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salsa congress

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Dancing to the Beat of Your Own Clave: Loving YOUR Dance Style

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hale, check him out at  halemd.smugmug.com

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hale, check him out at halemd.smugmug.com

         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.   

One of my favorite pieces I've choreographed/performed. Borrowing elements of Salsa, Ballet, Contemporary, hip-hop, and Afro-Cuban to tell a story. 

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Salsa Pool Parties: The Great Equalizer of All Salsa Events

I love going to big salsa events because a lot of them have my favorite thing in the world: Salsa Pool Parties. The Orlando Salsa Congress this year had one of the best pool parties I’ve been to ever and to me, Salsa pool parties distill the essence of what is so wonderful about dancing Salsa. People were there with their friends, their husbands, wives, and kids. Music was blaring, the sun was beating down, drinks were pouring. People were barely clothed— bathing suits, cover ups, sunglasses, some flip flops or sandles. But it didn’t matter. Dimpled thighs or six packs, all were welcome. It didn’t matter. Nobody wanted the party to end. I realized that day that I wanted to raise my kids in that kind of environment. Friends and strangers dancing together. 

And the music. 

The music. A bass line hits and it goes deep into the pit of your stomach and all you can do is go “UGHHHH YES.” Then the keys tinkle and the timbales ring out and the clave is holding it all together and you’re up, pulled to the dance floor as if by a magnet. You look around, looking for someone to dance with. It doesn’t matter who— you just HAVE to move to that music, it’s like your life depends on it.

A moment of anxiety— are you going to have to sit this dance out?— and then you feel a gentle tug on your hand and you’re on the dance floor but there’s not really room on the actual floor, so you step onto the poolside concrete and it’s slick with sweat and pool water and God knows what else, but it doesn’t matter. You may be developing a shiny new blister on the bottom of your feet or slowly frying your skin, but who cares when the music is so good and you can just move. It doesn’t matter if your shoes are bedazzled or if you do multiple turns or if you’re even wearing clothes— Salsa Pool Parties are the Great Equalizer at any salsa event.

It’s all about the movement and the music, and the movement feels so good. It feels so natural. Barefoot, sweating, twisting, turning, slick hands sliding across each other, the accidental bump up against another couple who’s lost in the music. To an outsider it might seem sexual, carnal, but it’s not. There’s a level of joy, of loving life and oneself that you feel outside with the sunshine and the breeze and zero stress. There’s not one defining moment to it, but a series of moments that are all beautiful, exciting, energetic, and moving. You are already savoring the memory of that flawlessly executed turn as the next one begins. You feel the way you do after a long day at the beach— you can still feel the waves when you lay down that night. It’s like that after that perfect day of dancing. You can still feel the gentle push pull of a cross body lead or the swing into a turn, the sensation of every part of your body being involved and alive. Activated. Active. Awake. 

You realize that you’re asleep through most of every day. That you don’t feel, that you just think. That you just let your thoughts race and you go through the motions. But on the dance floor, it’s the other way around. You can’t think. You can just feel. 

The song ends and you experience that pang again…is it over? Will this moment ever be recreated? And then someone else asks you to dance, and the whole process is started over again. It’s a new wave. Similar, but it still has it’s own properties. 

And that’s why I love casual Salsa environments, like a pool or beach party. Because the self-consciousness present on an “actual” dance floor isn’t there. It’s just sweaty bodies and amazing music creating some kind of magical alchemy that results in that high, that feeling of loving life, of being carefree, stress free, and truly happy

So…when’s the next Salsa pool party guys??

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