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It’s all in the 8 count to salsa

1-2-3 and 5-6-7. No, not a mathematic-ally challenged adult trying to count. But me, trying to wrap my feet into the symmetrical steps needed for basic salsa.

  • Hisham Wyne joined a salsa class in Dubai and found that it’s not quite what he expected.
  • Image Credit: Supplied image

1-2-3 and 5-6-7. No, not a mathematically challenged adult trying to count. But me, trying to wrap my feet into the symmetrical steps needed for basic salsa.

It’s meant to be simple. Step with the left, tap with the right, revert with the left. And then back with the right, tap with the left, and revert… confused?

Ah, but there was more. Not only was I supposed to fully immerse myself in the cat-on-a-hot-tin roof routine, but at the same time make sure my posture was upright, my breathing not too shallow. Worse, I was expected to make use of hands and arms to lead a female around in what could be taken for dignified dance moves.

That part wasn’t going so well. In fact, nothing was.

How on earth did I get here? I blame a shower epiphany. “There is nothing fundamentally wrong with mixing exercise with pleasure,” was my unspoken thought. After all, I had swum more laps around a solitary pool than a lost St. Bernard, and had pondered the intricacies of hanging out with a treadmill when the fit seizes me. I had occasionally given vent to my testosterone-induced instincts by lifting large lumps of metal in an attempt to get fit.

So what could possibly be wrong with trying salsa, the heady up-tempo partner dancing devised by the Latinos, and perfected in heady New York and up-market LA?

As it turns out, plenty could go wrong. Men are built for many things; multi-tasking is not one of them.

My feet could move, but my hands would decide to imitate George ‘Dubya’ Bush giving a speech. Or I could shift focus to those errant appendages, only to have the feet decide to make their merry way to Al Ain. All by themselves and without inviting the rest of me. Then, the average salsa class lasts an hour and a half, which just seems to be 90 minutes too long.

After all, what with the pulsating salsa beat, no one can hear you scream. Or shout. Or beg for mercy. Or even do all three simultaneously, while still trying to keep the tempo. My instructors, immensely decent people that they were, also had a fundamental, fatal flaw. They could actually dance. And I mean dance really well. So well in fact, that the rest of us were mired in despair.

While they were floating like butterflies and stinging like bees, we were scurrying hither and thither like obtuse worker ants preparing for winter. Fortunately, men have been compensated for their lack of multi-tasking abilities with other evolutionary advantages; thick skin is the first that comes to mind. And I find my skin is often the thickest between the ears.

So despite my better judgement, aching limbs and battered dignity, I decided to give it another go the very next day. Then the next, and the one after that. It eventually dawned on me, slowly but with the certainty of a Tuesday morning headache, that life on the salsa floor wasn’t all that bad. For one thing, I hadn’t tripped over my own feet in the past 78 hours.

Then there was the fact that I had actually formed a decent circle of acquaintances, on the cusp of becoming friends, who would cheer and jeer in equal measure.

Further, there were some noticeably pretty female faces in the sea of salsa beginners. Not that I had ulterior motives or craven designs, you understand. It’s just inspiring to dance in the presence of beauty and suppleness.

And the 400 calories that fall off you in every hour of dancing were starting to make their absence felt in the form of a firm midsection. Perhaps the best thing was the lack of pretention and the fresh spontaneity of every session. After all, a few hours of dancing were sufficient to do away with airs and graces of most sorts.

It is really hard to keep a perfect coif and fresh manicure in place when someone is trying to whirl you around in a strange approximation of an Inca war dance. Everyone was there to dance, and by default, to make fools of themselves. But that was alright. There were no divas and few self-styled masculine models of perfection. We were all potential dancers; all scurrying worker ants, polishing this manoeuvre, perfecting that turn.

Of course, this is not to say that salsa was the perfect escape from annoyance. There are quite a few triggers that get the blood pressure rising. There are those who use salsa as an excuse to get as close to females as is possible: cling film comes to mind.

There are some who show up loud and proud in the tightest T-shirt and skinniest jeans hoping to attract female attention.
Some actually use string vests to portray their ageing masculinity to best advantage (don’t ask me, I only dance here!) And those diva-esque females who sit around sour faced and absolutely refuse to dance with anyone at all. Then you get an odd variety of squiffy faces who believe themselves the kings of the dance floor.

In reality they only manage to amble into other dancers, step on a few toes (quite literally), sidle up to the nearest piece of furniture to profess undying love, and then fall into a stupor. There were also those almost-professional salsa journeymen that would descend on the dance floor like post-Hurricane Katrina looters and steal away our collective self-esteem.

But that’s just my pedantic side talking. I daresay that I have been guilty of several moves of utter crassness on the dance floor, mostly inadvertently or in the spirit of the moment. And several acts that seemed a good idea at the time, but were quite delivered to the back door of memory the next morning, with the letters “J-A-C-K-A-S-S” stamped firmly all over them. Such is life, and salsa.

Through it all, we were a normal bunch of people who had come together through choice mixed with circumstance in the hope of one day being able to execute a graceful cross-body lead. And we had a good time, though grace was always elusive.

I wish I could tell you that all is well with the world, and that I keep in constant touch with my group of salsa friends. That we meet every Wednesday for an impromptu salsa session, every Monday for coffee, and every other Friday for a beach picnic. I wish I could say that we remain good friends who remember birthdays, weddings and other important engagements.

At the very least, I long to say that we occasionally catch up for a movie and a cold one. But in all honesty, that would be putting too glossy a veneer on it.

We have, in the manner of most people in the busy city, parted ways. Our paths occasionally cross in busy mall aisles or outside one of the city’s myriad office complexes.

And we catch a quick smoke, a brief chat, and a reminisce here and there, only to be lost again in the labyrinth of work, daily chores and endless appointments.

In a few months hence, some of us will have moved on, others will have packed their bags for home after a successful stint in the city of polished dreams, while still others will have dropped completely out of sight. Except one.

A beautiful member of my salsa class had the misfortune of trying to introduce me to new salsa steps. To date, she is still introducing me to new experiences every day, while no doubt shaking her head at the vagaries of fate that led her on.

Here’s to her. In fact, here’s to all of us that have danced the eight-count of companionship. It’s a beautiful thing.

So you think you can dance?

Classes: For a list of salsa classes go to www.dubaisalsa.com/classes