Social Dance Life #4: From LA to Cali – My Story From Shy Guy To Salsero…

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The following Social Dance Life story was sent to us from a dancer named Kyle.  He tells how salsa has changed his life.

“I was a shy person in my time at the university. I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t go out as often. However that changed in the summer of 2013.  A friend of mine who worked next door to me had heard that I went salsa dancing once or twice, but not a big goer. So she asked me if I would join her for the salsa class at a Mexican restaurant where they played Tropical Latin music; Lienzo Charro in Temecula, California. I was so nervous.

It was always a goal of mine to learn to dance these rhythms because  (1) I was preparing to work abroad as an ESL teacher in Latin America; so it would proper to learn a little bit about the culture and (2) a confidence booster. However, at that time, with a high social anxiety problem, I could even step into the place nor get out of my car. One time I almost ran over a couple because the anxiety felt like adrenaline; it was too much for me. This night was different.

My friend and I took the dance class. My heart was beating quickly like the timbal drum and I couldn’t stop sweating. However, people in the class told me that I was very good. After the class, my friend decided to leave because her friends were calling her to go dancing at a hip hop place. I decided to stay. When the music played, I was a wreck. I couldn’t follow the beat, I didn’t know what bachata was, and don’t even get me started with chachacha. I thought that I was never going to be a dancer.

The next weekend, I faced my fear of going back to Lienzo Charro…alone. As I entered, I sat alone at the bar waiting for the class to begin. The salsa instructor saw me. We talked a lil bit and he got to know me more, realizing that there was potential. He asked me: “Why weren’t you dancing last time you were here?” I told him that I was no good. He told me a specific advice: don’t worry if you mess up on the dance floor; just have a good time. I asked him “What if a woman rejects me?” He said “Don’t worry about that either. This is social dancing. Women always want to dance.” I had to clue what he meant until I started coming back again and again. People were more friendly than in nightclub atmosphere. By week 3, I had mastered the basics of L.A style salsa. The salsa instructor had advised me that I should take the classes on Sunday afternoon which also included the other rhythms like bachata, merengue, cumbia, and chachacha. So I did. Every Sunday after my college job at the art studio, I went to my 3 hour class. At home, I would practice my moves alone in the kitchen and listening to the sounds of Marc Anthony, Buena Vista Social Club, and Fruko y sus Tesos. I had found true joy and happiness. Not only that, dancing had improved my confidence and the social anxiety had went away.

Next year, I had met more people with similar interests in dancing. We went out together as one big family to dance salsa, bachata, chachacha, etc. Months passed and I had graduated with my bachelors in Spanish. In my last summer vacation, my friends and I had traveled all over southern California to different dancing venues in Los Angeles, San Diego, etc. At the end, we would go to Denny’s for late night meal to recuperate our energy. However, all things come to an end but with a new beginning.

At the end of July, I had accepted a teaching position in a country in Latin America: Colombia. I was ready to face the true masters. My family was worried but I met people online from a city called Cali, the world capital of salsa. On August 8th, 2014, I left for Colombia and arrived in Cali at 5 pm. My friends picked me up from the airport and later that night, we went salsa dancing and they were impressed that this “gringo” could dance. However the styles were completely different. For example, in L.A style, the movements go forward and back for the basic. In salsa calena, it’s side to side. In salsa calena, the music is old style salsa, salsa dura, Fania style. Artists like Piper Pimienta, Joe Cuba, The Latin Brothers, Louie Ramirez,etc. When I was in Cali, my friends had told me about “La feria de Cali”. La feria de Cali is a big festival that happens from December 25th-30th each year, dedicated to salsa music (before it was a big sugar cane festival).

So now, I’m still in Colombia teaching ESL but on the weekends, I still go salsa dancing. Now, I’m taking classes on salsa calena in order to prepare for la feria de Cali this year. Unfortunately I don’t live in Cali. I live in Manizales in the Coffee Axis of Colombia but salsa is not the popular music; it’s reggaeton. Lord help me. However, when I do have the chance to go to Cali, I practice all night at a salsa bar called Tin Tin Deo, the perfect place to dance salsa calena; gringos and locals.

However 3 years dancing now, I’m glad where I am right now in life as a dancer.”

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