Salsa Week Part 1: Inauspicious beginnings

Do you guys know that I used to be a dancer? Well, technically I’m still a dancer. It’s not like I stopped dancing but I used to really DANCE and for a few years I worked at a local Ballroom Studio. I like all kinds of dance but my heart now and forevermore belongs to Salsa. Today I’d like to tell you why. ***********************************************

I was a nerdy kid. (A happy nerd: they are not all miserable like in the movies.) I didn’t see it as a negative thing to be smart, but looking back I think my contentedness was sometimes limiting. I saw myself as only capable of being good at academic-type things and it made me fearful of trying things outside the College Prep track. Model UN, sure why not! Dancing, uhm… scary. But I have always secretly loved dancing, and so in high school when The Filipino Club decided to put together a Cha-Cha performance for our annual multi-cultural assembly I signed up. It was probably one of the scariest things I ever did.

I was terrible. I mean really BAD. People think I exaggerate but I am telling the absolute objective truth: I flat out sucked. And the reason I’m making a big deal about this is because I know from personal experience that you do not need natural ability to become a good dancer. To quote Stand and Deliver, all you need is “ganas”. Desire.

What I lacked in skill I more than made up for with intense, insane irrational ganas to be a good dancer. So I learned the routine. It was hard and I sucked but I still danced in front of my entire high school.

E-N-T-I-R-E High schoool. This is the stuff that movies are made of. Can you feel the music signaling impending humiliation? Scary right?

I wasn’t very good but I wasn’t very bad also.

I was mediocre and it gave me courage.

Looking back I’m surprised it went so well. Teenagers can be cruel. It could’ve gone so wrong so fast. They could’ve been cliquey and refused to let me dance. They could’ve refused to teach me. They could’ve said, “please get out half-breed, you shoulda learned to dance at family weddings like we did.” They could’ve taken my shaky confidence and ripped it to shreds.

Instead those girls who I barely knew, taught me. With insane patience they held my hand and got me through it and I’m so grateful to them because I caught the bug.

Two years later I went off to college, signed up for a salsa class through the rec center and never looked back.

I want to repeat that I started off as a terrible dancer. People don’t believe me now but this is not an exaggeration; I have very little physical ability for anything besides eating. I became a dancer through exhaustive determination and the willingness to shake off constant embarrassment. 

I am the little engine that could salsa.

I was also lucky. I ended up arriving in UC Davis at the same time Salsa was exploding in the Sacramento area. I was there the first night our local club started a salsa dance night. By the time I graduated they were holding it twice a week. During those years I must’ve danced at least 10 hours a week and that was just at the club. There were also parties and events and you get the idea…

I can sum up college in a few words: Salsa+Jesus+Class+Sleeping.

If you had asked me back then why I loved it I don’ t know if I could find the words but a decade later it’s crystal clear. I loved it because it helped me to expand my view of myself. Dancing gave me my breakfast club moment. It helped me to see that smart and physical are not mutually exclusive. That geeks aren't limited to piano lessons and Debate club.

Dance is what helps me believe that I can do new things. Now I say "I learned to dance didn't I? What could be harder than that?"

That’s not the end of me and salsa though… cause dancing gave me much more than confidence… it gave me a husband.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you that story.

Posted on December 6, 2010 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.