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.

 


Dance Magic Dance

Unlike all of the major newspapers, radio stations and news programmes I didn’t have an obituary ready for the day my favourite musician David Bowie passed away. I didn’t want to think such a thing would happen – surely if anyone could defy time and live forever it would be David Bowie – but that saddest of days has come. David Bowie, just turned 69, “died peacefully, surrounded by his family after an 18-month battle with cancer”, the BBC reported today.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

(Image source)

I’ve always been a massive David Bowie fan. Like millions of people around the world, from multiple generations, Bowie’s music has been with me my whole life, influencing me in so many ways. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who he was. I suppose I just grew up listening to his music with my mum, who is also a big fan. We both shed a tear or two this morning when the news was announced on the radio and we texted each other.

I won’t waffle on too much today, but I wanted to share some of my earliest memories of Bowie with you, dear reader. The Labyrinth (1986) has always been one of my favourite films, and I could watch it over and over again. For anyone who has been living under a rock their whole lives and hasn’t seen it. David Bowie stars in The Labyrinth alongside Jennifer Connelly (Sarah) as the beautiful goblin king Jareth who has stolen Sarah’s annoying baby brother. Sarah has to face the labyrinth, and the intimidating, ball spinning, tight trouser wearing goblin king in order to get the baby back. The entire soundtrack is also by Bowie, and I’m not ashamed to say I still know every word to every song.

Jareth & Sarah in The Labyrinth

Jareth & Sarah in The Labyrinth

(Image source)

Don’t even get me started on all of the things I love about The Labyrinth, but I will say that I grew up with the above image firmly planted in my mind. I wanted to be Sarah, wearing that dress and dancing with the goblin king. And hell, he could have kept the baby for all I would have cared!

I remember learning word for word the lines Sarah has to say to Jareth at the end of the movie, and I used to say it to myself all the time when I was having a bad time at school or feeling unhappy about something.

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!”

There are so many amazing moments in The Labyrinth, but I’ll leave you with just two more…

Rest in peace David Bowie, you beautiful, brilliant man. You’ll never be forgotten.


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)

 


Been Gromiting…

Those of you who know me in ‘real life’ or follow any of my blogs might know that I have something of an addictive personality. I also like a challenge. Whilst living in London I took part in the Big Egg Hunt 2012 and Big Egg Hunt 2013, and also BT ArtBox; three similar events where fibreglass objects are painted by artists to raise money for charities, and members of the public are encouraged to hunt around to find them all. In the 2012 Big Egg Hunt I found 209 of the 210 eggs (one was never actually on display) and in 2013 I found all 102 eggs. I didn’t do as well with the phone boxes, and only found 69 out of 83 or 84.

Naturally, I was very excited to hear that a similar event was being held in Bristol this year, just after I moved to this fabulous city. These events are a great way to explore a place, and I learnt a lot about London whilst taking part in the previous events, so I was very keen to have a go at the Gromit Unleashed trail.

Gromit Unleashed runs from 1st July – 8th September, and sees 80 Gromit (the dog from popular animation Wallace and Gromit) statues scattered around Bristol and the surrounding area (with one in London Paddington). When I saw the map I thought there would be no way I could collect them all, even though I did have plans to go to London, because some of the ones on the outskirts of Bristol were just too far away. Distant locations included Cheddar Gorge and Westonbirt Arboretum, which would be very difficult to get to using public transport alone. Luckily, my Mum is as crazy as I am and was up for a spot of Gromiting by car! (‘Gromiting’, by the way, is the new word that has been coined because of this event. I hope it makes it into the dictionary!)

I spotted my first Gromit before the trail had officially begun, when the statues were still being painted in May, and today (with a LOT of help from my mum and her car) I found my 80th Gromit!

I’ve seen so much of Bristol and the surrounding area now and have got a real feel for the place. It’s been lovely to drive through the countryside, walk around different parts of town, and discover new things. All throughout the trail I’ve been glued to the official Gromit Unleashed app, which I have to say is absolutely smashing! It’s very playfully made, with great Gromiting music and little snippets from Wallace whenever you ‘find’ a Gromit. The whole event has brought out the child in me, and it’s been crackin’ fun, Gromit!

