Do you ever remember your 1st salsa night? The night at a social or club where you didn't feel like part of the scenery but rather the "see-er" who doesn't need to sneak in, to be unnoticed? Don't get me wrong. Not knowing salsa, or in YOUR mind, having an inadequate amount of experience to even think about having an energy exchange with these "professional dancers", these "puzzle solvers", the "bees buzzing" away, like some sort of nature is happening. You feel like the photographer from National Geographic capturing a natural phenomenon that you can't even begin to understand. The difference between this scenario I paint for you, and what the actual reality is, is that no photographer wants to BE the "bees" or whatever scene that he or she marvels at. When I looked at these people with joyful expressions on their face, and to the best of my knowledge, were NOT drinking. I sat myself down and found my smiling too!
I watched in amazement at this chaotic and rhythmic flow of people crowded in 1 place and somehow not bumping into each other. I remember looking down at the floor at the O lounge in Hamilton that night and watching the moving lights seemingly dance with each other as well. The music was lively, spontaneous and inviting. Considering myself a music geek, I really started to listen to the instruments. I remember 1st hearing the horns, the trumpets, the trombones. Then of course the singers and the piano. What was disconcerting to me was the variety of percussive instruments that I was never introduced to. They had all different rhythms at different intervals and they all had different tones and depth to them.
Do I hear a cowbell?! Being a city girl myself, I admittedly would have never known what a cowbell was if I hadn't watched the SNL skit with Christopher Walken saying "more cow bell!"
I quickly looked up from the floor to see if this farm instrument introduction made people laugh, like it did me. Nothing! In fact, they seemed to dance more rhythmically. Where in the world did this music come from? All night I watched people go back and forth, on and off the dance floor, offering their hands to different partners, without flinching to take a break. These people were tireless! The novelty of not knowing salsa and being "safe" not dancing eventually wore off and I was itching to be taken into this whirlwind of happiness that everyone seemed to be projecting.
Now salsa nights in the history of me knowing them have never been known to stop at a kid's bedtime. The O lounge was no exception. In fact, how this all started was an invite by Leah Fuller. At the time, I was wallowing in my self pity of not knowing anyone in Hamilton. I had moved here from London and from knowing Leah through my daughter's friend (Leah's sister), it was mentioned to me that there was an introductory salsa lesson at 8:30pm that Thursday night. Back to the story...
So like I said, it was getting late and I started to remember how sad I was, still not knowing anyone in Hamilton, and since it was getting late on a work night, I started to collect my jacket and my purse. All of a sudden, this older short man with glasses lends out his land to me and asks me to dance. Normally, I am almost certain, I would have panicked and said no, but the flash of scenery in the last hour flashed in my eyes; watching the hustle and bustle, listening to the serenade of music, acknowledging the smiles, connecting the matching movements between partners, wistfully wishing to be a part of it all, and kicking myself for not knowing about this earlier, you can bet I took his hand!
I'm not going to lie I'm not going to glorify because the movie "Dirty Dancing" lied to me. "Baby" made it look so easy to learn and follow. My introductory salsa lesson didn't take and the lovely man who called himself "Manuel" knew it. That said, he smiled at me, took me in his embrace and said "like this", and since it was the same movement over and over again, I managed to follow by the end of the song. I felt the rhythm, not the horns, not the trumpets, not the trombones, not the piano, not the singers, not the cowbell, not even the percussive instruments (which I found out later on was the congas, timbao, guira and of course our beloved clave) but the rhythm of the dancer. Dare I say that the dancer fills the space where the instruments make room for?
That night I walked home. I would have taken the bus on Upper James but I was walking on clouds that night. I danced the salsa rhythm for the 1st time and it made me and still makes me forget about all the troubles in the world.