Finding My Salsa Tribe

A year ago, I made a decision that changed my life.

Somehow I came across an invite to the first annual International Salsa Rueda Festival Flashmob. A group was going to meet at a public park area at Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA to dance a rueda (a group salsa dance). I didn’t know anyone and I hadn’t danced rueda in a while, but I had no plans that day and it sounded fun.

Diana and I on our “anniversary” this year.

On a whim, I decided to check it out.

When I showed up, people were starting to gather and everyone seemed to know each other. It wasn’t clear who was leading it or what was happening when. I stood around kind of awkwardly, trying to look friendly and approachable.

At some point, I started talking to another dancer named Diana. I was really curious about the East Bay salsa scene. I’d only been dipping my toes into Bay Area salsa events on and off for a few years and I didn’t have any “salsa friends” who I could go dancing with. Plus, I didn’t really know where to go except for a few places in San Francisco. This posed a problem because it was a a bit of a trek for me to go into the city and I wasn’t finding a strong Cuban-style salsa scene, which I was really craving.

Diana enthusiastically filled me in on classes and places to dance every night of the week in the East Bay. She introduced me to her teacher Miguel, whose class she took every Monday. They encouraged me to join them the next night in class.

This one connection turned out to be the catalyst for a year of exploring the Cuban salsa scene in the Bay Area. It helped me find my tribe.

Since I met Diana, I started taking Miguel’s salsa classes which got me salsa dancing at least once a week. Then I found more classes that focused on Afro-Cuban elements, which helped me improve my styling. I started going out to Cuban salsa nights at nearby restaurants and bars and to Salsa by the Lake, a periodic daytime salsa event. I danced at a salsa block party and went to a salsa house party. I joined Miguel’s performance group and performed salsa for the first time at the 2015 Salsa Rueda Festival in San Francisco.

Many of these salsa activities have been shared with Diana and Miguel. Last weekend, we all danced at the second annual International Salsa Rueda Flashmob – which I considered our “anniversary” 🙂 I’m so thankful for their warmth and friendship.

With Miguel, our dance teacher extraordinaire :)

I realized that saying “yes” that first time to an unknown event that sparked my curiosity set the stage for a year of joyful dancing. The more I just showed up, the more people I got to know, and the more I started to feel like a part of this community.

And that feeling is so important. What fun is dancing if you can’t share it with others who feel the same passion, joy and curiosity?

I still have so much to learn in order to improve as a dancer, and I’d like to develop deeper friendships with my fellow dancers, but right now I’m just amazed and grateful for how different my life is from a year ago! And it all started with saying “yes” to something new.

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Tell me in the comments: Do you have a dance tribe? How did you find them? If not, what are you doing to find your tribe?

Why I Sweat My Prayers

Life’s been really busy lately, so I’ve temporarily fallen out of my dance routine.

I was away on vacation and traveling for work, then sick with a cold, and then I moved homes. It was really hard to fit in any dance classes.

But right before the move, I was able to squeeze in a two-hour dance session called “Sweat Your Prayers” that totally revitalized me.

This sign outlining the 5Rhythms hangs in the gym where we dance.

Sweat Your Prayers is not a class so much as a dance gathering. There’s a DJ/facilitator who sets the theme and tone for the morning and plays the music. The music generally follows a path called the “5Rhythms“: flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness.

There’s no talking on the dance floor, although you do communicate with other participants through smiling, laughing, occasionally cheering, clapping or singing – and of course – through dancing.

Sweat Your Prayers gives me a Sunday morning to dance at my own pace with my own movements for a whole two hours. I have plenty of time to warm-up, rest and dance according to however I’m feeling that day.

I also have a lot of fun experimenting with different dance techniques. It’s a very open, welcoming space, so it’s easy to let go of feeling self-conscious. If I want to do some ballet steps, some salsa moves, or just leap around the room, I can.

And I love dancing with other people who are there to immerse themselves in dance too.

Admittedly, I was a little shy at first to dance with other people. I just kind of kept to myself and avoided eye contact. But lately, I’ve been opening up and have had some wonderful experiences. Sometimes it’s just sharing a smile and a laugh, sometimes it’s coordinating dance movements together. It’s really fun!

I actually got a little choked up at this last Sweat.

Our facilitator started playing the song “You Get What You Give” and a bunch of people let out a little cheer. To be honest, I’ve always gone back and forth on this song; sometimes liking it and sometimes thinking it’s really annoying.

But everyone was excited and smiling and dancing, and I started listening to the words as I danced.

But when the night is falling

And you cannot find the light

If you feel your dream is dying

Hold tight

You’ve got the music in you

Don’t let go

You’ve got the music in you

One dance left

This world is gonna pull through

Don’t give up

You’ve got a reason to live

Can’t forget

We only get what we give

My heart just opened up.

I hadn’t danced in weeks and here I was surrounded by all of these blissful people just dancing their hearts out. I felt so connected to music, to dance, to people and to life.

And that’s why I sweat my prayers.

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(And if you feel like dancing to the song too, here’s the music video – complete with 90s fashion, angst, mall setting and a big dance party/food fight.)

How about you? Do you ever get emotional or teary when you dance? Tell me in about it in the comments!