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Never Judge a (Salsa) Book by Its Cover

Not so long ago, I was at a brilliant local Salsa Club Night. Things had been a little slow that evening which was unusual for here. There were less dancers than usual- the weather was groggy and sticky and maybe that had put people off venturing out of their cooling houses. I found myself dashing between dances and the air conditioning system and was feeling a little grumpy about the whole thing. I decided to head to the bar and was slowly making my way across the corner of the dance-floor, carefully avoiding arms, elbows and stilettos and all manner of dangerous things that could come flying at me from any angle.

When I reached safety, I glanced down briefly and when I looked up again, the strangest sort of creature you can ever imagine appeared before me.  And I’m not being unkind here- you really couldn’t deny that he was a ‘creature’  if you had seen him too.

He was very short, dirty white-haired and extremely old and gnarled with his spine curving over like the wicked old Queen from the Snow White film. Both his face and his chest were absolutely pouring with sweat, drowning the gold medallion that lay buried  in his aging, over-long chest hair. He cracked a worrying half-smile from the corner of his time-weathered lips, and grabbed my hand in his ultra clammy hand and whispered “Fancy a dance?”.

Now, I like to live dangerously (!) so I reluctantly nodded and we headed into the thick of things for a dance. What happened next took me by complete and utter surprise.

So what happened that was such a surprise?

Although his hands were clammy, horrible and shook a little, they lead me into the most wonderful moves that were wonderfully complex but relaxed and not at all stressful too.  Although he was short, he compensated for it with the entire movement of his body. Although he was getting on a bit in years, he was one of the most considerate dancers that I’ve ever danced with. He was dancing with me and only me,(read our interview with Kerry Ribchester to find out why this is so important in Salsa), connecting with me, sensitive to my needs and abilities and  playing with the momentum of our movements.  Most importantly, he was smiling genuinely throughout and looking like he was really enjoying our dance. How often does that happen?

It was simply an amazing dance. Really. It was one of the best that I have ever experienced, and I promise you there have been a lot over the years.

It didn’t matter about his gnarled body,the way that he walked, talked, smiled, the way that he sweated too much,his age, his height, his socio-economic background. None of it did once we hit the dancefloor and began to dance Salsa. I’m so thankful that I took a risk on this unfortunate man and had such an amazing reward.

You might miss out

How many times in your life have you refused a dance because the person in front of you just ‘didn’t look right’? Imagine if tucked inside that awkward shell was potentially the best dancer that you could ever have. Imagine if you missed it…

This applies to ‘real life’ too and not just Salsa. Imagine if you applied a split second decision about someone or something, thinking that it’s not for you and you never took the time to just give it a go. You might miss that amazing job, amazing hobby, the love of your life or something else equally amazing.  Don’t miss valuable opportunities in your life or in Salsa. Of course, it also applies in reverse. How many times have you accepted a dance (or relationship, for that matter) with an attractive individual or even someone who just seems to fit the part? Then the dance (or relationship) turns out to be complete disaster? You know where I’m coming from on this.

What can we do about it?

There’s nothing wrong with jumping to conclusions about stuff. It’s natural, it’s how we are wired as humans and it no doubt aided us on our quest for survival. In fact, they say that it just takes us 1/10th of a second to make a first impression (and thus 1/10th of a second to form an impression). That’s hardly any time at all.

Although the ability to assess a situation is still immensely helpful, it does have it’s negative side, the main one being that we can miss so many opportunities in our lives. As we are no longer early humans on the savanna (in Britain at least!), we can afford to challenge this skill a little and take a little more time to get to know somebody or something. We can take a gentle risk, and see where it leads us. After all, the value of something is not always obvious from what we see on the surface.

So next time someone unusual asks you for a dance take a breath and give yourself chance to discover a little more than the obvious. Dance with everyone regardless of their age, looks or whatever. Looks can be deceiving and the best dancers often come in the most modest packages. Happy dancing!

Join in with the discussion by adding your thoughts to the comments section below. Have you ever been pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised by a dance? When have you jumped to a conclusion too fast and wished that you’d taken the time to find out more?

Images © Inti, Port of San Diego, Pascal.

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