Back in October 2014 I met with the organizers of TEDxUF, the largest TEDx conference in the southeast, about an idea for a talk. Over the past six years, salsa dancing has completely changed my life and I wanted to share my experiences on stage. The organizers loved the idea and so did I, so I got the green light for A Brave New Salsa Dancing World.
Flash forward a month, and I’ve made zero progress on my talk. I had a rough outline but there were lots of holes in the story and, most importantly, I had no ending. Driving in the car, I was thinking how I could end this talk. Could it be with a dance, something motivational, funny?
Then, I got a text. It was from my girlfriend (who I first met at a salsa social) and it read “Love you, muah”. BAMMM! It hit me like a train. I knew exactly how I would end this talk. I was going to propose to my girlfriend on stage. The idea both excited and terrified me, but ultimately it seemed like an idea worth spreading.
I spent the next 4 months living a double life. On one side, I collaborated with my girlfriend to build up the talk that she thought I was going to give, which included her dancing on stage. And on the other side, I worked on the talk I was actually going to deliver. The whole facade came close to crumbling down on numerous occasions: almost sending her the wrong draft of the talk for review or saying lines seemingly out of order to her as we practiced together.
Then the day finally came. I don’t know which made me more nervous, giving a complete TED talk from memory (c’mon, powerpoint is for amateurs) or getting down on one knee to ask the love of my life to marry me. Probably a little of both.
Once I began my talk, all of the nerves that had built up over the past 5 months disappeared. The planning, writing, editing, re-editing, re-re-editing….it all just melted away. I was in the zone, hitting on every point in my Memory Palace.
But as I neared the conclusion of my talk, something dawned on me. I was about to propose in front of 1500 people! You can see the exact moment where this realization occurs, right after we finish dancing for our second time. I sound quite winded from the dancing. Lies. I dance salsa ALL THE TIME, so 30 seconds of dancing on stage is not going to put a dent in me. Me sucking wind is entirely due to forgetting to breathe for a moment as I let my girlfriend head back off stage. What really happened here is that I suddenly realize that I have 4 more lines before the backstage organizers will re-introduce her into the talk (push her back on stage).
As I delivered those last few lines, it felt exactly like going skydiving. When you head up in that plane, the instructor tells you “the only way you are coming down is in a parachute, there is no other option.” I knew that the only way I was going to end this talk was by proposing.
And then, there she was. Standing in front of me, wondering why she was there. I couldn’t help but smile. I got down on a knee and the audience roared in excitement. It took every ounce of “don’t cry” self-control built up in my adolescent years to not break out in tears, but somehow I made it through the proposal.
She said “Yes!” and I was overjoyed, wanting to seal the deal ASAP. Even though I practiced every aspect of my talk well over 100 times, I did not practice the whole part about putting the ring on my fiance’s finger. Thus, I proceed to just hand it to her! Oh boy. But it doesn’t matter because I immediately hug her with all my strength. I hugged her so tightly that I never thought I would let her go. And honestly, I never will.