In Which the Salsa Girl Finds a Home and a Heck of a Lot of Salsa

Just to keep you all on your toes I’m going to work backwards this week and start with where I am at this very moment, wi-fi-less because I forgot to ask for the password, but, at long last, in a place of my own. I mean, I say place, but I mean room. Yes, despite all my grandiose ambitions, me, my two suitcases, and my nine boxes will be taking up residence in a remarkably large for New York room in a former tenement which consists of my room, the bathroom, a very modest kitchen, and the room belonging to the fellow I’m sub-letting from. Have no idea where all of my kitchen goodies will go, but my bedroom’s big enough for some storage units…

Now of course you may ask how I ended up in a fifth floor walk up with a tiny kitchen and nary a level floor to be found. Predictably, the answer is location, location, location. This rather rough and ready flat is right in the heart of the bustling, historic, hip Lower East Side. It’s 10 minutes from work and little further from most of the dance studios. It is, in fact, right in the middle of everything, and I am a slave to location. I am also enamoured of Manhattan. Now, I was initially looking in Brooklyn, but Brooklyn just doesn’t quite have the skyscrapers, or that deliciously heady je ne said quoi which hit me like the wall of warmth emanating from a front door on a cold day. To put a point on it, tonight as my taxi sped along over the bridges bearing me and my luggage into the city, the sky was aflame with pink and yellow sunset outlined by the glittering window studded silhouettes of skyscrapers and I was consumed by that pleasant internal fire that says: yes, this is it.

So here I am sitting on the blow up mattress kindly volunteered by my new boss, revelling in just exactly how lucky I am to be here in this city at 25 years old, though only 7 and a half in salsa years. Which brings me to the other thing that I should probably tell you all about, la salsa!

New York is the centre of a lot of things, but above all else, for me at least, New York is the hot, red, beating heart of salsa. There are so many schools and so many talented performers; the ambient level is off the charts, so obviously I am here to learn. Last Tuesday I left work and verily flew into the city to study from the one and only, Griselle. It was education enough to be in the room with her while she danced, but then to get pointers and technique from her. My god. The classes aren’t cheap ($20 a pop) but they will be worth every penny if I get even a little closer to the groundedness and fluidity of her movements. So I’m a bit of a fangirl, but I swear, it’s not without reason!

Other than Griselle’s class I decided to take it easy on the weeknight salsa until I was a little more settled into my job, but come Friday, it was on! So on in fact that I put on my fanciest dress and schlepped my way all the way out to the Bronx to Yamulee. And let me tell you it’s ALLLLL the way out in the Bronx. Like when you get to the Bronx, keep going until you’re almost out of Bronx. At that point, you’re probably getting close.

Now Yamulee is kind of a little bit incredibly intimidating, but for the most part all the dancers were kind and friendly and completely immune to that shyness which plagues so many Canadian, Irish, and Chinese salsera/os. I think that’s probably my most and least favourite thing about New Yorkers: they are so brash and confident. On one hand, when you’re around them you can’t help but feed off their unshakeable confidence, but then on the other hand, some days it can definitely drift from inspiring to abrasive. I think it shall be very good for me, on both kinds of days.

So there I was at Yamulee for their Halloween party. I danced with all manner of people, including a rather enthusiastically inflated T-Rex whose pendulous head made a regular habit of walloping me across the face. I also danced with a few people who humbled me. Very effectively. I had almost forgotten the New Yorker thing. I mean, I hadn’t really forgotten it, but I’d been allowed to believe that maybe it was only in my head. It’s not. It was only a handful, but those that did, did it with the precision that only New Yorkers possess.

Now for those of you that are neither dancers, nor have been to New York, this probably all sounds very cryptic. It rather is, but let me try to explain. When you are dancing with certain skilled New York leaders, you are not merely having a dance, you are writing the fastest, most unforgiving examination of your life. He will start slowly, testing your basics, seeing if you are up for it, then slowly ramping up until you are at the very edge of your ability, clinging to the floor with your toes and praying for the best, and then he’ll see if he can make you learn something. You usually get a couple tries provided you don’t fail the first one too terribly. And thus you spend 3-5 minutes dancing at your very limits, feeling rather like a bumbling idiot but, probably, learning a thousand things by osmosis alone. It’s stimulating to say the least.

And just when your brain is about ready to explode, they bring out the performers. You have not seen a studio show until you have seen a New York studio show. It puts every other studio show and half the congress shows I’ve seen to shame. Once again, the level is astounding.

