Article

Dancing salsa is like flirting

Conny gives the example

St-Gilles If you have ever taken a salsa class in De Pianofabriek or went there for a Sunday afternoon salsa happening, you must know Conny. This lady is one big burst of energy and enthusiasm. With her own dance company - The NuYorican Co. - she performs all over Belgium. We put on our best shoes and went to meet her. Our first question set her off for this story of her long-lived passion. conny

"In the beginning of the eighties I moved to Brussels" she tells us. "I knew some people who played in the band La Fille d'Ernest and with them i used to go out in the Matonge district of Brussels. Later the Cartagena night club became the place to be. From there I discovered the summer music festivals Antilliaanse Feesten and Open Tropen. A big revelation for me was the cultural center De Pianofabriek, where salsa dance classes were taught. I took my first class in November 1993 and from that day on there was no turning back. I even took the pain (see below) to go to Amsterdam and have private classes."

"From the beginning my main interest was in the percussion, not the melodies of the music unlike most people. When you let yourself be led by the rhythm of the percussion, you dance into the music, not on the music. This was not obvious. To understand all this better, I made a trip to Cuba. There I got acquainted with the older styles like mambo and cha-cha-cha. After that I went to New York to discover the latest trends."

"After a few years of studying salsa, some friends asked me to teach them and this is how I started my own classes."

Her public is a big mixture of cultures. "English is the language used in our classes", she explains. "That way you automatically get an international audience: quite some readers of Brussel Deze Week but also European Community officials and Spanish speaking immigrants. The proportion boys vs. girls changes every season. Men tend to be more loyal. They keep coming to the classes a lot longer. But maybe that's because they need it more."

Hands in the air

Conny is convinced that coloured people don't have more rhythm in their genes than white people. "That is only a partial explanation. Their bodies are more flexible and they also have more of a natural attitude - sometimes misinterpreted as arrogance. We westerners shrink while dancing almost as if we are ashamed of ourselves. On the other hand, we are much stronger in analysing the music, a basic necessity if you want to dance on the percussion. In the end, the colour of your skin doesn't matter. To prove my point, I know a lot of Africans who can't dance at all." conny

"If your really want to be a good dancer, you have to know the culture that gave birth to the music and dance. An example: Puertorican women make characterisic gestures with their hands in the air while dancing, because in their culture healing is performed with the hands. Whenever they don't feel right and want to get rid of their sorrows, they wave their hands in the air."

"In the end, dancing salsa is all about attracting and rejecting. If you don't flirt while dancing, you are missing the point. Machismo is always very much present. Girls are super feminine and boys are super masculine."

Patience

Learning to dance salsa is a long-winded process. Before you master the corkscrew turn, the copa turn or the full forward axle turn, you've spent a lot of hours practising. "The first ten classes are needed to simply settle down," says Conny. "During that phase you learn the vocabulary. Only when you've got through there can you start to build up your repertoire. A lot of practice is needed. Acquiring the correct turning technique in particular, can take several months." conny

There is also something called dance etiquette but sadly these rules are sometimes broken. "The worst thing that ever happened to me, was when I was taking classes in Holland," says Conny. "At some point one of the students stepped on my foot, without offering any appologies. That happened six years ago but my foot still shows the signs. Dance etiquette has it that you respect each other's space on the dance floor. Very important, so that everybody can have a good time."

This article was originally published on januari 10, 2002 in Brussel Deze Week, the weekly Flemish newspaper distributed in the Belgium capital. It was written in Dutch by Georges Tonla Briquet, based on an interview with Conny. Your webmaster is to be blamed for any mistakes in the English translation. The pictures are © Peter Janssens.

Salsa lessen in Leuven, Brussel, Mechelen & Antwerpen