I approached my first experience of salsa classes with a healthy dollop of cynicism. I was expecting the paltry company of a few single hopers and chancers and a handful of couples desperately trying to save their relationship under the strip lights of some seedy restaurant. In fact, the venue was cool, music and alcohol flowed and Misael, who took the class, surged with energy.
Salsa is the Spanish word for sauce and describes the ethos and spontaneity of the dance as well as the steps. As I tried unsuccessfully to came to terms with even the most simple moves, I very successfully came to terms with the reality that, however hard I try, there is only so much Latino sauce a man from Sheffield can generate.
We were practicing a form of salsa called Rueda de Casino, where the group dances in a loose circle changing partners. As the females circled clockwise, I enjoyed a good turnover of white, middle-aged and well-meaning women. I’m comfortable in admitting that the first five or so departed my company with a profound sense of disappointment. Despite my cheeky-chappie banter and concern for the state of their toes, I exhibited the rhythm and grace of Bambi’s dyspraxic and illegitimate half-brother on ice.
Suddenly a sultry Latino shimmied up to me and confidently categorized herself as a member of the advanced class. She gripped my hand, held my shoulder, shuffled her body close to mine and made sure I held my posture. As the music started she nursed my flailing limbs until I was capable of matching her gyrations.
After thirty seconds in her company, I was genuinely enthused. “I’m dancing Salsa,” I thought. “In fact, I’m dancing Salsa like a natural. Look at me move, I have the hips of a snake, goodbye cruel world of dancefloor loneliness.” I managed to overcome my fixation with my own feet and raise my head, and for a fleeting moment our eyes met.
The experience reminded me Flavia Cacace when she left her decade long partner, fellow professional dancer and Strictly Come Dancing competitor Vincent Simone for the charms of floppy haired EastEnders actor Matt Di Angelo. “Sexual chemistry and having fun is very important when you’re dancing,” she’d said in justification. I hear you, Flavia, I hear you.
“Ay ay ay, ok ok, change your partners,” shouted Misael as he changed the disc. My partner unwrapped herself from me, fluttered her massive eyelashes and cuffed me playfully on the arm. “Wow,” she said in her Latino accent. “You are very bad at Salsa.”
Thanks love, but maybe you had a point.
Brits aren’t exactly renowned for their lack of inhibitions. As was horribly apparent last night, we don’t really do self-expression, we like to try and dance with a pint in our hand and we like to dance to music without a rhythm. In other words, we don’t really like to dance.
Although those who practice Salsa may be regarded by some as chancers and hopers, I have a newfound respect for those who give it a go, surrender control, enjoy the sweat and have more rhythm than me. And sauce.