I started dancing in November, of 1994. I’ll never forget that night….
I was thirty years old when I took my very first basic step.
I got sick of “home life” that evening, and decided to go out to an old “disco/techno/hip-hop” club I heard on the radio a few months before. It was located in Long Beach at the Shoreline Village. When I got there, the place had since turned into a Salsa Club called Cantina Tiburone. I went in, and decided to check out the scene. I was the first one there, and except for the DJ and bartender, I was the only person there. The only reason I stayed was because I noticed the music. It was a strange, new jazzy “Latin-Spanish” music that I had never heard before. I always thought Spanish music was Mexican Mariachi stuff with boots and big hats. (I didn’t get out much…)
I stayed for the next few songs, and amazingly enough, started really getting into the music! I actually liked it! A few couples came in the room. I watched, wondering just exactly how they were going to dance to this sort of beat. I was awe-struck when they actually started dancing TOGETHER… WHAT A CONCEPT. Oh my God. I was shocked that two people could dance TOGETHER and not have to dance to Country Western !
Now folks, to give you a little history of my background, I was basically born and raised in hick-town, USA, Colorado. The only dance you danced “together” was to good ole “twang” comin’ from them Guitars, some ole’ boy singin’ with a wad in his mouth, whalin’ about some ole’ cowboy’s dead dog and ugly wife…
I hated that. I never wanted anything to do with country-western music – much less DANCE to it for crying out loud. (which is what I would have done, if forced….)
ANYWAY, I was taken away and just thrilled to death watching these people dance to this jazzy Spanish-Latin type music called Salsa! I thought they were SO GOOD!!! I was just thrilled to be there, and watched for about an hour, having a great time, by myself.
Then, it happened. Two incredibly beautiful women strutted in the club dressed to the hilt, with looks to kill, and attitudes to match. One was an entrancing, sexy, sleek model-type with a figure any woman would die for. The other was a dark, gorgeous Latin bombshell-type with a long black hair and a lioness prowl about her that every man in the room noticed.
EVERYBODY watched as they entered the room. Then, walking behind the both of them was this flat-topped….man, man/boy, boy/man, ….. this Latin …gentleman, toting a cigarette and strutting in like he owned the place. He had the “slickest” mannerisms about him, like someone right out of the Mambo Kings movie. He looked around the room while he walked, hand in his jacket, smoking that cigarette, checking out the place, the women, the wine, waving to the DJ, giving a little smile, and making sure the two women he came with found a table and were well taken care of. He helped the both of them take off their coats, and ordered drinks for all three of them.
I tried not to stare, but something about them just sparkled. They had something. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but they had something that was confident, and very rare. They had a “feeling”; an aura about them that resonated throughout the room. The feeling they emanated was a connection with the music and the atmosphere. I KNOW every single person in that room could feel it that night. They seemed important for some reason. They seemed they knew … something. They belonged there, at that moment in time.
My attention went back to the dancers on the dance floor. A couple songs went by, and I was disappointed that the trio that just came in were not dancing yet. It seemed everyone else was. A terrific fast song came on, and I noticed the gentleman extend his hand to the model-type gal as she sat sipping her drink. He took one last puff of his cigarette, put it out in the ash tray while holding her tiny hand, and both of them walked toward the dance floor. She seemed reserved and quiet at first, looking almost shy. He however, looked at her, then turned into a lion, ready for action. The music was reaching the beginning stages of its climax when they finally started dancing…
My heart began to race. I could not believe what I was seeing. The pair had transformed this beautiful sound into human movement, rhythm, flair, style, grace, and absolute passion! I didn’t even want to blink my eyes for fear of missing something! During the song, his hands ran through her hair softly, then he touched her face, grabbed her waist, thrusted her body and her head lashed back…. it was phenomenal. My mouth was wide open, my head forward, and my palms sweating.
Every beat of the music was struck by a flash of a hand, an arm, a fast hip action…. every peak in the rhythm was powered by a spin… then two… then three… then four… then a pause, then what looked like a cross between a Fred-Estaire / Ginger Rogers Waltz and a fast Break-Dance – I was in shock! The woman had so much style, jazz, and sex appeal. It was an absolute thrill watching her. I had never before seen something so fiery beautiful and at the same time partnered so technically perfect on every beat. The entire crowd cleared the dance floor as they danced. Everyone made a circle around them, and just watched with just as much amazement as myself.
When the song was over, the entire room cheered, whistled, and clapped. I just stood there, paralyzed, not understanding, nor realizing what had just happened. I remember putting my hand over my mouth and distinctly whispering to myself, “Oh my God.”
Folks, you have to understand something. I never saw my mom and dad dance together – ever. I never grew up with dance. The closest exposure to formal or couple dancing for me was watching the Nutcracker on TV every Christmas, or catching a glimpse the country-westerners at the local pool hall in town while driving by. I never really had an interest, nor had any time to go out. I started my “night school” degree program almost immediately. I had been doing nothing but going to school, working, going to school, and working…. for the past ten years! I got my degree at night, and basically had zero social life, nor life of my own. I was so busy working, that ten years had gone by before I even knew it. I had no idea “Salsa music” even existed. I had no idea people even danced to this music, much less moved their bodies in this fashion…..while holding hands…. together !
A couple songs went by, and I couldn’t understand why they weren’t dancing again! I was getting rather upset, when suddenly, it happened again. This time he asked the sexy bombshell Latina gal to dance. I was totally ready for anything at this point. When they started to move, I took a deep breath, looked at them both dancing, shook my head, and whispered to myself, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing!”
The presence the woman projected was incredible. She was dancing, what I was needing. She was living what I was missing. She danced with a passion that I had never seen before. I lived the entire past ten years of my boring life through her at that single moment in time. The guy led her into a spin, then another, then….. SHE JUST KEPT SPINNING!! Three, four, five, …. six, seven…. EIGHT TIMES!!! I almost fell off my chair. It was the most amazing performance I’d ever seen.
Then, before I knew it, the guy disappeared for about 5 seconds WHILE THE GAL WAS STILL SPINNING. I was completely confused for a split second, thinking, “Now that was real rude of that guy to just leave that poor woman spinning by herself like that….” Little did I know that he had suddenly appeared with the first gal, and all three of them were on the dance floor !
Suddenly he grabbed both of their right hands, one with each of HIS hands, and started spinning and dancing with the both of them simultaneously ! He led the first girl around the second girl, while he danced and held the first girl’s hand with his right hand, and the second girl was being spun by his left hand! It was as if he was only dancing with one girl, but both of his hands had each girl and was dancing and doing entirely different moves with each one AT THE SAME TIME – and keeping to the rhythm!!. (talk about confusing… try writing about it! )
I thought to myself, “This is the ultimate. I can die tomorrow, because NOW, I have seen EVERYTHING.” “OK God, you can take me now. I have now lived a full life….”
That night, was when I saw Salsa Brava’s Luis Vazquez, Joby Martinez and Janette Valenzuela for the first time.
That night changed my life forever.
That night, I decided to change ME. I realized I had been missing “life” … a “life” that others enjoyed, a life that somehow, I missed. I was missing a world, a mysterious underground world of this so-called “Salsa” music and dance that seemed so familiar, from a distant past, from a place that I had been to, but cannot recall to this day.
I needed the rhythm,
I needed the passion,
I needed my life back again.
I needed to finally START LIVING MY LIFE!!
I started going to that club every week. Unfortunately, the trio never showed up again. I was hoping they would, and was kicking myself for being too terrified to ask them their names and befriending them. I finally got the courage to dance a song later on that evening, but I couldn’t figure out how my feet were supposed to go.
I was basically a “Disaster on the dance floor”. A “Catastrophe” waiting to happen – I just knew it. I had no confidence, no rhythm, no style, no nothing – just a love for the music, and a passion to learn. I didn’t know what the difference was between Cumbia, Merengue, Cha, Cha, or Salsa. I thought it was all the same – it all sounded alike to me. I was just thrilled to be in someone’s arms, actually coordinating and trying to negotiate steps !
I didn’t know the guy was supposed to lead. I thought we traded-off or something. It wasn’t until a kind gentleman in his 50’s told me to close my eyes, and just “feel” the music through his body and motions. He held me close, and started to slowly guide me through the steps, like my father used to do when I was about 4 years old. I used to stand on top of my father’s big feet, pretending to dance with him.
He could lead me anywhere !
That night, the older gentleman and I only danced one song, but I’ll never forget that kind man. And I will always thank him for being so patient with me, and showing me the basics of “following the man”. I hope he reads this some day. If you do, “Thank you.”
I was starting to go out 2-3 nights a week. Then this jumped to about 4-5 nights per week. I knew I needed some sort of instruction, but was too shy, and thought I was “basically good enough”. I was a real tight-wad at the time and I didn’t want to spend the money on lessons. I soon began to notice one thing however. VERY FEW of the guys were asking me to dance anymore. In fact, I had to start ASKING THEM! When I started getting turned down right and left, and started spending the entire evening in my chair, I knew there was a problem.
I still didn’t get it. I HATED IT WHEN THEY TURNED ME DOWN AND SAID “Uh, maybe next time…” or “Uh, I’m really tired…” or “Well, I don’t really like this song…” and then a couple seconds later, I’d see them dancing with someone else! This really pissed me off. But I knew I still didn’t understand the rhythm, nor the basic step. Guys HATED dancing with me. I’ll never forget one guy telling me “Uh, you dance very…..uh….interesting.” (thank you JOE – you know who you are!)
One day, I went to the Grand avenue, and I saw the “cool” guy that was at the Cantina my first night out. My heart skipped a beat, and I stopped everything to watch him dance. He danced with every woman in the place – but me. I was basically hiding. He made every woman in that place look like a professional dancer. I befriended a woman who knew him. She had the nerve to introduce me to him – without me knowing about it. She called him over to our table and yelled, “Edie, this is Luis. Luis, meet Edie. Luis, Edie wants to dance with you.”
I could have killed her. I DID NOT want to dance with him. I DID NOT want to meet him. I was afraid. AND TO THIS DAY, I HAVE NO IDEA WHY. He just intimidated the hell out of me. I was absolutely terrified of this man.
Within seconds, he asked me to dance. I almost passed out. I almost said no. I almost fell off my chair. I was looking for the door – any door. I just KNOW my face turned sheet white, because I broke out into a COLD SWEAT and swallowed nothing but dry saliva. I gave him that “deer in headlights” look, as he extended his hand to me. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I tried again, and finally blurted, “Uh, I’m not a very good dancer.” He looked at me with a smile, and said, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll go easy on you.” I didn’t believe him. Reluctantly, I took his hand, and he led me to the dance floor.
I started getting light-headed. The song came on, and he started the basic step. He then stopped, and started it over again. Then, once again. He then said “Relax, relax…” I just knew he felt me shaking like a leaf. I was trying to swallow, but I couldn’t. My mouth was too dry. I finally looked down and closed my eyes, realizing that EVERYBODY was watching us.
GREAT. This is just what I need, ABSOLUTE HUMILIATION, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT ON THE DANCE FLOOR, IN FRONT OF EVERYONE, WITH THE BEST DANCER ON THE PLANET AND WHOA, TERRIBLE ME. I stumbled through the song with him and frankly, could not wait until the song was over. “I blew it.” I thought. “He will NEVER ask me again. “He will cease to acknowledge my existence.”
He will tell all his friends that I suck and to stay the hell away”, I thought.
Amazingly, just the opposite happened. He led me by the hand off the dance floor, kissed me on the cheek, thanked me, then said “I’m an instructor. I give classes. I will help you become a great dancer.”
I just looked at him, gave him a blank look, and blurted out “OK.” We then made arrangements for a class and I started taking privates first with him, then with both he and his wife Joby. I just loved it. They were both so friendly, and down-to-earth. They didn’t sport snobbish attitudes, or come across as “holier than thou”. They became my friends, and eventually my family.
I gave it my ALL. I treasured every lesson. I practiced when I got home, I would dance with the dog, I would dance with a broom, I would do the basic in the shower, I would practice the right and left turn in grocery lines – I DIDN’T CARE! I just wanted to learn so bad !!!
I dedicated myself to learning solid with them for two months. I took privates and group classes with them every week, until I felt confident enough to go out again. Guys that had previously danced with me were noticing how much “better” I was, and were no longer “unwilling” to dance with me. FINALLY I could enjoy the rhythm of Salsa, and not be afraid to dance to it! Because of Luis’ willingness to teach me, and his patience and understanding of what I was going through, I am forever grateful. Thank you Luis. Thank you for your compassion and patience. You will never realize what you’ve created with your God-given talents.
Luis Vazquez and Joby Brava are incredible instructors – probably two of the best instructors in the country, if not the World. If you would like to get in touch with them, they will treat you like Solid Gold. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for them.
I used to have a terrible allergy, asthma, and weight problem prior to my Salsa discovery. These ailments have been DOCUMENTED by all my physicians. I prayed to God for a cure for years. He showed me this dance and music, and I’M NOT KIDDING, within one month of my Salsa discovery, the asthma and allergies affecting my body completely disappeared. And because I was so happy (finally), I started rapidly losing weight. I went from a a size 14 to a size 3 over a period of two years…
I HIGHLY recommend Salsa Dancing as a prescription drug /vaccination for any type of bodily or mental ailment…
It’s been almost twenty years since my first basic step. Since then, I’ve quit my full-time, boring DAY JOB, and found a brand new career at the seasoned age of 30, dancing, performing, and teaching Salsa all over the world. Tokyo, Japan was country number 26 for me, and I’ve now travelled to 63 countries teaching and performing all over the world. I had the honor of being the first American to teach and/or perform in 18 of those countries. I thank God every day for the “second chance” at life He’s given me through dance.
I got a chance to start over again because He created incredible sounds and beauty of Salsa music and dance. To God, I give all the Glory. Amen.