In the past 4-5 months I’ve developed a new pastime – salsa dancing. Although really, it’s not new, as I was first dragged into it about 10 years ago by a friend, and must have done it regularly for the best part of a year back then. It’s one of those things that had to fall by the wayside as my life became more Islamised. This year I finally got the courage to give it another try.
I started out with nerves, not knowing anyone, not knowing which classes would be the right level for me. The first time I went in I almost walked straight back out again. But within a couple of weeks I had got to know a few people, got a little confidence back, and was staying on after the class for the social dancing. And then I was well and truly hooked! I don’t think I remembered quite how much I had enjoyed it. Or maybe I’m getting even more out of it at this point in my life, having not expected to ever come back to it; just a couple of years ago it would be the last thing I’d expect myself to even want. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and check that this is really my life!
There are classes and/or club nights almost every night of the week here in various different venues, so a salsa fix is never far away. I have found it interesting to go to these different salsa nights and just observe. They all have their own character. Some feel like a big party – a dancefloor so crowded you constantly get your feet stepped on; young Asian, Latino and Arabic guys at the bar scouting for pretty girls and dancing in a simple and suggestive manner like it’s a means to an end. Others are an intense atmosphere with competitive salseros displaying their virtuosity – three, four, five, I can’t even count how many spins in a row – maintaining all the time the obligatory air of detached nonchalance; cool as a cucumber. Then there are those places where people are simply relaxed, friendly, and dance every step from the heart like no-one is watching at all.
I see it in their faces and perhaps it shows in mine, too: the ecstasy of allowing yourself to be consumed by the music; becoming a part of its expression as its rhythm moves your limbs, as if you are connecting with something much bigger than yourself from deep within you. Emotions, that get shelved because they are not convenient in the unfeeling world in which I work, get the chance to finally be felt and expressed. It would probably not be an exaggeration to say that this activity is keeping me sane through thesis-writing. Those moments of closed-eyes bliss on the dancefloor are practically the only times I feel really alive.
Here is a video of my favourite salsa song. It is by an Italian group. I especially love the way it builds up over the first minute or so: first you will hear the clave rhythm in a synthetic clapping sound, with warm acapella voices in harmony. Around 30 seconds in, more is added: the piano, and a new snappy rhythm from the backing vocals (“está en el aire…”), with new harmonies, that just suddenly makes you want to dance. The lead singer interjects a couple of times with syncopated melodies that are so simple yet achieve so much in terms of how they create surprise and push the song forwards. I think it’s a really inspired piece of songwriting. And that’s just the first minute!
Then the song proper starts. The other thing of note is a bridge section at around 2:23 that builds some tension, leading to an exquisite key change that you almost don’t realise until after it’s happened. Then just as unexpectedly it slips down to the original key at 3:00.