Originally, today’s post was going to be about something different. I wanted to share with you three personal stories. But then I went to salsa class and I decided to tell you this story instead.
Remember in another post I told you that in 2017, during the first semester of my Masters’ in the Netherlands I decided to enrol in a modern dance class – God knows why? And so I condemned myself to a series of tragic Mondays.
It was supposed to be a beginner class and it wasn’t, and I ended up sitting down watching my beautiful sporty and blondie peers moving in the air like butterflies.
That’s why I was so scared before my first salsa class, especially given it was going to take place in Colombia, notoriously the country of salsa.
I was right to be scared. Because my first salsa class was a disaster.
Tuesday, January 18th. The class is going to start at 5:30pm. Of course, I’m late.
5:22pm: I’m running across one of the most overcrowded roads of Bogotà, hoping none is going to pickpocket me. I’m thinking that no, I can’t be late for my first salsa class.
Everyone is probably going to pinpoint me anyway as I’ll be the only not Latina (and I was indeed), so at least I should get there a bit early to socialise and introduce myself.
5:25pm: I decided to take a cab, not to be too late. I get to the dance school at 5:31. And of course I’m one of the first people there. It’s Colombia after all. Nobody is on time – and neither am I.
I start speaking with the other students, I introduce myself to the teacher and ask for confirmation that the class is at a pre-basic level. He answers that yes, officially it is a. He doesn’t seem convinced though… And when the class starts I understand why.
Now, I want to make a premise. I already know the 4 basic steps of salsa. Basico 1, 2, 3, 4, which I learnt a bit in Cali, a bit on my Saturday’s night of fiesta.
I do consider myself a real beginner, but at least I’m already kind of familiar with some basics, and I should be able to follow, a bit at least.
I was wrong.
When the teacher turns on the music, the other students start dancing on some definitely not basic steps.
They already know it all. The teacher performs the sequence a couple of times, and then turns around and looks at us. I’m standing in the middle of the dance floor, struggling to keep up.
This can’t be happening again, I think.
But yeah, it was definitely happenning
At the beginning I felt awkward, ashamed of myself.
I was also very angry and fraustrated. I was there to learn from scratch, I was promised that was the right context for me to learn, and yet there I was, the odd one out, again.
Suddenly I was back in time, in that underground venue of Groningen, Netherlands, feeling inappropriate and “wrong”.
And that’s when I thought: no, not this time.
I put on a big smile – well, that’s what you were going to find under my face-mask. I tried to dance a bit. Eventually gave up and went to the counter. I was still smiling when I told the lady of the school that definitely that class was not for me.
There were no other classes which would meet my level in that Academy, she told me. That one was the most basic one…
“Voy a hacerle una pregunta un poco incomoda”, I’m going to ask you something probably inappropriate, I told her. “Do you know any other school in this area of Bogotà which you would recommend?”
And that’s how I ended up today, at the Academia Alma de Tango.
The class consisted in one and a half hours of bachata and salsa. The level was basic and I had so much fun! I really had to focus on the steps or I would lose myself, but eventually I learnt the sequence and danced both solo and in couples.
I think I can learn to dance salsa there. And I can learn to feel good and have fun dancing. Which to me is what matters the most.
I left the Academy at 9:30pm. I was going to take a taxi but then I decided to walk back home, as I wasn’t alone. F., the salsa teacher, joined me for most of the path.
F. is 37. When I ask him “how long have you been here?” – and I meant at the school- he tells me he came to Bogotá from Venezuela 5 year ago. I genuinely didn’t have any idea. To me, his accent sounded more “costeño”, from the coast of Colombia.
Instead, he’s from Caracas. He loves Bogotà, its rain, its graffiti. Its empty streets at night, while he’ riding his bike.
F. is an engineer. However, due to his migratory situation, he couldn’t find a job in accordance with his academic background. He always knew how to dance. He thought toinspire people by sharing his knowledge.
He loves his job. He teaches several salsa classes (different styles I didn’t even know existed and of which I can’t even remember the names). His students are adults as much as children. It is with children he feels he is making an impact in society.
While he tells me his story, I think about how lucky I am.
Many special people have crossed my path ever since I came to Latin America. F. is one of them.
And tonight, I thought it was worthwhile sharing a glimpse of his story, instead of my article about my own stories.
That will be for next Tuesday.