If you’ve followed my admittedly scattered blog posts over 2015, you will undoubtedly have noticed that salsa dancing has taken over my life, and I’m not even a little bit ashamed. All of a sudden, 25% of my Facebook friends are salsa friends, I find myself turning down nights out on the tiles so that I can drive to a salsa social, and I’ve somehow neglected to purchase a complete season’s worth of winter clothes in favour of tops and dresses with sequins and glitter, purely for salsa dancing purposes.
I started dancing on the 28th January 2015 – it was my New Year’s Resolution to myself to finally follow through on learning to dance, something I’d been going on about since I was a teenager. I walked in alone, sat beside two people around my mum’s age who would soon become great friends, and looked awkwardly around the room like a kid on their first day of a new school. I was mortified at the thought of dancing with strangers, looking them in the eye and making strained conversation, and I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to get rid of my inhibitions enough to enjoy it. Regardless, I signed up for 10 classes and grabbed a spot at the front of the class – I didn’t get an award at school for being Teacher’s Pet for nothing, after all!
What happened in those 10 weeks I can barely explain – but I’m going to give it a go. You might wonder why I haven’t posted exclusively about salsa before now, but that is exactly why. I’ve tried multiple times to write funny lists and blog about my dancing events, but it has been impossible to capture the essence of something that I love so much and do it justice. Also, to be completely honest, I’m slightly mortified that people I dance with will be reading this – so if we dance together and you are reading this, please pretend you never did, at least to my face – otherwise my face will be a beetroot.
On the 5th week of class, when we moved on from merengue and bachata and started salsa, my instructor Chris said that for some of us, it would change our life, and I 100% believe him. I still can’t put it into words completely, but as a year of salsa dancing approaches, I feel like I should try.
From basic step to fancy footwork
As I said, I started my dancing journey in January. However, by April, I had been persuaded to stay behind for the second ‘improvers’ class, and that’s where the passion and transformation really started.
For a few weeks, every male dancer was met with an apology from me, in a bid to soften the blow when their 5+ years of dancing came up against my slightly ropey 5 months of the basics! But soon, with a bit of help from some very patient new friends, I found the apologies lessening, replaced with bubbling excitement when I mastered a new step. Next, I started to loosen up, relax among the more advanced members of the class, even learn a few names now that I was no longer too nervous to retain anything but the basic step, and before long, I could follow most steps from a pretty decent lead and I started to appreciate what a gift had come from starting the class.
My salsa family
First up, was the friendship. Imagine walking into a room with both men and women, varying in nationality, some not speaking great English, ranging in ages from 20 to mid-60s, a mixture of single and married couples, and comprising of doctors, journalists, magicians, ICT technicians, surgeons and students and so much more. Sounds like a motley crue, eh? Now turn a salsa track on and watch the 20 year old students make a beeline for the experienced older dancers, two people who barely speak the same language laughing and having the time of their lives, and married couples being completely content to dance with a mixture of partners all night, perhaps coming together once or twice for their favourite songs. That is dancing, and it is magic.
Whether in the classroom or on the social dance floor, my style of dancing encourages you to appreciate the person, not their looks, their age or their job, and its a refreshing change from the rest of the world – or maybe I’m just old fashioned at heart. I now have the greatest group of friends that I’ve met in just one year. It’s not everywhere that you can walk into a room by yourself and feel completely at home.
You could write a book…
Next are the laughs, which to be honest, aren’t a far cry from life off the dance floor. Undoubtedly, with so many personalities on the floor, you come up against a few ‘characters’, shall we say. And me being me, I tend to adopt the strays, which makes for a giggle with the girls between dances – in fact, it’s these giggles that have cemented a friendship between some of my greatest salsa friends. I could go into it, but that’s for another blog post entirely…
A whole new social calendar
Before you learn to dance, you wonder where on earth you’d ever use your newfound skill. I use mine at least twice a week. Now, my friends have to compete with salsa class on a Tuesday, Friday social nights, a dance on the first Saturday of the month and two salsa balls a year, not to mention other events that pop up now and again. I’ve had the best nights of the year at our Summer & Christmas balls and a Halloween event, not to mention an adrenaline rush of an afternoon spent dancing with some of my fellow class members at a Belfast festival – if someone had told me this time last year that I’d have been doing that, I would have laughed in their face!
The best version of me
For me, nothing quite compares to being spun around the dance floor these days. It doesn’t even matter who is doing the spinning. For years, I’ve watched Strictly Come Dancing and a every dance film known to mankind, from Step Up to Footloose, and longed to feel the buzz of dancing like that with someone, and sometimes I can’t believe I’m doing it. Sure, I’m dancing in a tennis club in Belfast and not in the Blackpool ballroom, but when my favourite salsa song is playing, I’m dancing with one of my favourite partners and I’m following their lead, I feel flipping amazing and I don’t care who knows it. To put it simply, dancing is like a secret language, and once you have learned it, you have unlocked the key to something special – there may be different styles, there will always be different skill levels, and I’ll probably always be learning, but there’s nothing like it.
Dancing has become such a big part of my life that breaking it down into a single blog post, is almost impossible, but hopefully this has put it into perspective. However, the moral of this post is simple – if you’ve promised yourself something for years, then do it. Whether that’s travelling, studying, dancing, singing or something completely different. I wish I’d done it the first time I said it, but I couldn’t be happier that I started last year. Now all is left is for me to decide 2016’s challenges!