Sometimes you don’t really know something’s missing in your life til all of a sudden BAM! That missing piece to the puzzle finds its way into that empty spot, slots itself in there and unlocks a level of joy you didn’t know you had. That’s what happened to me recently when I realised Salsa dancing is something I should’ve been doing since I came out of the womb. It turns out, Gloria Estefan wasn’t lying – the rhythm really is gonna getcha.
So how did I make this discovery? Well, a couple of months ago, I was on holiday in Medellin, Colombia (quick side bar: I will absolutely write a blog post about that incredible trip/country/city/people/vibes at some point, ’cause it was amazing, but an abridged version of my stance on it all is, if Colombia is on your bucket list, push it higher up and go there, pronto). My friend Beci and I had been for dinner in a pretty touristy area called El Poblado. After dinner, as the crowds were coming out and the streets started to get that hustle bustle feeling, we strolled around a little, taking in the vibes.
We’d mentioned we’d quite like to maybe hit a club and dance to some hip hop, so we were on the hunt for some place to do that. As we walked down a street, we heard salsa music coming from this spot and on the balcony, could see people dancing. I was instantly mesmerised. ‘Shall we go in?’ I say to Beci. She nods enthusiastically. We pay the cover charge and are led in by the hostess who sits us at a table.
On the dance floor, couples spin, twirl and groove to incredible Salsa rhythms. If you didn’t know better, you’d have thought it was a choreographed number from a musical. I was on the edge of my seat, my body involuntarily grooving to the music, a smile plastered across my face. I look at Beci and she looks the same. ‘You should get up there!’ she says. I shake my head, ’cause I’ve never really done Salsa, I’d have no clue what I’m doing, but God, I wanted to, like, I really wanted to be on that dance floor.
See, I was a dancer when I was younger. It wasn’t just a hobby for me. I had dreams of being a choreographer one day. Dance was my whole life through my teens. I loved it. It’s what made me feel good. It was my happy place. And I was really good at it.
Hitting the dance floor
So, cut back to the Salsa club and there are two guys sitting at the table next to ours. One of them waves at me and says hi, I smile and wave back. He gets up and asks me to dance. ‘I don’t know how,’ I say. He smiles, ‘I’ll teach you!’ And just like that, he takes my hand, leads me to the dance floor and we start to groove.
I pick up the basic steps pretty easily, my partner (who’s name, I find out, is Juan), is impressed. His limited English and my non-existent Spanish aren’t an issue as he guides me in subtle ways; his hand on my back gently nudging me, showing me which way to go, a change in his hand position signaling we’re getting ready for a turn. That first dance he kept the moves simple, when the song ended, we headed back to our table.
Through Google translate, Beci and I chatted all night with Juan and his brother. But this was no idle chit chat, these were deep and heavy meaning-of-life type conversations, the ones that reaffirm that you were meant to be in this place, this moment, right now, meeting this person. Beci and I crowned Juan as our Colombian little brother.
Surprisingly, in this club in the heart of the tourist district, we were the only foreigners there. You could tell from the vibe of the place and the way everyone was interacting, they were all regulars and this was their Saturday night spot. There were people of all ages. Women in their 60s dancing with men in the 20s, men dancing together, women dancing together – it didn’t matter. And a dance was just a dance. A guy invites you to the dance floor, twirls you round for three minutes, when the song ends, he thanks you and walks you back to your table. However sensuous the dance may be, the environment is not sexualised. Ultimate respect is shown at all times – there’s no inappropriate touching, no forcing anyone to dance if they don’t want to. It was just the very definition of good vibes.
Juan kept getting me up on the dance floor, trying to get more adventurous with the moves every time. The club was getting busier, the dance floor more packed and everyone was getting sweatier. By this time, I was smiling so hard I thought my face might crack. With every song, what I was doing felt more right, even if I was getting the moves wrong, everything about that night was filling me with joy.
As Beci and I sat at our table, every now and then, the older men and women in the club would come up to us and chat away in Spanish – we’d smile and nod, no idea what they were saying until Juan translated for us and it was always a variation of how happy they were to see us there, the only foreigners, coming in, showing respect and trying our best on the dance floor. They didn’t need to be this gracious to us but I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where I felt so welcomed and accepted.
We closed the club down that night, our tired bodies stumbling out of there and they brought the shutters down at 4am. Beci and I beamed the whole way home in the cab, blown away by the night we’d just had. We’d never experienced anything like it.
‘When I get back to London, I am learning Salsa!’ I declared, back at our apartment, as I reenacted the moves in my pajamas.
And true to my word, I landed back in London, hit the Googles, found Salsa classes near me and a week later, I was in my first lesson.
Friends, let me tell you – I have found the thing that sets my soul on fire. I love it so much. My Thursday night Salsa classes are the highlight of my week, I look forward to them and count down the days.
It’s not just the fact that I love the dance and the music, it’s bringing me so much more. As an introvert who spends so much time avoiding being around people, especially large groups, it’s helping me overcome that. It’s allowing me to embrace my vulnerability, because you realise, in a class of 30+ people all learning the same thing, we all have those same feelings. We all feel a bit silly and embarrassed if we get something wrong, but though we’re complete strangers, we all support and encourage each other.
A couple of weeks ago, the instructor said to me ‘Have you done Salsa before? You’re gonna be really good at this, you have a natural ability’ – I beamed off that compliment for days. Last week, I bought proper Salsa dancing shoes (’cause apparently, it doesn’t look quite as sexy doing it in Nike Air Maxes) and that’s when I felt like I was really getting to grips with the feeling and the movement.
I’m learning Bachata now too, so that when I finally hit the Salsa clubs to try out these moves, I’ll really look like I know what I’m doing.
So, what’s the moral of this story? There are many:
- listen to your friend when she gives you a gentle nudge and says ‘you should get up there’.
- If it makes you smile and feel good, you should do it.
- If it gives you a feeling you can’t quite explain but can only be described as akin to setting your soul on fire, well goddamnit, you OWE it to yourself to do it.
- Everyone should have a hobby.
- Trying new things can be terrifying, but can also be so wonderfully rewarding, you’ll kick yourself that you didn’t start sooner.
So, whatever that thing is for you, go do it. If you’re still on the quest to find it, don’t stop searching.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to practice my moves for my class next week.