Salsa Lessons

So, I went salsa dancing a few weeks ago, for the first time in ages. I was excited to reawaken my Brazilian side, first discovered in my days student teaching in Brasilia, but it had been quite some time since I had put on my dancing shoes, so I was a bit apprehensive walking into The Chesterfield’s swanky foyer.

While I was a little rusty, I remembered the basics. I held my head high, reminding myself that I am a woman (My mantra when the moment requires some bravery) and dove into those Latin beats, getting by with a little help from my friends… and the Rum Chata helped too. After the DJ for the night led us through some painstakingly mechanical and basic moves, the music picked up, and the hands came extended to our table, asking us to dance. In the culture of partner dancing, the barriers of strangers comes down in a uniquely refreshing way. Anyone may ask and you just say yes. And you find that it’s okay. And the partners dancing, experienced or novice offer their bits of advice and wisdom as you shuffle and glide on the dance floor. Like the 75 year old jasper who authoritatively commanded to my roommate in his thick accent “Ju speen when aye tell ju to speen! Hokay?”


The Necessity of Letting Go

Here’s the thing about salsa dancing. It requires a partner–a partner who knows what he’s doing. But here’s the other thing–it also requires that the girl can let the guy lead. Which is harder than it sounds.

I came to this realization when one of my partners asked how long I had been dancing and nodded his head knowingly when I said it had been awhile since I’d been salsa dancing. And with the other guy who outright told me that it was hard to dance with me because I was anticipating his moves too much. So later, after a wrong turn with another man, in the space between getting back in step, I smiled at him apologetically and said “Sorry- I’m having a hard time letting the guy lead.”  

“Oh yeah?” he chuckled. “Why’s that?”

In between twirls and twists, I blurted out “I guess it’s hard to let go of control…” I skipped a beat and then disclaimed “Which sounds like this conversation is becoming a deep metaphor for my life, which it’s not–salsa dancing is just harder than it looks.”

We laughed and then kept dancing, but the comment stuck with me for the rest of the night as I kept accepting the hands of others and being led onto the dance floor. I am not accustomed to so tangibly needing to enter into the moment– to have to trust something, or someone with an immediacy that would impact the next step.  Salsa dancing required me to stop anticipating the next move and trust my intuition. Things got tripped up when I overanalyzed my movement, my partner’s movement. Things flowed more when I released into the moment and let the subtle guidance of my partner’s hands translate seamlessly into spins and twists that I didn’t know I could do and certainly weren’t a part of the tutorial at the beginning of the evening.  

The Effort of the Effortless Moment

And another dancing inspired epiphany I had recently–I was at a friend’s wedding earlier this month and watching a couple who were ballroom dancers glide effortlessly on the dance floor at the reception. It looked like uninhibited freedom. Elegant, effortless, enchanting. What got them to that place? I wondered as I watched them from my seat. Lord knows I couldn’t do that (as evidenced by the moment a few songs later when in an attempt to dip me, a more than slightly inebriated wedding guest dropped me on the floor with a quite inelegant and graceless thud. Ha.)

No, that couple had told me that they competed in ballroom dancing competitions, which means they probably submitted to lots of repetitious practice and guidance and time. There were probably countless hours poured into those moments on the dance floor that contributed to their graceful twirls and dips, enabling them to be fully present on the dance with the almost out of body intuition I was attempting to enter into with my salsa dance partners.

Both sides of this art were necessary. Submitting to the mundane choice of discipline and diligence as well as the brave leap into the moment of letting go.  

What has struck me about dancing these last few weeks is how strongly it could connect to so many things. Not merely a metaphor for relationships, although it is rich in wisdom in that context of what it means to be human. It led me to think about these questions.

What is it that I’m being asked to enter into with diligent practice?

What must I show up to  and work towards that would lead up to those euphoric moments of beauty and aliveness?

In what ways am I being asked to let go of control, to stop the mentally exhausting anticipation and over thinking that I have become accustomed to– where am I being invited onto the dance floor, being asked to trust the process, the hand guiding me?



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