Travels on the Dance Floor by Grevel Lindop

Travels on the Dance Floor

Salsa has somewhat taken over my life this last year, and one night recently I found myself searching Amazon for something to read that would fuel my new-found passion. It was then that I stumbled upon Travels on the Dance Floor by Grevel Lindop. I read the description on Amazon and within minutes I had ordered the book.

When poet and biographer Grevel Lindop takes up salsa dancing in rainy Manchester, all he has are size 12 feet and excruciating adolescent memories of ballroom dancing lessons. But salsa has a way of getting into your blood. Intense and intimate, sexy and addictive, the adrenalin-pumping Afro-Latin-American dance style soon becomes an obsession. Inspired to learn more, Lindop decides on a solo adventure to find the geographical and cultural roots of salsa. From the streets, bars and dancehalls of Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia to those of Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Miami – land of Cuban exiles – he stumbles across a colourful cast of characters and a raft of new tricks. His quest also gives rise to basic confrontations with himself: can a 6’4″ white, English poet really dance? And what happens when he does? “Travels on the Dance Floor” is Lindop’s vibrant and evocative account of his odyssey, written with wry humour and a poet’s eye for colour, detail and atmosphere. Funny, passionate and inspiring by turns, it is a book that will be loved by dance addicts and armchair travellers alike.

What makes Travels on the Dance Floor such a readable and fantastic book is that it is written by someone who can actually write. I had not heard of Lindop before, but clearly he is a man who has a way with words and who knows how to create a mood or a scene using the simple power of language. From chapter one, ‘Cuba Libre’, I found myself instantly transported to this Latin world which Lindop had explored and discovered. “The buildings are a fantastic vision of every possible architectural style, all of it cracked and crumbling. Curling iron balconies are adored with birdcages, washing, bicycles, old TV ariels. The narrow pavements are plentifully daubed with the leavings of the packs of friendly stray dogs I’ve encountered every few blocks on my way into town. Elaborate classical facades, moulded with flaking stucco nymphs holding swags of fruit and foliage, adjoin concrete 1940s shop-fronts which have lost their plate-glass windows and had them replaced with sheets of plywood. Mysterious hammerings come from cavernous ground-floor spaces behind metal grilles.” If this was Cuba, I wanted to jump on the next plane and discover it for myself!

Travels on the Dance Floor is also an excellent book because it is real. Lindop is an everyman, and his adventures show both his successes and his failures. He dances in every city he visits, but not all dances are successful. He is learning as he travels, and both his joys and his frustrations are evident throughout the story. I wouldn’t want to read a story about a showman who travelled the world wowing everyone he met with his moves – a story about a man who is learning, and who is still learning at the end of the book, is much more appealing.

As well as being a must-read for anyone interested in salsa, this is also a rather brilliant travel book. Starting in Manchester, Lindop visits Havana (Cuba), Caracas (Venezuela), Bogota (Colombia), Cali (Colombia), Panama City (Panama), San Juan (Puerto Rico), the Dominican Republic and Miami. I find it hard to even pin most of these places on the map, despite loving the music I’ve discovered from these countries, and I found it fascinating to go on a virtual tour with a musical theme. Everywhere Lindop travelled he described the differences in the dance moves he found there, the music, the atmosphere, the clubs, the people, the streets… I felt like I too had been on a whirlwind tour by the time I put the book down.

And it was very reluctantly that I did put the book down after I had devoured it. I wanted more, but I don’t think another book like it exists. Do tell me if it does and I’ll order it immediately. I don’t believe salsa can be taught in a book, but part of learning to dance (for me, at least) is learning about the music and the culture of the countries from which salsa comes. That way, I hope I might learn more than just the steps and the moves, and one day I might find my dancing is filled with ‘el corazón’ as well.

 

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2015: The year I danced (like nobody was watching)

I haven’t posted here on AliMuskett.com since August 2013. I’ve often thought of things I could post, but when I’ve had time to write I’ve always focussed my attention on Haikugirl’s Japan, which is after all my main blog. Since 2013 a lot has happened. I moved to Bristol in May 2013 and started my job as a Japan specialist Travel Consultant, which I adore. It’s hard work, but it’s without a doubt the most fulfilling and rewarding job I’ve ever had. It does take up a lot of time though, and after a few months of working my arse off in 2015 I realised all I was doing was working. I’d try to get out on the weekends and take some pictures for Picturing England, and of course I found time for Zumba once a week, but it wasn’t enough.

