My first go at a dance class in Spain was almost enough to put me off dancing for good. Long story short: zumba is not for me. It was with great scepticism then that the following night I ventured back to the same club with the same teacher, this time for a salsa class. 6 Months on and I still think this was the best decision of my year abroad.
Salsa originally comes from Cuba and incorporates various music and latin dance styles of which I can remember 3; el básico (salsa), merengue and bachata. I should most definitely know more than this (and my definition of salsa may be a little off) but I was always too busy keeping up with my partner and trying not to fall to pay attention to everything Julian (my teacher) was saying.
El básico is your basic salsa step and this one I can actually do with the slightest amount of skill and that’s including the spins, something I’m rather proud of I must admit.
Then there is merengue. I don’t truly know how to describe (or do) this one but it is a favourite of mine. My general solution is to jog on the spot slowly (or quickly if the music is fast) and hope I blend in sufficiently with the people who actually know what they’re doing. You may then wonder why I would actually enjoy merengue but it is in fact one of my favourite salsa steps, perhaps it’s because this dance always made the foreign lot stand out quite distinctly from the locals.
Last and most definitely my least favourite comes bachata. All I have to say for this one is that it hurts my legs, hips and ankles and I have definitely given up trying. My first experience of this one was when my Chilean dance partner, Adrián, thrust his knee between my legs and started dancing with his knees very, very bent between mine so that he could bring his 6’ 4” height down to my level. This brought out the awkward Brit in me and without me even realising I apparently stood up straight and stepped back in horror. Once Adrián had reassured me that it was “easy” and that I just needed to practise I gave it another go and learnt that the dance also requires my knee to be between his legs. Here develops the slightly irrational fear of kneeing him in the balls. Fortunately bachata does not come into my favourite dance of them all, la rueda de casino, and so hasn’t totally ruined the salsa experience for me.
Now onto la rueda. This is a dance sequence incorporating both la rumba and merengue (along with a multitude of others whose names I can’t remember). It translates as wheel or circle and is danced in a circle with multiple partners. It is absolute chaos, especially for those of us with no natural dancing ability, and is the perfect dance in which to mask my merengue jog. The best thing about it though is that you can escape the really bad dance partners with great ease and zero awkwardness.
While I have loved learning salsa, it is not without its faults. Mainly that it comes with a big side serving of sexism. For example el principe malo, a move in which the female partner essentially gets slapped (albeit lightly) for “bad behaviour”. There was no reciprocal move for the girls. There was also the guy who felt the need to shake and laugh at my bingo wings, I hadn’t even realised I have bingo wings! Needless to say that from then on I had issues avoiding his toes.
Despite the downsides though I was still sad to part from my twice-weekly class at the end of four months. I haven’t totally stopped salsa though and have since braved many a salsa night and survived! One partner (rather dishonestly) went so far as to say that I actually dance quite well!
Lucy Hibbitt, Salamanca.