Monday, November 29, 2010

A New Outlook

I attended Mario's practice social for the second time last week. I felt nervous because my dance skills are not up to par or anywhere close to par, compared to the experienced dancers.
 I tried at first to sit down and observe what was going on around me. A distinct man, who stood alone in the middle of the dance floor staring at the mirror and shifting his shoulders up and down, up and down, caught my attention immediately. I instantly thought about what we do before class every week and how important it is to stretch our muscles in an effort to prevent cramps and increase flexibility. No one else was dancing so I continued to observe him- let’s call him Flamingo Legs- a Hispanic guy, tall, skinny and a head full of hair. Flamingo Legs began to use his legs to create an invisible diagonal form one end of the floor to another. Every time the beat played his long legs would tap the floor accordingly. His upper body followed this motion by being congruent with his lower half. So his hips swayed and his arms poised themselves in an eloquent manner as he danced from side to side. This however was not the regular diagonal step we learned in class. It was a lot fancier and when I tried to count the steps that he took- I always ended up missing a few. I was confused but fascinated.
Another gentleman, a middle aged Puerto Rican who said he never knew how to dance salsa until he joined Mario’s classes admitted to being fairly unfamiliar with what Flamingo Legs was doing. We’ll call him Blue Eyes. So we both sat gawking at Flamingo Legs. I built up the courage to ask Blue Eyes because I was really trying to grasp the beat myself and see if maybe there was a transition somewhere that was throwing me off. Blue Eyes told me that he himself was having major problems realizing when the beat stops and changes so he decided he would take one of Mario’s classes that teach the student about transitions and beat patterns. He laughed in a non humorous way and sorrowfully confessed to taking the class not twice- which is the typical amount- but five times and still doesn’t fully understand it! I must admit my self confidence was bolstered after hearing this and I asked him for a dance. When we got up on the dance floor that bolstered confidence of mine gave out as I soon noted that he was a very fine dancer- not perfect or as talented as the others who ran circles around their partners but he was mighty good. He asked where I was from and I replied Colombia. Afterward I received the all too typical, “But you should know how to dance” respond. I don’t- and I think this is a very common misconception that people think all Hispanics can dance and groove to bachata, meringue and salsa.
We had ourselves a very good dance afterward and then little by little as the night progressed more gentlemen starting asking me to dance. I wondered if it would be decent or acceptable in a real ball or festivity to have the female ask for the man’s hand. I am particularly interested in the woman’s role when she is dancing because as we have stating in class- Salsa is a very masculine dominated dance.
But going back to the gentlemen who asked me to dance; I must admit I was very surprised that one man- wearing a black turtleneck which we should call Black Turtleneck was amazingly, staggeringly, “Dancing with the Stars” good! Black Turtleneck was dancing the whole night with a female; let’s call her The Shaker.  This dynamic duo was not dancing- they were connecting. She could read him and he could read her- I could tell because there was no pause between a left hand turn and a cross body and a cockroach stopping move and whatever other moves they had going on. It’s like they have practiced that routine since they were young- but I know that’s highly unlikely yet I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them. And she, The Shaker, with her 4 inch heels and her tight calves knew no word that came close to “stop.” I know this because an even more fascinating phenomenon occurred while I was observing the two. She missed a step, or perhaps he skipped one, but either way this information is irrelevant because she kept it going! She finished the by shaking her body and putting her hands up but as soon as the was over she resumed the continued role of following her partner. Now I must be describing it in a very odd fashion but it wasn’t odd at all- she looked like she was purposely taking the time to shake- although that wasn’t the case and she had missed a step or two. I remember Dr.Trillo stating that it’s very important to keep going with the music and not to stop- to pick it and not pause because you made a mistake. Well she was the perfect example of this and she did it in a very eloquent manner.
So when Black Turtleneck asked me to dance, I felt like I should warn him that I am no where as talented as his partner The Shaker. He smiled very politely and said he understood. I very much enjoyed dancing with Black Turtleneck because he took his time to count out the steps and position his body in a way that would give him ultimate control in the steps I took. He stood very sternly and led the way with his arms. I genuinely appreciated it.
Not long after I sat back down another gentleman, one with alleged fancy shoes asked me to dance but not before I agreed to not step on his shoes. Fancy Shoes said, “I have no problem with you doing anything as long as you DON’T step on my shoes.” I agreed. We danced and one of the first things he warned was to look up and not down, to trust my feel and to trust my partner. Fancy Shoes then proceeded to turn me in a way which confused me. In other word, I turn the opposite way. I felt nervous and perhaps intimidated but he told me to relax and I asked “How do I know which way you want me to turn?” He then told me one very useful tidbit: follow your elbow. Three words helped solve this problem. Wherever he guided my hand I followed my elbow and I didn’t miss a turn since.
I danced with about three others during the night but none as fascinating as the ones ‘m currently recalling. I also wanted to recount what happened during the middle of the night when the social was interrupted and the birthday girl- who happened to be The Shaker- began to have her first birthday salsa circle dance. She stood in the middle of a large circle of men (and two women) and when the music began one man stepped in and began to dance with her. This continued until the next prospective dancer felt like he wanted to give it a shot and swoop her away from the incumbent dancer. The manner in which the dancers were “taking turn” was awe-inspiring. They teased her and they teased one another whilst dancing with her. They held on to the spotlight and shone for as long as the others would allow him and then reluctantly give her away. That night was a great night. I certainly learned a lot.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dancing for a Dream

