OF ALL THE things I thought I might like about salsa — and I liked many things — holding hands with a stranger while learning new dance steps together was not one of them. I thought I might hate that.
But the social part of this Latin social dance was one of the sweetest and best parts of taking salsa lessons.
I dropped into the middle of the six-week intro-to-salsa class series at Salsa con Todo in Fremont. I wasn’t nervous, but it has been a long time since I have attempted salsa outside of a Zumba class.
Instructors Vassili and Marissa Monteiro got us moving right away with some warm-up steps. I stuck to the back and followed. Despite having a two-class advantage over me, many of the students were still struggling with the steps. I felt relieved.
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After the warm-up, the class separated into men and women, so men could work on cues to lead and women on steps to follow.
We dived into the basic salsa step, which, for women, starts with a right-foot step back, then return to center, then a step forward with the left foot. We practiced moving to the music, then worked on a spin, which the class learned the week before.
Once I figured out the mechanics of a spin, it felt straightforward. Then we paired up to practice.
The men rotated from partner to partner, so we had only a few counts with each person before he moved on. At first I felt awkward, then I realized the men had the tough job. Many of them, brows furrowed, counted to themselves as they led me through the basic step and threw in spins. I felt confident when my lead lifted my right arm, but when he lifted my left arm, I got twisted around. Vassili stopped us a couple times to tell women not to rush the spin and also to stop ducking under the man’s arm. I’m sure I did both.
Of course, as soon as I felt halfway comfortable with spins, we moved on.
Our next move was cross-body leads, where we learned to move past our partners and turn around. The cross-body leads were a little easier, and Marissa also showed us some “lady styling” with dramatic arm movements for flair.
When I did it alone, it felt simple. Add a partner and things could go any direction.
Our dance got more complicated, with some cumbias — a basic step that goes side to side — thrown in, different arm positions for the cross-body leads, and a spin to finish.
For cross-body leads, women rest their left arms on the men’s right arms. The teachers encouraged the women to make good contact with our arms so it would be easier for our partners to guide us.
It got harder once we wove in more steps. But as I started to get the feet down, I could tell my partners were having an easier time of it, too. They were still counting, but they looked like they could be having fun, smiling as we danced. We didn’t have time to chat much, and I didn’t care who I danced with; I liked seeing how the dance changed with each person.
The intro salsa class was more technique-based than it was physically tough, but I could see a fun future in the hip- and arm-flashing styling of Marissa when she danced with Vassili. Salsa is a language my body doesn’t totally get. But I had so much fun that I am now trying to figure out how to fit salsa lessons into my weekly schedule.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.