Wise people taught me that vision lives in our whole bodies, not just in our heads. When everything goes dark, we practice vision in our steps.
The summer before COVID, I stood at an outdoor event near a Latine woman who appeared to be many years older than me. She didn’t fit into any pop culture definition of beauty, and was dressed for comfort in sweat pants and sneakers. As salsa music began to play, I watched her dance with a friend, moving with elegance, joy, and sensuality that surprised me. She’s so beautiful, I thought to myself. I wanted to be her someday.
I decided to take a salsa lesson, my first dance class ever. (To be clear: I’ve always loved to dance, just never taken lessons. Cumbia is the dance form that comes most naturally to me, from my Ecuadorian side.)
I was lucky to find an amazing teacher (Laura at Dance Revolution) who practices and teaches salsa and bachata in all their forms. Laura doesn't just teach us moves, she instills us with deep reverence for the cultural and artistic history of these dances, and creates intentional space for us to build community together.
What’s so hard for newbies to pick up with salsa -- but so wonderful when you do -- is the rhythm. Salsa dancing has deep African ancestral roots in the clave (literally “the key”), the five beat musical pulse of Afro-Cuban music. The clave originated in sub-Saharan Africa, passed down through generations as African peoples kept their culture alive in the face of enslavement and dislocation.
No matter how modernized and pop music-ified it is, salsa invites dancers to listen for an uncolonized rhythm and move with it.
What rhythms could we learn to hear and, with practice, move to?
Maybe it’s the rhythm of a community gathering that begins with song or drum or trip line dance, or a high school class that starts with a simple collective breath from the heart.
Maybe it's the rhythm of birthing practices that Black communities are reclaiming for their health and wellness. Maybe it’s the rhythm of Indigenous women helpers and healers ensuring that Native communities have access to wisdom and practices that have sustained them for generations. Maybe it’s the rhythm of Spanish speaking residents practicing self-governance to win a 99-year lease for a community-led micro-farm from the city of Salinas, California.
Maybe it's the rhythm that inspired Dance Revolution, when Laura saw so many dance studios refusing to allow same sex dance partnering, ultimately discriminating against and excluding queer dancers. Laura listened for what needed to emerge, co-founding a studio where everyone could feel safe from homophobia and oppressive gender roles, a practice space built on what Grace Lee Boggs calls a “revolution in values.”
This spring, I almost cried when salsa classes re-started after the long COVID months I spent alone, praying for a vaccine. At first, Laura held classes outdoors on public tennis courts, then back inside, with smaller groups and masks (thankfully) required.
There's a legacy of revolutions everywhere: In the small, bold steps people take in the places we find ourselves. In rhythm born long before the self-destructing systems and worldviews we cling to. In rhythm that fills our bodies with joy, energy, and power to move in different ways, together.
The Persian poet Rumi wrote that wherever you stand, seek to be the soul of that place.
Wherever we are, there is always deep rhythm to follow toward vision, a clave that people gave everything to keep alive.
What’s a dance blog, or a new moon, without music?
Here’s a random mix of songs I love...
Pensando en Ti (Dimensión Latina)
Quiéreme (Gilberto Santa Rosa, Victor Garcia, y La Sonora Sanjuanera)
La Vida es Un Carnaval (Celia Cruz)
Día Tras Día (Cheo Andujar)
Parecen Viernes (Marc Antony
El Negro Está Cocinando (Los Van Van)
I Just Want To Hang Around You (La India)
Idilio (Willie Colón)
Fabricando Fantasías (Tito Nieves)
Ven Devorame Otra Vez (Lalo Rodriguez) The first salsa song I ever loved!
... share your favorites in the comments....
And please check out New Moon’s latest video collaboration: Birth Center Equity: Safety, Abundance, Liberation
Sending year-end love & blessings to all.
See you again for the January 2 new moon!