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The Experience of Salsa Dance Students in Buenos Aires

© Jam Vedda Foto

Gabriel © Jam Vedda Foto

I spoke to my friends afterwards to see if they shared my sentiments after a night of salsa dance lessons in Buenos Aires.

Antonia, 21, from Berlin, who is a good Spanish speaker and has been studying abroad in Buenos Aires for one year, was the one experienced dancer in our dodgy quartet and had been to the salsa class at Cultural Conventillo Abastos before. In fact, having been a dancer since she was five years old, she was one of the women selected to dance with Gabriel in demonstrating certain steps to the class. She had come because “it was fun and my expectations were high because I knew Gabriel was a good dancer and teacher.”

“Have you danced salsa before?”

“I started dancing salsa six years ago. I danced it intensively for two and a half years and now I dance it occasionally. From five until six I did ice figure skating, after that from six to 15 I did ballet. I studied it really professionally, I was at boarding school, so I trained five days a week for at least three hours a day, but normally more. I then stopped ballet and began dancing salsa quite often – I went out and went to festivals. After that I started hip hop and now I take hip hop classes, classical dancing classes, and pretty much everything I can do.”

“Describe your salsa experience tonight?”

“It was awesome, I had a really good night and the people were great.”

“Do you think you will go back?”

“Yep, definitely.”

“Tell me about the other people you danced with and how did you enjoy dancing with them?”

“I mainly danced with three people in the class excluding my friends. I danced with Gabriel, which was awesome; then I danced with Yasser, who is a Cuban salsa teacher from La Viruta, a dance company in Buenos Aires providing lessons, dance and shows. He is amazing. Lastly I danced with a guy whose name I can’t remember, but he is from Argentina and he danced LA style salsa and was a really good dancer as well. After the class I danced freestyle with a guy who is a Rueda de Casino teacher, which is a particular type of salsa square dance.”

“How do you feel your dancing compared to the other people there?”

“I would say I was with the better ones that were there.”

“Would you recommend others to go to a salsa class and if so, why?”

“Definitely, because they are going to have the time of their life.”

Stephan, 22 also from Berlin, competent in Spanish and in Buenos Aires for study, had like me, been passionately corrected by Gabriel in the warm up. I asked Stephan the same questions I asked his compatriot Antonia.

Initially, Stephan said he “had wanted to watch salsa, but my plan was not to dance.”

“I came because I wanted to get to know the Argentinian culture, and salsa is a part of it,” said Stephan.

“I knew nothing and thought it might be quite boring, like other pair dance such as the waltz. I also thought there would be many old people, so my expectations were zero.”

“Have you danced salsa before?” I asked.

“Never, I like dancing, but just in the club, to techno or house music,” said Stephan, “although I was surprised, a lot of young people turned absolutely crazy dancing salsa. It is not a calm dance, people move a lot and shake their hips and shoulders a lot. They integrated me fast and asked me to join the classes.”

“Will you be back?”

“I don’t know yet, I prefer going out to other clubs, but think I’ll give it another chance.”

“Who were the people you danced with?”

“They were mostly other people from Argentina, obviously those I got to know were just women (due to the partner change), it was nice that there was no barrier, you immediately get to know people and can deepen a conversation at the bar. That was an icebreaker.”

“What did you learn and how was your dancing?”

“Some steps of salsa I might have already forgotten,” said Stephan, “my dancing was funny but I’m a horrible dancer that’s why I just managed in the end to dance the basic steps. The teacher was explaining things too fast so when I understood what to do he was already three steps further ahead. I think you have to be Latin to learn how to dance salsa!”

“Would you recommend others to go to a salsa class and if so, why?”

“Of course I recommend, it’s interesting to watch so something that you should have done at least once. And if you like dancing and actually have a sense for dancing you’ll enjoy the salsa class a lot!”

While Stephen made it to the end, and Antonia actually didn’t stop dancing all night, my other friend, Tom, had come over to the table I was sitting at about ten minutes after I had completed my dancing for the night, suavely telling me he had “run out of women”.

Tom, 26, from Leeds, is teaching English in Buenos Aires and had been peer pressured into attending – “My housemate pointed a knife at me and told me to come”. He has a reasonable understanding of Spanish. However, like Stephan and myself he had no prior experience with dancing salsa and doesn’t really like dancing at all unless “standing in a circle with your arms around your mates singing along to something is a type of dancing?”

In some moments when I had looked over at Tom during the class to make myself feel better, he had possessed all the hip rhythm of a 60 year old honorably pushing through arthritis – but as I said, he lasted longer than me, and the women seemed to enjoy his company far more than mine.

“What did you know about salsa before you went to the class and what were your expectations?” I asked Tom.

“That it is Latin dancing. I was expecting it to be difficult and embarrassing, which it was, but it was also a lot of fun.”

“Do you think you will go back?”

“It’s not soared to the top of my list of things to do but I wouldn’t actively avoid doing it,” said Tom.

“Who where the people you danced with and did you find it easy to communicate?”

“I talked to them a bit. A lot of them were Argentinians attending their regular evening salsa class.”

“What did you learn and how was your dancing?”

“I learnt some salsa steps. I thought that I compared ok to the other beginners of whom I think there were a few. There were other people who didn’t know what they were doing and I found that with some partners I’d more or less picked up what I was meant to be doing and then they would change and it would all go wrong.”

“Would you encourage others to go to a salsa class?”

“I’m not going to go around telling people to dance salsa, but if someone said they were going I’d probably encourage them.”

In summary, if any of the following apply to you: you like dancing, you want to have fun and release some endorphins, you want to feel true fear, you want to meet people or you want a cultural experience, then there is at least one, or several, reason to learn salsa in Buenos Aires or die trying.

But even if you don’t share Antonia’s skills and passion, Stephan’s need to dance, or my ignorant enthusiasm and feel more like Tom (who still had fun) I will leave you with one last thought.

I mentioned how beautiful the women here where in my first South American article. Ladies, that translates to the guys too, and if you swing different or both ways it works out the same or even better for you.

Anyway, Stephan gave me a good piece of advice “after class” and you can translate this how you wish: learn your salsa steps and when you go out to a bar or club play the foreigner card and say to a girl or guy you meet that “I can’t really dance but can you show me?”

Ten minutes later when he or she miraculously has you dancing, you can convince them it was all due to their exquisite teaching and hey, presto, you are both having a good time.