SALSA LESSONS

SALSA LESSONS

From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Salsa Lessons

. . . Icreate and celebrate our típico Caribbean dance. I take pride in my heritage, bringing the richness of our culture to everything I do.

María Torres

Growing up, Saturday was cleaning day. Protest did no good, so, reluctantly, my brother and I would drag our feet into the kitchen where my mother would tell us what we had to do.

My mother did all the heavy cleaning, and we usually had something simple to do. I would dust all the furniture and make the beds. My brother would vacuum and throw out the trash.

Just before we got started, Mother, who has always had a knack for making even the most mundane chore fun, would turn on the record player. No matter how tired we were, once the music came on, we came alive. With salsa blaring from the record player, cleaning somehow became easier.

My mother would dance with the broom, the mop, or a pillow; anything could be a dancing partner. My brother and I would laugh, and eventually we would all end up dancing. The beat of the bongo drums in salsa music has a way of crawling into your soul, and once you’re hooked, there’s no turning back.

I have always loved music and was eager to learn to dance. Mami began teaching me steps. She instructed me how to keep my upper body steady while swaying my hips and moving my feet to the beat. My mother knew most of the words to the songs, and she would sing while twirling me around the room. We would do conga lines, and dance in and out of all the rooms in our little house. Every time a good song came on, we would drop what we were doing and begin dancing. It wasn’t uncommon for my dad to come home for lunch and find his wife and children dancing, and the housecleaning still not done.

At first, my brother wasn’t too enthusiastic about learning to dance. He would roll his eyes, pretending he wasn’t interested, but my mom never got discouraged. She would ignore his sulking and entice him to join us. As he got a little older and realized that girls like boys who can dance, his interest grew. Although salsa is very different from other forms of dancing, learning to dance gave us the ability to pick up steps to the music of our generation.

The habit of putting on music whenever I have to do chores at home has never left me. Any time I have to get busy, you’ll hear salsa blaring from the speakers installed all over my house. I also dance with sofa cushions and imaginary partners while my children laugh at their nutty mom. I taught my sons how to dance this way, and now my five-year-old daughter and I share in weekly dance sessions.

Thinking back on those Saturday mornings, I realize that we were learning more than just how to dance. We learned that while life isn’t always easy or fun, we have the ability to make the most out of every situation. The important thing is the attitude we choose to have when dealing with the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Music kept my mother sane those first few years in the United States. It helped her deal with her sadness. It helped her forget how broke we were and how uncertain the future was. I’m sure the music took her back home to Guantánamo, to the carnavales and a carefree time in her life.

Salsa takes me straight to my Caribbean roots. The words to the songs talk of the island where I was born. Salsa helps me stay connected to a place and a way of life I have always been curious to know more about. When I’m dancing salsa, the drums beat steadily with my heart, and for a moment this Cuban girl is back in Guantánamo.

María Luisa Salcines

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