Salsa Week Part 3: Kinesthetic Memory & A Sentimental Journey

I guess I never told you the back-story of why I’ve been thinking about dance lately? Hopefully you are interested in knowing because I’m going to tell you today. When I was in Denver I reconnected with a friend from my salsa years (aka college). Aydin is the older brother of my friend Ellie who I hung out with all the time. I hadn’t seen him in about a decade. I didn’t even know we both worked in the same field till we ended up at the same conference. Halfway through he left me a voice-mail. “Emily, I heard the Latino caucus is having a networking meeting tonight. They’re going to have a live band.”

I called him back three seconds later and said “So Aydin, I hear we’re going dancing.”

We show up to this party, I mean “meeting” and do a little networking and then because Aydin’s never one to BS around he sticks out his hand and says “Well let’s go.”

Here’s the weird thing, the second I took his hand I lost ten years.


Humans have several different types of memories, there’s short-term memory, long-term memory, emotional memory and probably some other kinds. Then there’s my favorite, kinesthetic memory.

Kinesthetic memory is your physical memory. It’s the reason I put my hands over the piano and can play Bach fugues I learned 15 years ago. It’s the reason you know how to ride a bike right away even if you haven’t done it for 20 years. It’s the reason that your Dad’s hug feels so comforting and perfect.

You don’t think to use your kinesthetic memory, you move.

You dance.

If you'll forgive me a simplistic metaphor I'd like to say that salsa partners are kind of like cars, each one feels different. Some crank their turns and some will use just their pinkys. Some will lead so hard that your arms are exhausted at the end and others are perfect gentleman. As a female dancer you get used to each person and their particular style but if you had asked me in October “Can you tell me what it feels like to dance with Aydin?” I would’ve said, uh, whah? What a weird question? Why would I know that? I haven't seen him in 10 years."

Here’s the thing though, my kinesthetic memory remembered. It was insanely specific. I knew exactly how he executes turns and precisely how much pressure he gives for leads. It was crazy easy to dance with him again. What my brain memory forgot in all those years my kinesthetic memory knew by heart. And what’s even weirder is that dancing dragged all my other memories along for the ride. In that first song I remembered it all. I remembered how much fun we used to have with our friends. I remembered his sister’s infectious laugh and sarcastic eye rolls. I remembered hanging out in the DJ booth with our friend Nehad and the night I met Arnold. I remembered four years in one weird physical rush.

I can’t be sure, but I think Aydin felt somewhat the same. We were exploding with memories that I hadn’t though of in over a decade. I felt 19 again. We danced till they kicked us out. After the dance, I mean “networking event” was over a few people came up to say “Wow, you guys are really good”. All we could say is “well, we should be, we’ve had enough practice.”

All things considered though I think maybe it wasn't quite true that I lost 10 years when I took Aydin’s hand because now at the end of this story it seems like the opposite was true.

I didin’t lose 10 years, I found four and I have Aydin and my kinesthetic memory to thank for that.

Posted on December 8, 2010 and filed under Livin la Vida Loca.