Some girls at work were talking about a salsa class they went to one night a week, and that really appealed to me. I used to dance a little bit, back when I did musicals as a kid, and I’ve always liked music-related exercise a lot more than anything else, so it seemed like the perfect thing to try. I knew my Zumba teacher did salsa, and I loved the Latin-flavoured songs in our Zumba classes. In fact, a salsa version of ‘Ain’t Nobody’ was one of my favourites (the version below is different to the Zumba Fitness one, but equally good!).

I went along to my first salsa class on 2nd June with one of my colleagues, and I have to admit I was nervous. I wasn’t really sure which of these it would be like:

Salsa Dancer

(Image source)

It was like the ‘what I really do’ picture, but in my mind it was definitely more like the ‘what I think I do’ picture and it felt fantastic! The most terrifying part for me was the social interaction. I don’t really like people all that much, and I don’t have that many occasions where I have to interact face-to-face with people in my daily life, let alone touch them (I know, it sounds weird, but I live alone, I’m an only child, and I just prefer my own company). All of a sudden I found myself talking to a guy I’d never met before, then holding hands with him, and then in close hold! I do have issues with this kind of contact, but doing salsa is definitely helping me get over this! It helps that it’s just dancing. The way the class works is really good – you move around all the time so you don’t have to bring a partner, and you don’t get stuck with one guy for the whole night. It feels a bit like speed dating at times, but it’s always just dancing. It’s a nice way to meet lots of new people, and I’ve already made some good friends.

I loved that first class. The music ran through me, and by the time I got home my feet were still tapping (1, 2, 3… 5, 6, 7…). Before long I began sharing all the new music I was discovering on my Facebook page, and I make no apologies for the amount of songs I have shared over the last six months! Here’s one of my favourites:

And here’s another one:

I go to salsa every Tuesday night now, sometimes on Wednesdays and Fridays too. Three times a month on Fridays my salsa club (Salsa Souls) has parties, which start with lessons and then go into free social dancing until the early hours. It took a few months before I had the courage to go to a party, and I had to bring a friend along with me. I wasn’t sure how different the parties would be to the classes, and I had visions of it being like this:

Dirty Dancing - the best dance movie ever!

Dirty Dancing – the best dance movie ever!

(Image source)

I thought maybe I would just stay for a little while after the lessons finished, but I think it was at least 1am when we stumbled out of the club with painful feet but happy hearts. The social dancing was SO much fun, and dancing with more experienced guys made me really feel like I could dance!

Salsa is like a good addiction. I spend all day looking forward to class, then afterwards it’s all I can think about. The music gets inside me, and I just want to dance. I think salsa is good for me on so many levels. Of course, it’s exercise. I don’t know how the pros do it on TV, but I sweat when I dance. And I don’t care, because most other people are sweating too. Also, it gets me out of the office. I have a tendency to stay at work and do overtime, but nothing would make me miss salsa. Salsa makes me happy. It makes me smile, laugh and sing – all good things filling me with happiness.

"It's salsa time!" - from Cuban Fury, the second best dance movie ever (after Dirty Dancing of course)

“It’s salsa time!” – from Cuban Fury, the second best dance movie ever (after Dirty Dancing of course)

(Image source)

As well as all of the above, salsa teaches me. I’m learning a new skill (hell it’s not just salsa, I’ve tried a bit of bachata, cha-cha-cha and merengue too), but I’m also learning something else. I’m learning how to follow, and that’s not something I’m naturally good at. I’m usually the one in charge, making the decisions and calling the shots but for once, when I’m on the dance floor, I just have to follow. It’s hard, especially when the guy is learning to lead, but when you get a strong lead it’s actually remarkably easy to just follow, and I like it.

Most importantly, I’ve learnt that you’re never too old (busy, fat, unfit, or anything else) to try something new, and if there’s something you want to try you should just go for it. It might change your life.

Salsa party - it's not a flattering photo, but look how happy I am!

Salsa party – it’s not a flattering photo, but look how happy I am!

So this has been the year I danced, and I danced like nobody was watching. And I will continue in 2016 – starting with the first ever Bristol Salsa Congress which is on from 9th – 10th January. A whole weekend of dancing – I can’t wait! ❤

You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching...

(Image source)