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salsa events

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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 Dance Performances: This S*** is Scary!

This year marks the one year anniversary of my Studio-to-Stage performance groups, and it’s pretty amazing to see how far they’ve come. From five girls in a rented fitness studio on Johns Island late at night to three different levels in my OWN Latin dance studio in Charleston, this program has come a long way. Twenty-something people have gone through the program  and it’s been incredible to see individual’s growth with every session. But what I really want to do is commend these ladies and gentlemen for having the guts to participate in a Salsa dance performance.

            It is utterly terrifying to get in front of your friends, family, peers, and strangers. When you dance, you kind of bare a part of your soul. It’s a little easier tobare your soul when you’re in a room with a bunch of people who are doing the same thing, i.e. on the social dance floor. It’s a lot harder when you’re in front of people you know or don’t know, and you know they are just watching you.

            From a non-performer’s standpoint, it’s easy to watch a performance and to criticize it or pick it apart. Oh, that person was late. Oh, the music selection was weird. Oh, I don’t like their costumes. Oh, it was too long. But what audience members have to remember is that performers are taking a huge risk by putting themselves on stage.

            They could fall. They could mess up. Any number of things can go wrong in a live performance—I’ve seen people puke, have nosebleeds, and break bones on stage.

            Besides physical risks, when someone is onstage, they are making themselves emotionally vulnerable. They are opening themselves up to criticism. They are creating a piece of moving art. They are tapping into some aspect of their emotional self and sharing it with the world.

            And that is scary!

            But the payoff is huge. There’s so much satisfaction that comes with performing. Seeing the progression of a piece rehearsal after rehearsal. Bonding with the your partners in crime in your dance group. Feeling accomplished from learning a piece of choreography and committing it to your muscle memory. Playing dress up in your costumes and make-up.

            And then there is the actual rush of performing itself. It’s like a high…your adrenaline is spiked before the moment you actually step on stage and that spike usually lasts through the performance and beyond. There’s the feeling of stage lights and eyes on your skin—nothing compares to it. And then when you’re done, hearing the applause. Realizing you did it. You performed.

            As soon as the last performance is over, you’re already looking for the next one.

            So despite Salsa dance performances (or any type of performance) being scary, making your heart pound, giving you anxiety and stress dreams before the show, they’re so worth it. You feel alive. You feel powerful. You feel accomplished. You feel wonderful. If performing is on your bucket list, then DO it. Find a place, find a way. You’ll thank yourself.

Thank you to all of my amazing Studio-to-Stagers past and present. This post is for you. I love you guys and I can’t wait for more rounds in the future.

What do you think? Do you perform? Have you experienced this? Or nah? Prefer to stay in the audience? Comment below!

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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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