.
“It doesn’t matter if your partner isn’t following the rhythm, you must follow him,” he said while stepping away to help another hopeless couple.
Charbel sneered, “You hear that, you have to follow me.”
“You shouldn’t be proud of yourself, you know.”
And so went the second class. Not too bad.
By the third class Charbel and I had been practicing – in class, in the hallway and in his apartment. Driven by my determination to be the best, and Charbel’s fear of angering me, we had found our rhythm. I had stopped leading and put a little faith in my partner. And to my surprise we were following the beat – it was as though all that was needed was for me to have a little trust for everything to fall into place.
That night several people from class were going to a salsa club with the instructor, and because we were all shamefully ill prepared, we endeavoured to learn the bachata and the cha-cha-cha. Then we practiced turns. It wasn’t going that poorly until we were told to switch partners. It didn’t go so well. I lost all interest and tried not to look excessively shabby. Charbel also suffered – the moment his partner’s hands were tucked safely into his, he completely forgot the very first step we had learned.
Prior to going to the club, we all went for dinner. There Charbel and I met Charlie and Sébastien, fellow beginners who usually take the class on a different day than we do.
In a moment of silence I leaned over to ask Sébastien how he had gotten tricked into joining the class.
“Tricked? Why would I have been tricked?”
I was kidding of course, but then I wondered what really had attracted them to the class.
“I actually want to dance with a girl,” said Charlie.
It made sense. I thought back to my own dancing experiences – slow dancing in small circles after dark in my friend’s backyard, awkward choreographies in high school gym class, re-enacting entire dance sequences from Grease when I was bored at work, and last but not least dark clubs, where my movements are entirely dictated by the amount of liquid left in my drink. All of those made me realize that what made these moments so vivid and happy in my mind was that they were shared with people I liked.
And with this in mind we entered the orange and purple flashing light environment of Club 6/49 on Ste. Catherine West. It was fun, but as could be expected it was also quite humbling. Basically it was like an episode of Dancing with the Stars, and I was the awkward football player. Or maybe So You Think You Can Dance, and I was the person with sweat stains dancing to bongo music. A bit dramatic, yes, but that’s what it felt like.
As professional couples, all gold heels and sex appeal, swirled around Charbel and I, we struggled to figure out what type of dance we should be doing. You’d think it wouldn’t be that difficult when all you know are three steps, but it was. Then we just couldn’t seem to understand each other’s movements, and as my feet moved slowly from one side to the another, Charbel’s moved forward quickly.
After a decent 15 minutes of failed attempts, we gave up and retired to a nearby table to stare at the spectacle.
“I learned that it’s all about understanding your partner,” said Charbel.
“You know what I learned tonight? I learned that I’m not sexy.”
Not exactly what we had set out to learn by signing up for salsa lessons, but both valid life lessons if you ask me.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment