I Came, I Saw, I Watched
By, Jayne Cooperman
There’s a lot more plaid in salsa than I would have expected. Also loafers. Also men.
It’s the first step in my whirlwind Welcome to the World of Salsa tour. I’m following the advice of my dance mentors, all of whom have encouraged me to have a look before I leap.
“Ask to observe a class and see the interaction between instructor and students,” recommends Joe Burgos, director of the Piel Canela Latin Dance and Music School. “Are the students having fun, are they learning, are they being encouraged?”
“Take an introductory class if available,” suggests Angel Ortiz, founder of ThinkSalsa Productions and event organizer for The Mambo Social and the 1st
Annual NYC Salsa Weekend. “This is a good way to get a sense of the instructor you will be seeing once or twice a week. What kind of atmosphere does he/she create in the classroom?”
“Don’t just start with any school. Go check it out, try one class,” adds Natalie Maniscalco, CEO of SALSEEK. “You want to feel the vibe before you sign on long-term.”
So here I am, observing, sensing, feeling the vibe. But mostly observing. I’m in a longish, narrowish room on the 14th floor of what appears to be a regular office building in midtown Manhattan. (Look up, New Yorkers; these studios are hiding in plain sight all over the city.) Worn-in wooden floors, a wall of casement windows, and another of mirrors adorn the spare space. Nine students, six male and three female, stand in anticipation as their teacher, Cesar Carrasco of Step Into Salsa, readies the music. Cesar, a hyper-energetic guy with a wide smile, black spiky hair and plaid board shorts, was born in Peru, but it wasn’t until he visited Japan that he discovered his love of salsa. Tonight, he’s not only coping with a recalcitrant iPod and an uncooperative back, but his co-instructor, Sheena Larsen, the feminine yin to his masculine yang, is not in attendance. Still, he leads the class with vigor, calling the count with drill sergeant-like precision.
“One, two, three… five, six, seven.”
While I try to figure out what became of “four,” I survey the scene. I’m struck by the proliferation of ball caps, the surprising lack of cute, sparkly footwear, and the comfortable familiarity of the crowd. From the scruffy, 20-something guy in a plaid button-down and skinny grey jeans to the freshly cropped, 40-something woman in a plaid blouse and cut-offs, these people could be your friends, your neighbors or your colleagues. Just with more plaid.
My musings are interrupted by the announcement of the partnering section of this program. The men and women line up, facing each other, underscoring the fact that there are twice as many males as females. The men will have to alternate between dancing and sitting.
The good news is that they sit next to me. This gives me a moment to ask them the obvious question, “Why salsa?” One of the younger guys answers, “It’s a great way to meet women.” One of the older ones says, “It’s sexy.” (I’m sensing a theme.) Another admits that he and his girlfriend went to clubs together but “we didn’t know what we were doing.” In fact, he convinced her that they should take this class. Sweet.
I look at the students dancing together, and see that the somewhat subdued and slightly shy demeanor of their solo practice has been replaced with a smiling, giggly energy. Sultry or silly, in sync with the rhythm or dancing to the beat of their own timbale, everyone seems to be salsaing happily. Watching, for now, from the safety of my chair, I feel I may be one step closer to joining them.
Next time in The Salsa Chronicles, Jayne continues her quest to get vertical.