[This is a guest post. All views expressed in this post are the views of the author. – #FrugalCongressLife Management]
Salsa In Crisis
By Elizabeth Silleck
Salsa is saving me in this very moment. Instead of day drinking on my living room floor eating another bag of fake Doritos from my Aldi Instacart order, I’m writing this. Don’t get me wrong—I will day drink on my living room floor and demolish those “Fauxritos” (as me and my boyfriend have started calling them) at some point this week, but “just for today”, I’ve got an on2 class to teach later, a reason to stay bloat-free, and a little spark of inspiration to tell the world (ok, that’s ambitious—to tell the few on my friends list who actually read this) how, throughout the years, dancing salsa saved my ass.
When I started taking lessons in NY, I was 25 years old. My daughter was turning 10 (yes, you read that right) and becoming more interested in her friends, and I’d spent the years after graduating college pretty lost. I’d been disillusioned with my intended career path as a social worker and quit after 6 months, and had spent a few years working with unintelligent, petty people in a small medical office run by condescending and thankless doctors. I made crap money. The few friends I’d made in college had moved on and I had less and less contact with them. I didn’t know it, but I was depressed. I spent way too much time and energy on dead-end “relationships” with commitment-phobic boys. One of those ridiculous flings actually led me to a salsa class, and I was instantly obsessed. When the thing with the boy crashed and burned, I decided I HAD to keep the dancing going.
I ended up going to a studio near my job in White Plains, NY, and that was the beginning of a complete shift in my life. I met women and men at that studio who, to this day, are my closest friends. When I say that I mean they know EVERYTHING about me, they’ve seen me at my best and my worst, they’ve been there through all the victories and really, really rocky times in life, and they love me fully, including all my flaws. They are the people I think about when I need to be reassured that there are still sane, reasonable, kind and intelligent people in the world, despite the fact that these values are constantly under attack at this time in history. Salsa save #1: my friend group.
It was right around that time that, after much hesitation and procrastination, I had finally submitted an application to the law school near my job, which had an evening program; I only half-expected that I would really go. But go I did, and life was a challenge. I worked 8am-5pm at a law firm as a receptionist/legal assistant, then went to school from either 6-10pm or 8-10pm, Monday through Thursday. My weekends were consumed mostly with studying and spending time with my daughter. The only time that felt like “mine”, that provided release, where I wasn’t working or planning or processing or navigating, was when I went dancing…and go dancing I did; whenever I could, I went to classes and workshops and socials in NYC, Latin nights, house parties and even managed a few Congresses. I had a lot more energy and needed a lot less sleep then, but I have no doubt without salsa I would have had a nervous breakdown from the amount of pressure and responsibility I had day after day after day. Salsa save #2: keeping me sane during the four years I did work + law school + parenting.
Around the beginning of those four years, at one point I fell in love. It was a real relationship, not the stuff of my EARLY early 20s. He was a salsa teacher, and I learned a lot from him. Ultimately, he broke up with me and never before (or since) have I felt my heart be crushed so completely. I almost lost the will to live, if I’m being honest—only the knowledge that I needed to be there for my daughter took that off the table. It took me almost 8 months to recover from that heartbreak, and the ONLY thing—I mean, I would cry during spin class and sometimes break down in my law school classes—the ONLY thing that distracted me from the pain was dancing. Salsa save #3: helping me manage heartbreak.
Fast-forward 14 years or so, and I’m living in Florida with a man I married way too soon, with way too many idealistic notions of what that marriage would be and nothing to back it up. The distance between us grew along with the hostility, and I found myself painfully alone. I’d made attempts to form community in Florida, but I didn’t realize, in my desperation, that I was failing to discern whether the people I tried to befriend were actually people I meshed with—I found out later they weren’t. The marriage imploded and my husband left to another state, to take another job (and tried to take my dog, too). I was left with an unaffordable mortgage and expenses, in a big empty house. And then it occurred to me, I had a skill others would pay to learn—dancing. I was already assisting newer dancers in the classes I was taking and had informally taught friends over the years, and several of the people I’d met through salsa in Florida had encouraged me to teach—since I hadn’t needed the money before that point, I’d chalked that up to a “maybe someday” thing. But then I did need the money. So I started to teach ladies’ styling at a studio, and then transitioned to another studio, where I completed a formal salsa instructor training program, learning how to follow AND lead, and teach followers and leaders various fundamental partnerwork, along with styling and shines. I was able to supplement my income, keep my mind focused on preparing for my lessons, and I ended up making a small circle of invaluable friends for the first time since moving to Florida. Having that focus on learning and practicing new material, staying mobile and active, and having in-person friends to hang with helped me to not take the dating thing too seriously, as well…and I ended up meeting an amazing man who is now my partner. Salsa save #4: helping me through divorce fallout, financially, physically and romantically.
And now, here we are. With group classes, workshops and private lessons IRL completely moot due to COVID, salsa is saving me yet again. I’m extremely fortunate and I know that—my full-time career job is thus far stable, as is my partner’s. We are safely quarantined in that same expensive house (it’s on the market, FYI!), but I’ve lost several hundred dollars per month of income, the joy and connection that working with my students gave me, the exercise, the community. And so, on a whim, I decided to try something different and, with the help of my partner, launched UWanna Dance Salsa. Streaming online classes are not the same as IRL, I won’t try to pretend they are. BUT thinking up ways to teach partner work to people alone at home, drawing on years of experience across many studios to devise well-rounded classes, looking for new music to play for my students, helping to popularize the on2 style in an area where on2 dancers are few and far between, and interacting with students via chat, all bring me a lot of joy and purpose, which I really need right now. And a little income from those classes helps to keep us stocked in Instacart Fauxritos from Aldi (AND fresh organic produce from a local farm). I also decided right away that as long as health care workers are overloaded and underequipped and working people are laid off due to COVID, I will not charge anyone on the front lines for my services, nor anyone who lost their jobs/businesses because of it—I might not be in a position to do much, but at least I can bring an hour of distraction, release and joy to the folks who are feeling this the most. Salsa save #5: helping me stay sane during a frickin global pandemic.
I say it to everyone who will listen: learning to dance salsa is one of the best decisions I ever made, and I think that will remain true as long as I’m on this planet. If salsa were a person, I’d be that annoying, clingy girlfriend with doting heart emojis in my eyes that can’t stop saying “I love you” to it. I can’t do that, so I’m encouraging you to learn, or keep learning, or try a different style of, or listen to more music related to, or one way or another connect to salsa. (*caveat: for those in the scene, I am aware that “salsa” is an umbrella-like, contrived marketing term under which numerous dances and genres of music fall; I’m not trying to be a dance or music historian right now, simply singing the praises of the dance, so don’t come at me).
There are a ton of people who have built their entire careers on this dance, know more than me, dance better than me, and are extremely prestigious in the field—I love to watch them on YouTube and aspire. I’m not that person, and I probably never will be—it’s really not my goal. My goal is to keep on loving it, and help others love it too. To express the music and the joy it brings me using my body. To put aside the things that hurt, that worry, that feel insurmountable, for just an hour and enjoy the feeling of being in the dance. To, someday, I hope, dance with my favorite leads and follows and meet new ones on a Sunday afternoon daytime social and have more of those moments when the music drops, when the turn is perfect, when the beat causes various parts of my body to pop, roll, whip without my full direction, to feel alive on the dance floor. My goal is to keep on letting salsa save me in the inevitable dips in life, and letting it bring immeasurable joy during the good times. My goal is to help you find that too, so you can do the same. So, come dance with me. You know Uwanna…
[if you want to share an inspirational story about how dance saved your life, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org – #FrugalCongressLife management]