When the sun sets over the Everett, Washington marina and the band strikes up a tropical beat, cocktail emboldened audience members hit the dance floor with salsa moves that range from “traditional” to a hip swaying version of the “chicken dance,” which I didn’t think was possible until I saw it. And, when the crowd starts to dance, I see a look on my husband’s face that’s well, priceless. He looks like he’s in pain. He actually winces and I can hear him—even above the music—sucking in his breath between his clenched teeth. He’s cringing at the people who go out there and wing it and just have fun and don’t care—people like me. In fact, there are some out there on the dance floor who are just doing wild, flopping jumping jacks of sorts.
“Someone’s going to get hurt!” Nate tells me.
“Oh, they’re just having a good time,” I reply.
“No, seriously—I don’t even know what that guy is doing,” he says, pointing at a man in sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt trying to whirl himself madly about the dance floor. “He doesn’t even have a partner!”
“Maybe that’s how he’ll find one,” I say. “Eventually, he’ll hit someone.”
The band members, perhaps sensing danger as well, hold a steady beat and show the crowd how to move their feet and count to the music. It actually works for a while, until more than a few people just add loud counting to slightly off-rhythm- chicken-dancing. Then, the night really gets started.
“That’s it,” Nate tells me. “Alex is learning to drive and has friends. We’re going to be alone at night eventually. We can take salsa dancing lessons at night and we’re coming back here and we’re dancing together at the marina next summer.”
I’m not kidding; I spilled my beer and knocked over my plate of spaghetti when I heard him say this.
“You really mean it?” I ask.
“Yes. That’s what I’m getting us for Christmas this year: salsa dancing lessons.”
We pay our bill quickly and head home to get a jump-start on the lessons, through the help of YouTube. We find a video called: How to Do Basic Steps|Salsa Dancing, which features Jorday Rivera, a choreographer/dancer who has worked with Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. Of course, the moment we hit “play,” we shout at the screen, “Whoa! Slow down!” The first step she shows really isn’t that complicated or “fast;” we’re just thinking too hard about trying to look exactly like her. Eventually though, we learn how to move forward and backwards while saying, “Forward, two, three, back, back, step.”
“This does not bode well,” Nate says.
“I know. I haven’t even tried any of these moves in heels. Women dance in high heels, Nate. I haven’t worn high heels since I was 17. I can’t—I can’t even with the high heels. I won’t make it out onto the dance floor.”
We reassure each other that not even professional dancers learn from videos. They learn in dance studios, which is what we plan to do. After Christmas. And, as far as shoes go, I have plenty of time to learn how to walk in high heels OR try the advice and products suggested in the Dance Papi blog post “Salsa Shoes for Women who Hate Heels” by Jessica Mehta.
We settle into the couch and decide to just watch salsa dancing for a while, but then the fears creep in.
“At these dance lessons, Nate. Will there be other people? Or will we be the only one ones?”
“I’m thinking it’s group lessons. Private lessons would probably cost too much.”
“So, what if everyone else catches on and we can’t? I hate that. I hate it when everyone else catches on and I’m still putting my shoes on and stumbling about in heels. I’ve been in dance classes before, Nate. I’ve been there. You know what happens when you don’t catch on? The instructor puts you in the corner. They put you in the corner, Nate! We’re going to end up in the corner!”
Nate reminds me that we’re practicing ahead of time so that we don’t end up in the corner, which kind of makes me feel better, sort of. However, I need to leave the room—get some air—watch my own salsa dancing videos upstairs on my computer and practice. But something happens: I just get lost in the rhythms and end up doing what people at the marina did: winging it. I channel my inner tropical chicken and flop about wildly, while Nate watches with horror near the door, which is cracked open. When I hear him suck in his breath through clenched teeth, I turn around to reassure him.
“This dance looks much better in high heels; I promise.”
Your Turn: What is a dance you would like to learn? Discuss!