“Salsa dancing” and dancing Salsa” seem the same thing, but I’m making a distinction.
The Salsa Dancing Craze
“Salsa dancing” is the craze that has spurred a ton of Salsa Congresses around the world. “Dancing Salsa” is what we used to do from garage parties (in our neighborhoods in Puerto Rico) to the Salsa de Salon ballrooms.
From the Palladium to the “Corso”, and the “Copacabana” in New York City, and to those legendary Salsa music clubs in Cali, Bogota, Caracas, Lima, Panama, Santo Domingo, Miami, and all the other cities in Latin America.
I thought about Salsa dancing and dancing Salsa music because it’s been a topic that I’ve discussed recently. I’ve been discussing it in casual conversations with friends as well as in recent interviews with musicians.
I’m in a middle of a trip to Europe where I met some Latin American peers in Austria. It was almost a coincidence that the theme of dancing Salsa came up in those conversations.
My old high school buddy that now lives in Zurich told me that although he enjoys Salsa music, he would have enjoyed it more if he had known how to dance it. I agree because getting to experience the music in it’s most social and fun way will enhance your taste for it.
On the other hand, as Oscar Hernandez (Spanish Harlem Orchestra) told me, Salsa can played in a Performance Arts Center, where people can go to listen to good Salsa music.
Dancing Salsa as a Social Skill
Dancing Salsa music was also mentioned by my Latin American peers when we met in Austria. We talked about the importance of knowing how to dance Salsa when we were growing up. Most of the important school dances were with Salsa and Merengue bands. Therefore, if you didn’t know how to dance, you were in a huge disadvantage to get (in my case) girls.
Before this trip a coworker asked me how I learned to dance. That sent me back into memory lane…but I remember it clearly. I was about 16 years old and was in a wedding, and my friend, the brother of the bride, who was half Puerto Rican and half gringo, and who knew nearly nothing about dancing, heard a merengue playing and said to me…let’s go take those girls over there out to dance. I wasn’t very confident of my dancing, so I shyly refused, but he went on and asked one of the girls to dance and they did.
Sure enough, my friend barely knew how to dance merengue, but had a general idea and went on with it. The girl realized he wasn’t a good dancer, but they were having so much fun in the dance floor, that his face was worth a million dollars and the girl could have cared less if they were dancing well or not. They were having a ball!
That’s when it hit me! This is not about style points (although when you’re a teenager, everything seems to be about style); it’s about having fun! That’s what you dance for.
Of course, women did admire good dancers, so naturally you would want to be a good dancer. But if you can get completely over the dancing well fear, and focus on having fun, you can do well most of the time. I did find a lot of girls that didn’t like to dance with a lousy Salsa dancer, but found many that were happy just to dance.
Both Salsa Dancing and Dancing Salsa will Live On
I’m not sure how critical it is for teenagers growing up in Latin America these days to know how to dance Salsa. But I can say that more and more people of all ages and nationalities are finding how much fun it is to dance Salsa.
Unfortunately, part of our conversation also brought the topic of learning Salsa in a neighborhood vs. in a studio. Particularly in some studios in the U.S. and Europe, it looks very mechanical. And the best result of that is dancing like in some Salsa Congresses, were Salsa dancing looks more like gymnastics with Salsa music than dancing.
This blog is already too long, so I’ll get into the part of Salsa dancing as it relates to Salsa Congresses in my next one.
…in the meantime, would be fun to know what was your experience with learning to dance Salsa music. Please share it with us!