“Sex, Pleasure, Love and Jealousy”
Salsa Clubbing 101 (Part one)
Going to a Salsa club is like entering a theatre where the dance floor is the stage, the dancers are the actors, and “Sex, Pleasure, Love, Jealousy (and sometimes, humiliation)” is the play of the evening.
I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of feeling that the night would bring or for the dramatic results of my innocent first visit.
My friend, Monica suggested after dance class number eight, that we check out a well-known local Montreal club that Saturday evening. I was hesitant.
Was it fair (to me or to the expert male dancers who would surely populate the place) to put myself in the line of fire after only 8 weeks of dance classes?
During lessons, I was still in panic-counting mode – 123(pause), 567(pause)! Wasn’t this club-crawling idea a bit premature?
Monica assured me. “Oh, we won’t dance. We’ll just watch and learn how the club scene works.”
The place opened at 8:30PM and we strolled in at what we thought was a reasonable hour to find some dancing action, 9:30, only to discover that we were the first ones there.
With as much cool as we could muster, we each got a drink and settled in at an inconspicuous table to watch the action unfold.  Two white women out on the town.
The wine cooled my jitters a bit. Being a long-time performer, I was pretty concerned about the possibility of being asked to dance and then making a spectacle of myself. I could see the gossip headlines in the local newspaper the next day, “Singer, Barbara Lewis takes a humiliating public tumble (see candid picture) while dancing at a hip Salsa joint!”
Surely, it would not happen. Surely, we would be easily pegged as amateurs and left alone in our corner.
At around 10:30, as more people poured in, I felt relaxed and happy. The wine floated through my body while I watched the momentum build on the dance floor. Already there were several pretty impressive couples wheeling about the spacious area.
And then I felt a tap on my shoulder.
A tall, dark, attractive man stood beside my chair. The music was so loud that I could not hear what he was saying. So I nodded my head and gestured, “Yes, this chair is free.” But he wasn’t sitting down and he wasn’t going away. So I stood up to listen to what he had to say – still not imagining that I was being asked to dance.
“Would you like to dance?” he shouted.  
“Oh no!” I thought with an inner tremor - the butterflies starting to buzz in my stomach.
 “What should I do?” I mouthed to Monica, who, true to her Irish sense of humor, beamed back at me with merry eyes, “Yes!” she said. “Go and give it a try.”
I pulled the man close to me in a vise grip and sputtered, “I must warn you. I’m not a long-time dancer. I could be a disaster.” I waited for him to walk away, but instead he answered with a serious look, “We’ll see,” as he led me to the dance floor.
There were people sitting at tables all around the floor – but only a few couples were now actually dancing. So my brave new partner and I were very much on display.
A Bachata was playing; 1,2,3 touch, 5,6,7 touch. I didn’t know it well – but thought I could at least follow him. However, when he went one way, I went the other. We stopped and started a few times, but I knew it was no use. We simply were not in sync – neither physically… nor philosophically; his attempt to get me moving in a way that would not embarrass us both was to command me in a high-pitched, tight voice to “relax!”
After all my years of vocal training, and my long-acquired skill of “reading” voices, I knew from his that we were doomed.
Then a salsa began to play and I felt a tendril of optimism rising. I had at the very least danced the salsa for eight full evenings. That expertise might come to my aid. But again, we were not together.
“You have to feel the music!’ he told me with exasperation. Hard for me to disagree with him, but I had been “feeling” music professionally for about 20 years, so again, it was not the right tact to take with me.
Finally, in despair, I suggested that he was simply too good a dancer for me and I led him back to my table where I shrugged and thanked him for the “try.”
Monica was hysterical. She couldn’t contain herself. “What happened?” she cried, tears of laughter running down her face.
“I just flunked Latin 101,” I replied with a deep sigh. I felt badly for the tall attractive man who looked perplexed and a little miffed as he sat at the bar staring hard at me.
And so another half-hour went by, during which time I relaxed once again -
unafraid of a second dance request after the very public failure of the first.

And then I felt another
tap on my shoulder.
I stood up immediately – primed to excuse myself - and gazed into the bright, humor-filled eyes of a handsome black man.
I shouted, “Dance with me at your own risk!” He laughed, “Let’s try.”
The dance floor was crowded by now. He took us over to the space near the band where the lights were very bright. It was like being in the floodlights on centre stage.
“Oh, oh,” I thought. “this is not good.”
But as we began to dance, I felt the tension quickly melt away. This gifted dancer was leading me through a fast salsa with little apparent effort. I was performing the moves and the simple turns with ease. I began to laugh. So did he. We were both pleased and relieved that a disaster had thus far been averted.
And things just got better.
We danced through several songs as though we had been dancing together for ages. The man with whom I had failed so miserably earlier in the evening stood at the corner of the dance floor watching me with a look that was part disbelief and part anger. I smiled at him, shrugged and shook my head as if to say that I couldn’t figure it out either.
At a certain point, my fine new dance partner, Marc (not his real name) and I left the floor to rest a bit. He went to his table; I went to mine. But it wasn’t long before he was back.

“I guess I’m your dog for the night.” he beamed. I hadn’t heard that phrase before, but I was quite happy to spend more time with this very smooth-moving dog.
When we got to the floor, I saw out of the corner of my eye that Monica was also about to dance with a young man – so I settled in with Marc for about an hour’s worth of Salsa, Bachata, and Merengue.
There are times in life when the brain slides into cruise mode. Everything is easy – in a state of flow. I have experienced it fairly often on stage as a singer. I don’t know how it happens – perhaps it is at that point when one’s ability and emotional state fit perfectly with the demands of the moment. And you can relax into a blissful spell.
This was the feeling that I had with Marc as we moved together through the shifting rhythms and moods of many songs. I looked deep into his eyes most of the time, my universe into his, surprised that he was so comfortable with this kind of continuous eye gazing from a stranger.
In my experience, most people cannot sustain direct communication for long. He seemed to find it easy.
As we danced, I could see that he was imagining a precise combination of moves that would keep us going, but not drown me in complication. I began to feel an even greater appreciation for the rather demanding role of male dancers in Salsa. The men drive the car. The women are the engine.
At one point, after I completed a surprisingly easy double twirl, Marc said to me,  “I think you have not told me the truth. You’ve been dancing for years.” I assured him that whatever I was doing well was due to the efforts of my fine dance teacher, Anthony and Marc’s own very advanced skill.
An hour or so later, as night turned into morning, I realized that I must get home to bed if my voice was going to work the next day. Marc quietly slipped me a note with his e-mail address and phone number. “Call me!” he shouted as I walked up the stairs.
A day or so later, after some thought, I did. And that is another story.
Coming - Part Two – “Passion In Salsa”
Barbara Lewis is known for her very personal, self-revealing style of art. Through her songs, performances and writing, she takes listeners/viewers/readers on a deeply honest journey into areas of life that are not often explored so candidly. Lewis says: “My hope is that those who come in contact with my art will see themselves there as well and feel that it is never too late to make important life changes.” Thus, one reviewer has described Lewis as, “the guru of self-renewal.”
Singer/Songwriter, Barbara Lewis writes an ongoing feature called: “Journey To Salsa” that appears on several web sites. Please do not reprint any of her articles without written permission, which can be negotiated by sending an e-mail to her agent/producer: Estelle Rosen, erosen@videotron.ca
Friday, December 29, 2006