On November 15th we hosted an event in Roy Irving Theater to support and promote Dream Act/Immigration awareness. We had many people come out ins support of this and we danced from 9 PM to 12 AM. I specifically found this dance to be motivating and inspiring because I have little cousins who would be eligible for the dream act and it's hard to look at them and tell them their current options in regards to higher education and their future dreams of becoming a doctor. I really think this motivated me to start this project and be among the last to leave the dance floor.
We had our salsa class present and that was always a plus because together we danced and did our shine routine. We also had an array of music playing which wasn't limited to salsa- we had bachata and merengue as well...but I secretly wish we had vallenatos. All in all the event kept me sweating from start to finish and I really tried not only to look like I knew what I was doing but to have fun while doing it. Composure and style were the two main focus points.
There is always a wish to have more male dance partners present at these events because they are so scarce when it comes to dancing- but the few that showed up were greatly appreciated. Moreover, I really liked that I saw certain individuals that weren't from our salsa class present and that they showed up to support this event. Now I am no professional dancer by any means but I took someone who was sitting down- who wasn't from our salsa class- and I tried to teach him the basic routine. At first he really didn't want to learn and it is completely understandable why not- no one wants to look like they don't know how to dance. But after much insistence he tried and he was actually pretty decent! A lot better than when I first learned the routine. So we danced and that was great. I felt like-although i'm still not good- i'm getting better and that practicing improves what little rhythm I have. Perhaps it's muscle memory but maybe it's inspiration that made a difference that night...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Feeling the beat

I'm feeling the beat- both musically and physically.

In the beginning of class we had to "feel the beat" of the song and what numbers were being played. The beat of the conga would signify which steps to play up and what steps to play down. There are chords that are found in certain songs that will emphasize the numbers 1, 3, 5, 7- we have learned two dance moves that follow the 1, 3, 5, 7 pattern. I like these kinds of moves- they feel kind of bulky.

Dr.Trillo says we all look very old when we dance. This may be true. I don't exercise regularly or do cardio but maybe I should because Thursday mornings are usually filled with physical pain. Moreover, we are encouraged to dance on the balls of our feet which means that the next day my feet are sore from the second I awake. Also, salsa class itself feels like a workout so maybe being active and trying to exercise to get fit for class wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"The Salsa Queens"

I would have never expected salsa class to make me feel beautiful; especially not last Wednesday, with the humid rain and breezy wind.

I always thought of salsa to be enduring, a physical sport-like activity. Due to Wednesday’s two hour practices, Thursday mornings are usually filled with aches and bodily pains. Because of this, I believed dancing was much more instructional (perhaps even calculated and timed.) I guess a part of it is- the rhythm counting and the tune plays a huge part in how you dance. But sometimes...a tune just complicates things.

I never thought it would make me feel beautiful. I would awe at other female salsa dancers who, with their graceful limbs, twirled and whirled around the dance floor- usually in their stilettos. How beautiful, how feminine, how un-karlaish. I wouldn’t have the guts to attempt anything as majestic, and if I was drunk enough to try I would surely look ridiculous!

On Wednesday October 27th our salsa class was separated in two. One halve of the class practiced with their partners while the other halve, my halve, practiced their “shines.” I’m not going to lie- I sighed. I sighed heavily! I wanted to practice with a partner for the sole fact that it’s more practical. When we go to socials we will have to dance with others, so I wanted to get as much hands on experience as possible.

We learned this really cool move though- one that we didn’t think we could initially do. I wish I knew or remembered the name because it’s so elaborate and impressive. All of the students grunted when Dr.Trillo first showed us because it looked so impossible! But it turned out to be rather straightforward- Right foot: kick, tap, land, Left foot: toe tap, heel tap, toe tap again, FOOT STOMP. Now if you count the steps you would notice that there are eight. This was our first eight stepped move. One.two.three EIGHT. I capitalize because the eight shouts! “Cockroach stomping,” they call it.

