Un Ritmo Encontrar

30 Jan

Sometimes, no matter what I might like to think, traveling solo does have its limitations. It’s not that I can’t manage to have a good time in any venue, or dropkick and punt to search out something new if the evening isn’t going well. Often in these situations though, the wisdom gained from an activity, albeit enlightening, is not necessarily easy to admit. Like Friday night’s attendance at the Jefferson Center to see the Eddie Palmieri Latin Band and the Bio Ritmo Salsa Party.

I love Cuban and Latin music. It’s sassy, fun and it makes me wiggle. I like wiggling. Dancing has been something I have enjoyed all my life since the days when my aunt and I would disco in her bedroom to ABBA and the Jackson’s on 45s. Rhythm and movement came naturally to me, so my mother carted me to ballet and tap classes even though I was a chubby child. Last year’s futile search for burlesque classes ended in learning belly dance as a substitution. And aside from the occasional hip hop lesson, what I really wanted to learn was salsa, a duo dance of passion, spicy and oh so rhythmically tempting. After watching a demonstration from Lynchburg Salsa at a downtown festival in late summer, I knew I had to learn, especially after observing one young man whose movement truly captivated me. It’s not too often one sees a man dance well, and he was phenomenal, totally sinuous and physically expressive. His movement was poetry. He and his partner seemed to have all the right combination of emotion and physicality. I thought to myself, I soooo want to do that. Admittedly, passionate expression on the dance floor has taken a turn for the worse after Dirty Dancing. I’ve been to the prom as a chaperone too many times to really enjoy the little-better-than-mating displays to which I am an unfortunate witness, so salsa seemed to me appropriate, skilled, and sensual all at the same time.

I remember attending my first and only salsa lesson, a bargain at only five dollars at the Academy of Dance. I had messaged them and asked if partners were necessary. Oh no, they assured me. There are plenty of single people who come and everyone dances with everyone. That night I was so excited in my red ruffled dress, until I realized that I was the only person in the room without a partner. At the open dance afterward, the only available partner was a 4’10 delightfully talented Mexican man. I am 5’9, in bare feet.

So tonight, at first, I decided to only attend the jazz concert. It seemed wise since the seats were ticketed and I could enjoy the music without feeling like a single carrot in amongst the peas. Eddie Palmieri and his troupe were wonderful, but the rhythmic interpretive afro-Cuban arrangements were a bit more cerebral than physical, and I did lose myself in thought during the instrumental nature of the performance.

Afterward, it still seemed early and my ticket would earn me two dollars off the admission price to hear a ten piece Latin band that frankly, I had heard was dynamite.

–Hmmmmm…  I contemplated —Okay, why not? I’ll go to a salsa party.

First, I will say, it takes a bit of bravery to go to a dance alone as a woman. I have to give myself a bit of credit. Even though there were single women in attendance, they were in small groups and they knew how to salsa. I, on the other hand, only knew a basic step, and could never quite get the turn down from my lone lesson. So I knew, if I was asked to dance, Sorry would have to be the answer. That was frustrating. I kept thinking to myself, why don’t they have a solo section, a place where people can just dance alone?

Bio Ritmo started their set and I caught the wiggles in less than five minutes. Aching to dance, I thought seriously to just go let loose “with the band” which is what I normally do at a musical show that invites dancing. I move well. I do not care who sees me and I’m not shy . . . when I’m by myself.

Because suddenly, there he was standing in front of me. A 6’5 dark haired man in a silver suit named Raphael asked me to dance. I told him I didn’t know how, but he drug me out on the floor anyway. As we attempted to dance together, the lesson I began to learn wasn’t really about dancing at all… It was about me. And it’s hard to admit…so here goes:


I do not know how to let a man lead.

It’s a fault, and I’ll admit it.

Even in my salsa lesson oh-so-many months ago,  a young man in his 20’s schooled me hard on keeping tension in the arms and letting him move me.

“You have GOT to let me lead”, he said tersely.

But you’re doing it wrong, I thought. How can I follow you if you aren’t doing the dance correctly? That makes me do it wrong, too. I know how to do it right…follow ME.

Looking down at my feet, however, I stepped with him incorrectly, never learning the dance well and prayed for the song to be over. Feeling angry and defeated, in the name of gender, I purposefully yielded to imperfection.

Raphael knew how to salsa, but he couldn’t teach me the turns. It was impossible to find a rhythm and I tried my best to match his movements. But I failed. I couldn’t read his body language or discern the next move. Dancing became a physical jazz, all discordant disharmonious movement somehow in rhythm to a beat. With some dancers, the joy of movement means more than the precision and Raphael was one of those dancers. I had to push myself to let go and just enjoy moving, for the sheer joy of sharing the moment with an enthusiastic soul. Spinning and turning occurred whenever, not when it was supposed to. Right when I’d catch a pattern of movement, he’d change motion or want to flip me around which sent us off into another rhythm entirely. Life is a lot like that anyway, I suppose.

Even though we danced several times, my comfort level never reached an even point. But I think I learned a lot about connection in the process. While a gift, it’s not always going to be perfect, and my problem with leading needs attentiveness and balance. I need more practice with balancing in many areas, not just in dance partners. Finding a way to be myself and yet, hold back. Only stepping when the note calls; the even back and forth trade of lead is dancing at its best. It will take patience and practice. Perhaps I ought to watch other dancers first, for a while.

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