A side of salsa.

We take a break from the regular broadcast topics of this blog to bring you niche side-rant on a non-design related love of mine… salsa dancing. This post is split up into two sections. The first one is about online gossip, and the second section is about Why I Dance Salsa. Feel free to pick and read based on your interests.

Online gossip and the harm that it does…

I have been lucky enough in my life thus far to have been spared from any direct online cruelty (that I know of), but the other day I experienced my first bit of direct online meanness that I’ve come across in a long time.

The writer of the Facebook post in question basically made a list where he called out social salsa dancers in our local scene that “thought they were better than everyone else”, snobs that “think they are the shit” and won’t dance with beginners. In my memory, I’ve never had a real conversation with this person – I see him once in a while at salsa events and frankly I’m surprised he could recognize my face out of a crowd. Evidently, he can – and in the heat of this online argument he felt that it was a good idea to call out BY NAME some folks: all of whom, by the way, were not involved in this online conversation in any way.

I don’t know what he was thinking about when he wrote that list. He certainly wasn’t trying to be kind. We all know that this is how harmful online cruelty can be. It’s nothing new: people forget that everyone they’re interacting with (except for the bots!) are humans. Real humans. And sometimes even real humans in their local community. With real feelings. I know we can do better.

Why I Dance Salsa.

Defending yourself in a long list of dozens (or hundreds) of comments on a Facebook post feels like joining in a losing argument. It also feels hopeless – whoever read the original inflammatory comment has a small likelihood of finding my comment buried in the feed.

Instead of joining an argument, I thought I would write this blog post: to dispel myths that I’m sure many female (and male) social dancers come up against.

So here are two personal lists with honest intentions and a goal to help create more understanding and respect for everyone in the social dance scene. One list describes reasons why I might choose to not social dance at a particular moment; the second list describes the times when I DO choose to social dance. In no case would I choose to not dance with someone because they are a beginner or because I think I’m “better” than them. Hopefully by reading on you will understand me (and maybe some other social dancers in your scene) a bit better.

Reasons I won’t social dance:

  1. The person makes me feel unsafe. This can include any guy that I think is more interested in hitting on me than dancing. Or it could be someone who is not looking out for my safety on a crowded dance floor (leading me into oncoming dancers, trying triple spins close to pillars, sharp corners, etc.) Obviously, this includes anyone  intoxicated. It could also be someone I’ve danced with before who I recall had a harsh, unforgiving lead that made me worry for the safety of my joints, fingers and limbs. Dancing as a Follow requires giving your Lead a great deal of control and power over your safety, movements and well-being during that dance. I value my body and my safety: I won’t give it to someone who isn’t respecting it. Can I hashtag #InternationalWomensDay on this comment??!
  2. If I don’t know you and you don’t ask me. I will ask my friends to dance, but if I don’t really know you, I will probably not ask you to dance. The tradition at most local salsa events and international congresses that I’ve been to is that (for better or worse) the fellow (or Lead) still generally does the asking. So I usually assume that if you (as the Lead) didn’t ask me to dance, it’s because you don’t want to dance with me.
  3. The song isn’t a salsa. Salsa is the only kind of social dancing that I’ve learned and spent time practicing. I don’t know Kizomba and I would feel very shy and uncomfortable dancing it with a stranger. Same goes for Bachata: I will only dance Bachata with people I know well and can trust to respect my boundaries. I don’t particularly like Merengue music so I’m generally not super enthused to dance when a Merengue comes on, which leads me to  my fourth reason I might not dance which is that…
  4. I don’t like the song. I dance because I love the music. When I’m social dancing, I’m dancing purely for fun. If it’s a song that doesn’t move me, I don’t want to subject my partner to a lackluster 4 minutes, and I don’t want to subject myself to it either. Otherwise dancing becomes a chore: chances are I’ve spent all day working and doing chores. I came out dancing for the sole purpose of having some fun!
  5. I like watching. Not only do I love dancing salsa, sometimes I love to just sit and watch. It gives me great pleasure to enjoy the other dancers around me, which I can’t really do while I’m on the floor. Sometimes I’ll say “no” to a dance because I feel like a break and just want to watch – no shade against the fellow or lady asking me at all.
  6. My feet hurt. For reals. Have you seen the Ladies’ latin heels that we wear? They hurt after hours on the floor, and my poor little feet just need a sit-down break or I’m going to be limping through my next day of work.

Reasons I WILL choose to social dance:

  1. I love the song. Number one, best way to get me out on the dance floor.
  2. You seem fun and relaxing. I don’t go social dancing to be wowed by crazy dance moves or to be spun a zillion times. I actually find those things can be super stressful with an unfamiliar lead, on a dark, crowded floor, with laser lights and beer-soaked dance club flooring. It also stresses me out if you never smile at me while we are dancing, or look annoyed if I miss a lead. That is the OPPOSITE of fun. It’s like going out to have fun and being reprimanded at (literally, ha) every turn. I would rather dance with a beginner who is smiling at me and enjoying the song than an experienced dancer who is stressing me out and frowning at me. Any day.
  3. You take care of me on the dance floor. I really appreciate a lead who is looking for an open spot on the dance floor before leading me in that direction; who is giving me clear, gentle leads so I know exactly where he wants me to go without any yanking or pushing; who is assessing my skill level and comfort and responding accordingly.
  4. You build up through the dance. Particularly if I haven’t danced with you before, I value a lead who builds up the difficulty of the dance through the song. This gives me a few moments to adjust and get acquainted to your style of lead, or (for example) seeing if I can follow your lead for a single spin or simple pattern before trying out the hardest pattern in your book. We as Follows are constantly adjusting from dance to dance and it can be jolting to go from a strong frame and lead to a light, airy one; or from a partner who’s dancing On-1 to someone dancing On-2, or New York/LA Style to Cuban style. All the above are lovely to me, just very different to follow! If you’re a Cuban-style guy you’ve probably been dancing a Cuban-inspired salsa On-1 all night – have pity on your next follow, who might have just come from a series of On-2 leads or On-1 L.A. style leads!
  5. You’re my friend. If you’re my friend, yeah — I’m probably going to be way more likely to dance with you because I’ve already established that you’re someone I trust and like. Again, I go out social dancing for fun: hanging out with my friends is fun. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to meet or dance with new people, but obviously I’m going to tend to dance with the people I already know. This is not only a “fun” thing, but also a safety thing: smiling invitingly at every guy at the salsa club is a recipe for disaster. I wish it wasn’t so, and I’d love to have a feminist discussion with you about it, but I’m not going to risk my safety at a club to prove that I’m a friendly person. I’m much more likely to dance with new Leads in non-dance club settings, like a salsa event at a hall or after a dance class.

I also have started doing performances and competitions over the past few years — again, I do it because I enjoy it. It’s not the same thing as social dancing: I enjoy both, just like I can simultaneously enjoy strawberry and chocolate gelato. All the practices, competitions, performances, private lessons, critiques and self-analyses have pushed me to grow into a better, more aware dancer. It doesn’t give me as much time for pure social dancing, which is definitely a skill all its own, but I recognize there are only so many hours in the day (and so much energy in my body) and for right now, I’m focusing on the performance aspect of my dancing. Which I’m cool with. If you’re a really competitive social dancer purist who can’t handle my rusty social dance skills — by all means, don’t feel obliged to dance with me. I am totally fine with that. I am the first person to critique my failings as a dancer – I know I have SO MUCH to learn. But, luckily, I didn’t come to the social dancing scene in pursuit of perfection. I came for fun. I’m happy to spend my time dancing with the folks who are cool with that, too.