Well, we all did it. Me of course, the worst dancer of the bunch, took a little extra time but I got it, I got it. Then we began adding on moves that we had already learned and we even learned another new move. This move was sexy- is that correct, calling a move tantalizing? Ha! Well, it certainly felt that way. Extremely inviting, passionate, and risqué. It was the crossing of the right foot over the left, crossing the left over the right, and so on and so forth until we finished the seven step count. But I must point out that there was an intentional exquisite pause between the three and the five.

Once we finished with that move, and whilst our instructor departed to instruct the other halve on their partner dancing routine, our halve continued to add on to our four move routine. We added moves that we already knew: the Susie Q, the cross-body, and about three others!

Something wonderful happened just then. We were really, really, really, really good! And it was a routine! We never did routines- and now we were doing it by ourselves. Our halve of the room was all females and so we began to proclaim we were the “Salsa Queens.” Ha! It was silly but it was motivating. All of us caught a drift, followed a motion, watched and reacted to one another. Moreover, we began asserting we were the “Better Halve,” which was extremely funny because everyone on the opposite side of the room just glanced in remote confusion. It wasn’t meant to discredit them, but I think it was more for our esteem.

Even when I messed up- skipped a step or forgot the next move- I kept it going. Dr.Trillo calls this muscle memory, I call it a miracle. I would pick up the step and continue the routine. I don’t think I could have done that a week ago. The beat stuck to me, and I stuck to it. I felt beautiful.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Got my Dancing Shoes on

So the social last Friday went very well. I didn't know what to expect and I have to admit: I thought we would be receiving class instructions from a salsa professor. In fact, for the first 20 minutes no one moved out of their seats. We anticipated the professor as we nervously sat amidst an empty dance floor with salsa music blasting from the speakers. No professor came. Little by little, slow ripples of people began to rise and ask one another to dance. Our class, huddled together on one isolated corner, began practicing "the basic," "side basic," "fancy basic," "left turn," "right turn," and even some couple moves.
I had brought my mom mainly because she had been begging to come but presumably, I guess I wanted to dance with someone who knew what they are doing. After Friday night, I wished I could inflate a good dance partner and deflate him when I'm done...I think I learn best and quicker when I dance with others.Moreover, he would have to be "good" because that way you'll learn from the best, and one day be the best! Unfortunately, the woman to man ratio in our class is about 450 : 4 1/2 so we can never have more than five minutes with a particular dancing partner. My mom said she learned how to dance salsa by going to parties. I guess that's all a social is... a party.

So after pushing my mom to dance with this one guy, who had multicolored dance shoes on, and seeing his dance moves I decided I would approach him and ask him for a dance. He was an older fellow, perhaps in his thirties and once we started dancing I saw just how incompetent I really was. He was advanced, by far, and it showed. He tried to turn me, I went the other way, our arms tangled and toppled over my head and it appeared, from afar, that he was holding me in some sort of WWE headlock. I apologize. We gave it another shot. Again, Betty spaghetti arms went flying in every direction. He explained to me that I shouldn't move my body to the movement of his hand. In other words, when he pulled my right hand to the left, he was only prepping me for a turn, this means that I should not complete the turn by shifting my body all the way to the left but instead wait for his signal- his guiding my hand to the right- to turn.

I learned a lot on Friday night and had a few good laughs. I definitely need to practice more but now that I have bought my dancing shoes, I'm ready to take on any and all obstacles!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010



Putting the radio on, and searching for La Mega. Nope, merengue is playing. "Mom! Can I get a Joe Arroyo or El Group Niche CD or something?"

So I get it, I play it, and I hear "Esclavitud Perpetua." I feel it. It makes me wanna much so that I am actually getting up in front of my bedroom mirror and doing "the basic."

This is EASY! But then Joe Arroyo starts singing, the music fades and the tempo changes. All of a sudden I don't "feel" the music. It's right when he says, "En los anos mil seiscientos, cuando el tirano mando
las calles de Cartagena, aquella historia vivio..." that I completely lose focus. Is this a transition? Am I suppose to slow my step on certain instrumental notes? Because I feel like I'm totally off rhythm if I keep with the "onetwothree.fivesixseven"

I'm going to ask my mom what it is I should do during this awkward transition. She would know. I'll letchu know when I find out!

PS- there is another part in the song that sounds like something out of a Tom & Jerry episode. Joe Arroyo says, "Y con ustedes....Chelito de casa" and then "Chelito de casa" starts going off on the piano in a very fast paced manner. Too fast, too fast! Note to self: Ask mami about this too..