The Magic circles of Cuban Salsa
by RICARDO GRANDE
Cuban style is what Alain teaches. This type of Salsa is all about circles: the couples team up around the teacher forming a circle, you move with you partner in circles and, when you are ready, you can dance in the biggest circle of all, Rueda. Before that, you are going to be dancing with someone different every few minutes, anytime you hear “Swap, please!”. That happens quite a lot. “This is about walking, not jumping or anything strange”, says Alain to reassure the beginners who every now and then join his lessons to learn the basic steps.
It all comes down to communicate through your movements. Guys are supposed to lead: they have to gently let their partners know which figure they feel like trying. Your hand moves hers in order to make her turn, your arm subtlety indicates a change in direction. Moving in circles and stepping clearly on the rhythm will become at some point intuitive. Sometimes I feel I reached that level and it feels great; then I check the others and the figure that their arms have got in doesn’t look quite the same as the mess I have got into. “Swap, please!”. Well, let´s try again. It is a long way to the top if you wanna be an Intermediate Salsa dancer, I guess.
“Watch just a minute, don´t do it yet”. Alain stresses that part because he knows people tend to unconsciously copy him. Someone gives him the Houston-we-got-a-problem face. “Keep turning, keep turning!”, he encourages them. “You have to let him turn you”, he explains to her, who finally let her arms a bit loose and ends up doing it right. When you know the basics, it is time for the biggest and most fun of all circles in Salsa: La Rueda.
All the dancers gather in a circle during Rueda (wheel). Every time the person in charge is shouting the names of the crazy figures, the guys will run to their next partner – the one immediately to their right as a rule of thumb but listen carefully!- in order to do whatever is asked: anything from high five to the typical arm-twisting things that end up with everyone unharmed.
Bristol is a multicultural city and these lessons reflect that. You will get to know people from everywhere. If dancing was ever a “girl thing”, that´s not the case anymore. “I remember when I started here, six years ago. There were no guys”, he laughs because currently is not unusual that the class is packed and there are more men than woman. Quite a challenge for a teacher but somehow he always looks relaxed and happy. We look the same every time he plays some music and we do a whole sequence without mistakes. If you were able to follow without stopping, that´s also a good reason to celebrate. I´d say there is not such a thing as overcelebrating: “We ´re awesome, we nailed it!”. I love Wednesdays.
Good dancers don´t go to sleep early
Don´t worry if you did not get everything that was explained during the class. After the lesson, the party starts. Everybody gets to Park Street and Alain turns into a Dj and selects some songs. No le pegue a la negra or Conteo regresivo are salsa classics but things can get a little bit more interesting with a Bachata song or a reggaeton moment. “I never thought about it but it is true, I don’t drink on Wednesdays. I suppose I want to keep focus on my Salsa moves!” tells me Charlie, a French Salsa fan who gets on well with the regulars here. So when these guys ask a girl for a dance, they really mean it. We all are here to improve and mainly because it is fun, so “I am terrible at this” or “I don’t even know the basics” might be valid excuses at a wedding party but not here.
The lessons in Hamilton House become the first step to this little world: Salsa dancers, lessons and thematic parties. So it works if you feel like meeting new people or you just want to get better at dancing. It is a good thing to be patient: don’t get too depress if you see Felix warming up. He performs some really basic moves in such effortless and elegant way. Nothing complicated but it is so properly done. “Well, I have being dancing many, many years”, he explained to me once. He tried many types of dancing but Cuban style is the one for him. “It has something”, he intended to make me understand but this is probably one of those things you should try rather than ask around. So don’t get too stress about doing the steps in the same order you were taught. Anything that seems to please your partner will do. Provided that you go with the rhythm, of course.