We came to Cali, Colombia with one purpose in mind, and that was to learn to salsa.
Except I am going to use the word “learn” very loosely. We recognized that as two awkward Caucasians utterly void of rhythm, this was going to be a challenge.
Maybe a more appropriate verb would be ‘struggle’.
Yes, that sounds better. Or at least more accurate.
We We came to Cali, Colombia with one purpose in mind, and that was to struggle to salsa. And we had about two and a half weeks to do it.
As Shawna mentioned last post, Cali, Colombia is known as the “salsa capital of the world”, and this isn’t difficult to believe. People here don’t walk. They dance. If you don’t believe me, check out this professional salsa show we saw last week.
It’s maddening really.
Especially for me, because some days I have enough trouble walking without tripping on a curb or running into a strategically placed lamp post, never mind dancing.
And although Shawna doesn’t lack coordination in quite the same way that I do, she will fully admit that her legs were made for cycling not salsa. And on top of that, dancing in public actually terrifies her.
Quite the duo, right?
We took our first lessons from Wilber, who we found online while we were looking for a place to stay in Cali. Wilber was a professional dancer for many years, and now makes his living teaching salsa out of his home. We liked the idea of this, because it was affordable ($20 CDN for a two-hour class) and the lessons would be private. We were going to need all the undivided instructor attention we could get.
Our lessons usually sounded a lot like this:
Shawna: Skott, you’re jumping not dancing.
Wilber: Skott, you’re jumping not dancing.
(Skott tries not to jump)
Shawna: Skott, take smaller steps.
Wilber: Skott, take smaller steps.
(Skott tries to take smaller steps)
Shawna: Skott, watch your elbows.
Wilber: Skott, watch your elbows.
Shawna and I struggled (see, I told you that word would come up again) a lot. We were far from the perfect dancing couple. I was a terrible dancing leader (and that’s just the guy’s role), and she isn’t exactly the world’s finest follower.
Shawna describes our dancing as a battle.
No argument here.
In spite of all of this, after our lessons with Wilber were finished, we had the very basic salsa steps loaded in our repertoire. No spins, no lifts, no turns. But we could dance back and forth or side to side. Sometimes our hips even moved.
We were content, but striving for more.
As difficult as salsa was for both of us, we were absolutely loving it. Like learning Spanish in San Pedro, salsa was completely foreign to us before we left Canada. We were absolute crap salsa dancers, but we were having a blast (most of the time), and so we decided to stay put in Cali a little longer, and seek out another teacher.
This time we we enrolled in the Swing Latino Salsa School. This was the same school that caused our jaws to drop when we saw them perform live the previous week. Classes were substantially more expensive ($50 for a 2-hour private lessons) but our new teacher Edwin, was confident we would feel our pesos were well invested.
And he was right. Over the next five days, we learned a couple of turns, a little fancy footwork, and I even tried to incorporate lifting Shawna onto my shoulder (oh boy, don’t try THAT one at home). He even gave us our first “routine”:
What? Not impressed?
Okay, I admit our finale needs a little practice, but let me put this into context for you. Ever see a basketball player without arms do a layup? Yes, you should find this equally impressive.
Swing Latino was an absolutely amazing school, and Edwin was an incredible teacher. If we were able to stay in Colombia any longer, I have no doubt we would spend every moment in Cali with Edwin. He told us that usually gringos who come to learn salsa say they will stay for a month, and ending up being there for six. We believe you, Edwin!
Learning to dance together as a couple has been a very interesting experience. It has pushed us to heighten our levels of creativity, trust, and intuition. Just as an example, one of the exercises Edwin had us do, was to dance closely and together while Shawna had her eyes shut tight. This required her to put 100% of her trust in me as I paraded us around the dance studio. As the experiment ended without a twisted ankle or worse, I deemed it a success, and me as completely trustworthy.
It really is magic to watch couples who know what they are doing on the dance floor move together. It’s been inspirational for us, and it would be amazing if we were one of those couples who, 30 years from now could effortlessly glide across the hardwood.
And so, with all the salsa lessons under our belt, we headed to our favourite salsa club, Tin Tin Deo for our last evening in Cali. We enjoyed a drink together while we watched some of the talented dancers light the floor on fire. And after a couple of songs, we decided it was time to get out there and see what we could do.
Holding hands in the proper position. The music starts, and so do we. Shawna looks up at me. And I, impressed by my ability to woo her so suddenly gaze into her eyes.
She smiles, and patiently says:
“Skott you’re jumping, not dancing… and seriously, watch your elbows, ok?”