Sometime later after a long week at work and the energetic workout delivered at Yamulee, I eventually found myself half asleep on the train riding all the way back to Brooklyn. But, because I’m a sucker for punishment, I dragged my sorry self out of bed early the next morning, bundled myself onto a train, then a ferry, then another train, all the way back to Staten Island with fingers crossed that various important pieces of post had made it to Chelsea’s mailbox while she was off in Ireland and I was off in Brooklyn. A 50% rate of success is not terrible, though for four hours of commuting… Well, at least it kept me out of trouble.

After a nap and an obscene amount of carbs in the form of a reuben, a bagel, and a bag of rugelach, I gathered my wits about me, composed a Halloween costume, and headed out to Balmir’s Halloween social. This time, it was a much closer adventure. I walked there in half an hour and found a rather quiet studio in the middle of Flatbush. I arrived early, in the interest of getting there before cover kicked in, and was immediately swept up by the first few leaders who hit the floor. It’s hard to describe, but there was definitely a difference in how they felt. I mean, they were still On2 and it was still New York, but it certainly wasn’t the same as Yamulee. The beauty of a scene this big and this vibrant is that even within a small geography, there’s huge stylistic diversity.

And so I danced. I even managed to dance with the director of the school. And I only realized it on the second dance when I was hunting a chachacha and my first quarry redirected me to “Eric, he can chachacha”. It was half-way through asking “Eric” to dance that I realized that this was definitely Eric Balmir. In my defence, there were costumes! As the night went on I had better and better dances and once again was challenged and humbled very effectively. And then, it was showtime. This time there were two shows: Balmir’s elite ladies team, and D’Cor’s gentlemen. I don’t know how to convey to you just how good these shows are. I mean, sure they aren’t necessarily quite as tuned up as these same teams would be at a congress, but the choreography is so good, and the staging is so clever, and the dancing is just so damn strong. The ladies group had a fantastic musical piece that hit just about everything in the song with more sass than I could ever muster, and then there were the guys. There was hip hop and acrobatics and, afro cuban movement and standing splits, and my god it was glorious, not to mention the transitions and staging!

And if two performances weren’t quite enough for you, then there was the costume competition which devolved rapidly into the best sort of insanity. Peter Pan lost his tights, the bunny did some terrible things to the floor, and a certain disco queen got all sorts of down. Once again, may I point out the unshakeable self-confidence of this city. Nothing was too ridiculous, no one seemed to fear for their dignity, and why should they, they’re from Brooklyn.

Now you may think that this is the last of my salsa stories for this week, but, really, underestimating me like that?

No, instead of having a relaxing Sunday brunching and latte sipping, I kicked myself out of bed at 7:45am to make it in to an Entrepreneurial Bootcamp session for work at 9am, and then I bloody well networked! I am not a natural networker, but as a part of this whole moving to the big city and taking on an outreach position, I have decided that it is time for me to master the fine art of meeting people, and so I did, for 6.5 hours. Every chance I got I tried to say hello to someone new and I met some interesting people including a very successful Brazilian mathematician/stock trader who had been a founder in the sort of venture that sells for over seven figures; he has ambitions of creating a highly specialized quant fund that will do all sorts of magical things that I don’t understand but which ultimately will give investors set returns while his algorithms cleverly square away all the risk.

By 4pm, with my head swimming in disruptive ideas and venture capital, I headed back to my Air BnB to trade “professional Brittney” for “casual, Sunday afternoon salsa Brittney”. Casual Sunday afternoon salsa turned out to be a very good idea. The event was hosted near Times Square by a photographer/promoter/dancer that I had met at Yamulee’s social and it was a uniquely mixed crowd from the folks that were halfway to adulthood before salsa was born, to wee children who were born into it. Once again, the local talent was far above par and the collection of performers hanging around guaranteed a good few dances of the “well I’ve never done that before” variety.

And so I danced and I chatted and after a few hours I excused myself to go back to the Air BnB and pack in anticipation of the bit of madness that was today. I was in work by 8am, meant to leave at 5 at the latest but got a charming last minute email of that beloved “oh wait, there’s a problem ” extraction about 2 minutes before I was about to head out the door and so ended up in work until 5:30, at the Air BnB for all of 10 minutes around 6pm, and then zooming off over the bridge to get here, where I shall soon be slipping off into sleep so that tomorrow I can top another day of work with another delicious salsa adventure!

Divinely Tired,
The Salsa Girl

Ah don’t whine now, I know I haven’t given ye any pictures. I’ll get there. I just can’t be counted on to thing to snap a photo of all the things I’d rather just stare at dreamily.


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