There comes a time in every young man’s life when he must undergo a kind of ritualistic death. It is through this destruction that the old ways of doing and thinking are exterminated giving birth to a new energy marked by calm, compassion, and clarity of vision. It’s a symbolic and sacred process that strips him of his protection and his security. He is vulnerable to a world that both loves him and hates him. He is forced to see his environment through new eyes for its beauty and unforgiving cruelty. Friends become enemies and enemies become friends. This is the catalyst of change.
What a fantastical story it would be to say that salsa dancing transformed me. No, that was hardly the case. I will say though, that salsa dancing found its way into my life during a time of redefining my place in the world of things. Through my own personal struggles, salsa dancing became an outlet for my expression of hope and my release from tragedy and loss. It is in dance that I found a happiness I have yet to find anywhere else.
My story begins while I was well on my way to finding my peace. I was in the best shape of my life and relatively content about where I was and where I was headed. Despite this, I had a nagging feeling that something was missing. Could it be that I was ready for love? It was time to review my MDA (Marketable Dating Attributes) checklist. Job. Check. Own car. Check. Own apartment. Check. Clean teeth. Check. Cooking skills. Check. Then one day I thought to myself, girls like a guy who can dance right? It certainly wouldn’t hurt. I stumbled onto salsa dancing purely by intention and purely by accident. In other words, I wanted to learn how to dance. It just happened to be by chance that it was salsa.
After thumbing through some online websites for dance instruction in SLO, I took my first salsa class at Oddfellows Hall taught by Jeff Berkman. I was expecting the likes of Rico Suave or Luis Miguel or some other Latin sensation, but here was this tall lanky white dude asking me if I wanted to learn how to dance salsa. I raised one eyebrow and thought to myself, “Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.” Little did I know that Jeff was to become a dancer I would admire, my mentor into the salsa dancing world, and one of my very good friends.
Truth be told, I wasn’t very good at salsa dancing at all. I stumbled everywhere. One, two, three, pause on what? Wait! Four, five, what? Turn on what? Holy shit, I’m doing it! Oh wait, no I’m not. To be certain, it was an utter train wreck. When the social dancing started at Oddfellows that night, I sat on the sides and watched in amazement at all the wonderful dancers. I questioned myself if I could ever be that good. I wanted to be that good. It was in that moment that I decided to take on the challenge of becoming a salsa dancer. I went home thinking that for the first time in a long time I felt truly happy. Just like that, I was hooked.
The first year of my newfound addiction was brutal. I couldn’t learn fast enough. I wanted to know how to do everything – instantly! I would pause and play videos late into the night to learn new moves. I practiced them every chance I had on any follow I could convince. Bless their little hearts. My weekly constitution was attending every Friday Night dance at Cal Poly. My progress was slow. I only had a handful of basic moves to which I was suppose to create this illusion of a wonderful dance experience. It was like taking a woman out on a date knowing you only had five dollars in your wallet. I thought to myself, “Dammit, this was going to best five dollars she’s ever had spent on her.” And so I became an expert at right hand turns and cross-body leads. I swallowed my ego and braved salsa dance floors in Santa Barbara, LA, and San Francisco. Throughout it all, I’ve had my fair share of awkward arm-breaking moments, flat out rejections, and fashion faux pas. I loved every moment of it.
Since those early times I’ve lived and breathed salsa dancing. I joined the CPSalsa club, took on a few officer positions, and made some really terrific friends along the way. These days I feel a little more at ease asking women to dance as I have a few more moves in my back pocket. In the end I’m still learning, still living, and still dancing. Looking back, dancing for me was something that was born out of chaos. I never would have guessed it at the time but a loss has become a gain. Salsa dancing is a part of me now and a part of my identity; and whenever I have a bad day I just close my eyes and dance.