I think I'm going to do a whole dance-themed series. I started writing what I thought would be a short comparison of swing and salsa, but it went on and on...I realized I have a lot of dance-related stories that I haven't told. Here's Part One.
I can’t remember exactly how long I’ve been (partner) dancing. First, learned salsa. That was back in Chapel Hill—after I stopped rowing and before I started dating Tom full time (as it were). Approximately 1994. I didn’t dance as much after I started dating Tom and only went occasionally after we broke up, but I renewed my salsa dancing interest after I moved to DC in 1999. I also danced a bit during the summer of 1998, when I had an internship in DC.
I really, really like almost all the music played in the salsa/meringue/mambo style. I liked the dj sets and the live bands. I loved dancing to that music. I was pretty good at it too and I love to turn and spin. I worked hard to be a good follower and prided myself on being able to follow any good leader, even if I didn’t know his moves at all. If I danced with a guy a second time, I’d be able to follow him nearly perfectly.
In salsa, I never, ever asked anyone to dance. I used to go with a friend and I think maybe she asked guys, but mostly, in that scene (and in Chapel Hill too), the guys asked. I didn’t mind that, but sometimes (in DC) I’d wait for a long time to be asked, whereas pretty women, who didn’t know how to dance, would get asked first. So, it was more of a pickup scene with a heavy dance component.
In Chapel Hill, when I’d dance with a new guy, he’d ask two questions: 1) do you speak Spanish? 2) Do you have a boyfriend? Only later might he ask my name. I do (sort of) speak Spanish, but I’d usually answer no to the first question since dancing and speaking Spanish at the same time was beyond my capabilities. I also started answering “yes” to the second question, even though I didn’t actually have a boyfriend. It’s the only time I remember perpetuating a lie to so many people for such a long time. Eventually, all the guys at the bar where the dances were held every Wednesday knew I had a boyfriend who lived in New York and they stopped asking about him.
There was the one time when a slightly older guy from South America showed up—most of the guys were from Mexico or Central America, were laborers and had only a little English—this guy, who spoke English well and seemed to be a professional of some sort, also asked me if I had a boyfriend. I said yes. He said, “Where is he?” I said, “He lives in New York.” And then, he ask one more question about my boyfriend, which no one else ever had, “What does he do there?” I was a little flustered since while I had a guy in mind when I talked about this boyfriend, the guy was Tom, who was FROM New York, but living in CH and going to grad school with me. So, I said, “He’s in business.” Business. What was I thinking? The guy said, "Really, where does he work?" I said, “Smith Barney” because Tom once had a summer job there. I was certain the guy knew I was lying but he dropped it—and never asked me to dance again.
Once, after Tom and I actually were dating, I brought him to the salsa place. NONE of my regular dancing partners asked me to dance and I was disappointed. Finally, Luis asked me. He was quite a bit older than the rest of the crowd and never came on to me. I asked him why no one was dancing with me—he said, “We didn’t think your boyfriend would like it.” I thought, how do they know he’s my boyfriend? But of course they knew he was my boyfriend—he was the famous New York boyfriend, finally, in the flesh. How silly of me.
Anyway. In both the DC and CH salsa scenes, I’d end up with a “regular” partner. One guy who I danced most of the dances with. In CH, it was the same guy over many months. In DC, my evening would often be dominated by one guy who would keep me dancing with him for most of the night. That could be great or tiresome depending on the guy. Mostly, though, I got tired of the scene. Tired of being passed over and rejected if I ever dared asked a guy to dance with me (once, only once--so not a good sample). Eventually, I learned about swing/lindy classes and I signed up. More on that in part two.
Grateful for: salsa dance.