Last Friday I went to my first social Salsa dance. For those who’ve never ventured into a social dance of a different dance besides Lindy hop, everything is different. The vibe, the etiquette, the typical age and background of the dancers. Our Lindy hop scene is very young, vibrant, and inexperienced. People usually come dressed pretty casually, there’s no alcohol at our events (I know, surprised?) and the scene is really small. The salsa scene in Albuquerque seems more geared towards young professionals, who dress like they’re going out to a nightclub, and alcohol is indeed, in hand.
Let me actually back up a bit. I don’t really know about other cities, but in Albuquerque, salsa is THE partner dance to know here. Everyone wants to learn it, and honestly, who doesn’t? It’s energetic, it’s sexy, and it’s a huge part of the culture and heritage here.
Personally, I’ve never been super interested in learning salsa. I mean, I learned the basic and a basic turn in a PE elective dance class my freshman year of college, but I didn’t really learn it. And it wasn’t the dancing itself that drew me to going on Friday, either. It was to analyze the dance scene.
The salsa instructor who rents Rhythm regularly has begun a bimonthly social salsa dance, but so far, it’s totally been tanking. He and I sat down last Friday afternoon to talk about how to make the dance more successful. He’s a pretty introverted kind of guy, really soft spoken and tends to be pretty private, so advertising and promoting isn’t really his thing. He has, however, ordered some flyers and posters to be made to advertise the dance more. But I promised him that I’d help him get more people to his dance. So I did some investigating.
He told me that the hardest thing about the salsa dance scene is that there’s no cohesion amongst the instructors and organizers of the scene to create a single working unit. People talk crap about one another, they don’t support other organizers’ dances and don’t care about bringing new dancers into the scene. He said he hates the elitism that goes on in the scene, especially because no one isn’t even that good at dancing. So, I had to go see for myself.
So Dani Easley and I stroll to downtown to a hotel where the dance is being held. It was super night clubby, with crazy colored lights around the room, a full bar, and lounging furniture everywhere. There were a few people dancing at the time, but no one asked us to dance. So we just talked and listened to the band. And we sat there. And sat there. And then, we finally sat some more. And as we were sitting there and more people were showing up and dancing, I realized that what the salsa instructor said was showing to be true. Even though there were 40 people on the dance floor, no one danced with more than two or three other people. It seemed like everyone had their own clique that they danced with. And we still just sat there. It wasn’t until we saw a fellow lindy hopper there, who apparently does salsa too (and is GREAT at it! Who knew, Luigi?) did we even get asked to dance. And once people finally saw that we could dance, they began to ask us to dance.
I have to say, I’m really grateful that Lindy hop was my first dance. It made figuring out salsa on Friday so easy! It’s just step step step step. Plus, the fact that I don’t know anything about salsa made it easy to just have fun. Now, I’m not saying I’m an expert, especially when I was nearly tripping over myself dancing in heels (there’s a reason why lindy hoppers NEVER see me dancing in heels. It’s embarassing.), but it was so easy to catch on to. The connection is so much easier to understand, and half the time you’re not even connected to your partner.
However, the salsa teacher was right. The skill level wasn’t really too high overall, though I think that’s probably pretty typical of any dance scene. We still had a good time though.
The best part of the night, by far, was the band. They killed it. They totally KILLED it!!! They were so amazing. And the most interesting part about the music (which, for you salsa enthusiasts out there, was Cuban music) was that it was so similar to swing music. It was so complex, and there were so many different levels to each song that you could spend nearly an entire sound just listening to each instrument’s rhythm or melody before you could even hear the entire picture. Plus, some of those band members were pretty good looking. Yum.
I did have one “incident”, shall we call it, during my last dance of the night. This guy came up to me and asked me to dance, and he just was one of those people who I looked at and thought “I bet he’s super good”. First of all, I had to sow my arm back on after the dance because he was so rough with it, which is nothing I haven’t experienced before, so that was fine, but it was the second of all that left me in shock. He led me into a dip, normal, but then he pulled on my hair. I’ll say that again. He pulled on my hair. Like a yank. On my ponytail. You know, like on my head.
I was in so much shock that this had happened that I just, kept on dancing. Looking back, the only thing I feel like he could’ve possibly been doing is trying to pull my hair tie out of my hair so I could shake it out all sexy during the dip, but that wasn’t even close to what happened. And when it happened I was thinking, “Did you just pull my hair? Because I felt a pull. Did you pull it?”
Is this normal? I’ve never experienced anything close to that in Lindy hop. I’ve had someone compliment my hair before, but I don’t think that’s really the same thing.
So, I learned some interesting things about the salsa scene:
1. It seemed a lot of people were there to dance sexy with others, and not so much for the dance itself. There was a lot of hair tossing, legs wrapping around guys bodies and other general ridiculosity.
2. Despite how awesome I thought the band was, they seemed like a non sequitor to most people. There was little, if any, cheering for the band.
3. For it being a social dance, it wasn’t very social. People did not mingle.
4. I only saw a few really advanced dancers there, so either the advanced dancers weren’t out that night (my salsa instructor works Friday evenings so he wasn’t there), or there aren’t any advanced dancers.
5. All of the above seem like symptoms of a larger problem: an apathetic and a slowly dying scene.
It was definitely interesting to see how another dance scene in Albuquerque functions and all the quirks it has. More than anything, it looks as if there’s a lack of general cohesiveness in the scene, either amongst the leaders and organizers or by the regular dancers. I don’t know why that is or what the best way is to change that, but if my salsa instructor could somehow meet up with the other major salsa instructors and organizers around town and figure out a way to work together, it seems that it would only help the scene. Otherwise, the fragmentation could lead to either a massively cirppled scene, or a dead one.
It’s hard helping a dance scene that I’m not a part of. I don’t really know what to tell my salsa instructor to help him. He’s kind of flying solo right now, and I like this guy, so I want to help him. He’s truly passionate about the dance, the scene and rhythm.
More importantly, it’s a lovely reminder as to why I do what I do and what the goals of the Lindy hop scene here. We want to be inclusive, friendly, fun, and most of all, we want to love what we do. I do think our scene could use more hair yanking. That guy was really on to something there. More hair yanking. Yes.