I was recently added to a group of people who consider themselves the “underdogs” of Salsa congresses…the people who work hard, leave it all on stage, but don’t get the recognition that the big name national and international artists receive. We are the people who aren’t Youtube sensations, who aren’t getting paid top dollar to travel the world, teaching our special brand of Pachanga Footwork or Sensual Bachata dips.
I used to think that’s what I was supposed to want if I went pro in the Salsa world…a pair of Burju shoes named after me, a million views on my Youtube videos, adoration at every congress for my gymnastics/Salsa routines.
But then I realized that was someone else’s dream, not mine. I can’t stand wearing lycra, full body sequins, and false eyelashes. I have no interest in my routines looking like everyone else’s, following the formula of spin, spin, spin, spin, flip, dip, crazy shine, crazy turn combo, repeat, lift, aaaaand finish. I don’t even really like wearing high heel dance shoes anymore.
One of the taglines of my first dance company, Baila ConmiGA, was “I Like My Own Style.” It’s taken me a while to embrace this idea…I have always been self-conscious about the way I dance, because my lifelong ballet training makes me look more like a ballerina than a salsera on the floor. I can turn well, but I don’t have Afro-Cuban body isolations or hip movements for days. I have short hair and can’t do all the sexy hair-whipping that so many salsa dancers pull off so well.
If I really wanted to, I could probably learn and practice enough to look more like a “Salsa dancer.” But I don’t. I love my choreography, movement style, costume and music choices precisely because they are so different. I take all of my dance and life experiences and put them together to truly express myself, whether I’m social dancing or performing.
Whenever I’m teaching, I stress the importance of developing your own style. We all have different body architectures, and therefore, every step is going to look different on every person. No two people are going to turn exactly the same or have arm styling that looks exactly the same. And that’s the beauty of dance.
Every time you step on the dance floor, you have a chance to express and assert your personality. You have a chance to show the world who you really are—where you’ve been, who you’ve loved, who you’ve lost, what you stand for in life. I love the quote from Mikhail Baryshnikov “When a body moves, it is the most revealing thing. Dance for a minute, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
When you’re trying to copy someone else or look exactly like this star or that one, it shows. It looks inauthentic, disingenuous. Be yourself on the dance floor, and that’s when you’ll really shine. When people will take notice. When you’ll feel happier and more confident. It may take time to develop your style, you may have to try out several and find the one that works best for you. You may take a piece here and there, a move from this workshop, a step from that video.
But at the end of the day, you’ll know that you’re dancing as yourself. You’ll have made your own formula, a special blend that only you can dance.
So perhaps I am an underdog in the sense that there’s not a line of people waiting to dance with me or I don’t get thunderous applause for a performance, but I dance MY way and am able to express myself and get other people to do the same, so somehow, I feel like I’m coming out on top.