Archive | November, 2017

Still Dancing to My Own Drum, Like It or Not

9 Nov

I got reprimanded in my salsa dance class.

I’ve wanted to learn for years- since I took college classes in Chile and inadvertently received two salsa lessons. I didn’t get very far with my two lessons. I know the basic steps but I can’t work it at all. The seed was planted, but every time I go to water my plants I run out of water before I get to the dance one. I never prioritize getting dance lessons. My mom even gave me a gift certificate for classes once, back in Louisville, and I still never went.

“You’ve lived in Mexico for five years and you haven’t learned to dance?” Someone asked me, incredulously, at the dance studio here. They didn’t even know that I also lived and travelled in South America. I shrugged, I laughed, I smirked. “Yep. I had to come to Savannah, Georgia, to learn salsa.” I love irony.

But there I was, recently arrived. I was all in my new-in-town-so-the-world-is-my-oyster-optimistic / Shonda Rhimes’s-style say-yes-to-everything mode when I went to this free group lesson at this ballroom studio. I told everyone, clearly and happily, that I didn’t know shit as soon as they asked me to dance, but I said yes to everyone. It was a blast! There was a cheap introductory offer presented afterwards- three lessons for just $25!- and I went for it. Finally! This was it; I could feel it. I was going to prioritize learning to dance salsa.

I want to learn to dance because I love music. I’ve already got my rock and punk rock and ska-punk dancing down, so I’m all good there. I can mosh pit with the big boys and girls. I can jump around and sway and bang my head and raise my fist and even shake my ass and my hips with abandon. Certain songs speak to me, and make it nearly impossible to keep my body still. I even sway and groove in the car because the music gets under my skin. (My kids do, too.) But there are songs that I want to move to that are way beyond my dance repertoire. Where it’d be nice to dance with a partner, which often entails knowing formal steps. Hence my deep-down burning desire to learn a little bit of salsa, cumbia, and bachata.



I didn’t go to dance lessons because I aspire to be some kind of professional. I don’t even want to be especially good at it! I just want to be not clueless. I want to be good enough to not feel like a jerk trying to dance with people who know formal steps. But I don’t need to learn the foxtrot or the swing or any of the other dances that aren’t music that I love to listen to. I don’t want to learn just because I should know these things to fulfill someone else’s idea of what a half decent dancer might be able to dance to. When I explained this to the instructor, he said, “But you never know when a waltz or a foxtrot might come on.” Ummm, yes I do. It probably won’t come on anywhere I go, and even if it does, it doesn’t give me the slightest urge to move my body in time to it. “I only get 25 mintutes a pop so quit wasting my lesson time on bullshit!” I wanted to scream at him. Instead I politely obliged during the first lesson. “Sure!” I grinned, blithely, “let’s review that.” Thinking, “Not what I came here for, but okay.” I was glowing in my positivity.

I left only a tad deflated. I felt like I didn’t learn anything. However, I analyzed the situation and resolved to improve it for the next class. Problem one: We never even had salsa music on. Another instructor was teaching at the same time in the same area, so we were just rolling with that. We weren’t trying to dance in time to the music at all. He said he was trying to teach me to follow his lead, something I am terrible at, apparently. (Ok, it wouldn’t be surprising.) Of course, in my defense, I’d like to think I would be better at if I had an idea of the tempo. I didn’t say any of that at the time, but I definitely considered it all in my empirical analysis. 

My other complaint was that he kept trying to have a conversation with me, constantly, the whole lesson. Now, don’t get me wrong; I adore conversation. Some days I am ravenous for conversation. I even love small talk in the grocery store check out line. Any and all conversation, bring it on! But not while learning to dance! I told him, clearly, more than once, “I can’t dance while having a conversation yet.” I converse with my whole body. I am all gesticulations and eyebrow raises and leaning in and out. So maybe after I’m an expert, or at least a slightly functioning dancer, then we can discuss my life circumstances. Not yet! He insisted that I should learn while talking, though, because that’s how it will work later. I’ll want to be talking to the people I’m dancing with. I’ll want it to be second nature, something automatic while I’m thinking of something else. Ummm, yes, but don’t you think you’re jumping the gun just a little bit? This is my first day! I need to concentrate on my body! I can’t talk about my kid’s speech problems and major life crises while learning to dance! SOS!! Somebody!

I went to my second lesson resolved to speak up and ask for what I want. I told him again that I couldn’t concentrate while conversing. He continued to insist. I told him that I really didn’t want to learn those other dances. I insisted three times before he gave up. He held it against me, though. He brought it up when it took me time and practice to do a twist correctly. “Well I was going to show you through those easier dances first, but you didn’t want to.” He wasn’t exactly mocking me, but it didn’t feel quite like playful teasing either. I realized he must have been mad about it. I asked him to let me practice the turn in a certain way. For him to show me just so, at this speed, please. He obliged, although I could tell it was not the way he wanted to be teaching. I started to feel fairly uncomfortable.

It was my school days rebellion all over again. Who chose this curriculum, and what does it have to do with my life?! What does it even have to do with other people’s real lives? Are the other students just coming so they can either get competitive or learn enough to bust out with the fox trot at their cousin’s wedding? Are those the only options?

It’s a private class, so for some reason I thought it could be individualized. The instructor, however- and perhaps the company in general, had a very firm definition of what I needed to learn. They already had a set plan for how I was going to learn it. I’m sure it works out well for them most of the time, but it was certainly not what I bargained for, even at the cheap introductory rate.

So I quit. Partly I knew it would be hard to justify the expense. Partly I gave up because I it’s so hard to schedule that much time without my children, now that I’m employed and playing volleyball and other such shenanigans without my needy monsters. But I didn’t even bother to go to my third dance lesson that was already paid for. I might have made more effort to continue my dance classes if I felt like the instructor understood my motives and if he were more willing to work with my style. But he didn’t and he wasn’t, so I stopped.

I get it. The teacher has x years of experience. They have a plan that they’ve spent time crafting in order to, theoretically, maximize learning. They’ve probably had many successes with that plan, with those lessons, with that style. I’m a teacher, too. I know. In most scenarios you can’t walk into the classroom and ask the students to lead the class (that’s way too radical for most). I don’t believe in a Burger King version of teaching, either, some kind of capitalistic the-customer-is-always-right education where you give all the students their own 100% individualized plan based solely on their desires and moods. “No, I don’t need any verbs,” I can picture some student telling me. So you have to be a teacher; you use your expertise and experience to guide the student down the learning path at least. There has to be a balance, though, and an equal appreciation for the student and what they bring to the table. 

If you can’t adapt your lesson plan at all, or you can’t modify your curriculum at all? It means your brilliant plan is brilliantly ineffective for all those who don’t fit your objectives to a t. Why not ask them what they most want to learn, and why and how they see themselves learning it? Why not inquire as to what brought them there? It doesn’t do any harm to know! Especially if you’re teaching an individual class. Just one person, and you can’t change your style or your curriculum a little? You feel threatened by the student’s specific requests to try things a certain way, to focus on one thing over another? Nope, that was never gonna be my class. Neither as student nor as teacher.

So here I am. Still waiting for the right dance lessons for me. I know they’re out there. I know I’ll find them because I am glowing in my positivity and unceasing in my movement. My salsa dance movements will just continue to be in private for a while longer.

Love and Solidarity from Gringolandia! I’m trying to make time to write more while I’m here, so there’s more to come soon. xoxoxo


This is not me, but it’s my level of enthusiasm. Thank you, Google, for the picture. ; )