Of course, there’s a serious side to this, and one mustn’t forget that this wonderful event is all in aid of Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal, the Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity. The statues will be auctioned off in October to raise money for the charity.

If all of this sounds like jolly good fun to you, there’s still two weeks left to see the Gromits (until 8th September). Then, from 18th – 22nd September all 80 Gromits will form a public exhibition titled ‘The Greatest Dog Show on Earth’ at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Clifton, Bristol. For more information, visit: www.gromitunleashed.org.uk.

Here are the 80 Gromits, and for more pictures please visit my Flickr set.


Life lessons

I had another cycling lesson tonight, and it was great. I spent the week dreaming that perhaps one lesson would be enough and that today I would just cycle off into the sunset, but I know it will take more work than that. Already I’ve learnt that good things are worth working for, and have certainly reinforced the old saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. I did well today, and still no injuries, but I do have a long way to go.

My cycling teacher said something tonight which really rang true, and I don’t know if she realised how deep and meaningful it was when she said it, or if she was simply offering me cycling advice. To paraphrase, she said, “It’s no good looking in one direction forever as you’ll only go that way. You have to remember to look where you want to go.”

Those are the words I’m going to take with me this week as I ride in to the second half of the year. I have a very different perspective on life now than I did when the year began, simply because I started looking in a different direction, towards where I wanted to go. I’m quite happy going the way I’m going at the moment, but I mustn’t forget to look around me too, and to keep my eyes open for all opportunities that come my way, whatever the direction.

Hello Kitty riding a bicycle

(Image source)


Like learning to ride a bike…

The phrase “it’s like learning to ride a bike” is one I don’t think I have ever uttered. It’s a common phrase used to explain how easy it is to master a skill. Everyone can ride a bike, can’t they?

No, they can’t.

I’m 31 years old and have never learnt to ride a bike. For various reasons I didn’t have one when I was growing up, and by the time I was an awkward, overweight teenager it was just too embarrassing to even consider trying to learn. I did briefly have a go once, but failed quickly and found trying to teach myself was actually really hard. I’m not usually one to quit something because it’s hard, but I just figured I would muddle through life without wheels, and I’ve managed pretty well until now.

I haven’t written this blog for a while, but if you follow my other blogs you’ll know I’ve been settling in to my new life in Bristol really well and loving every minute of it. I can now walk to work (rather than using public transport), and it only takes about 30 minutes, so I spend a lot of time marching across town, getting lots of exercise. Every day I’m passed by countless speedy cyclists, whizzing along without a care in the world, and I admit I do sometimes feel pangs of jealousy. Not only is it a fast way to get from A to B, cycling looks like fun.

But I’ve lived in places with lots of cyclists before. In Japan people can cycle on the pavement and pretty much everyone rides a bike, it seems. I was a bit jealous then too, but I managed fine on my feet. By the time I had become an adult I had well and truly convinced myself that I wasn’t meant to be a cyclist. I was too big, probably had no sense of balance, and didn’t really need to cycle anyway.

Then, a few weeks ago something snapped inside me and I realised I was missing out. I was reading about an island in Japan that I’d like to visit someday, and how you can have so much fun if you just hire a bike there and cycle around, and I just thought “this is ridiculous”.

A quick Google led me straight to Life Cycle, a “small, energetic, innovative and committed Bristol-based charity helping local people transform their lives through cycling”. It said they offered free cycling lessons for adults living, working or studying in the Bristol City Council area, and I immediately signed up.

Signing up alone took a lot of nerve – this was a hell of a mountain I was about to conquer – but I knew I still had to actually go through with the lesson. In order to make sure I didn’t chicken out, I told everyone I was going to the lesson. It was embarrassing to not be able to cycle as an adult, but it would be worse to not even try to learn and have to tell people I hadn’t done it.

So, tonight I went along to a park to meet a woman with a bicycle. I was terribly nervous – scared that I would fall off and hurt myself, worried that I would look a fool, embarrassed about being an adult who couldn’t ride a bike. Fortunately my teacher was really kind, and reassured me that hundreds of adults can’t do things that other people take for granted, like cycling and swimming, and that she taught adults to ride bikes all the time. She really put me at ease and, although I was quite distracted by how silly I thought I must look, I managed to get on with it and have a go.

And, do you know what? I can do it!

I actually managed to ride a bike today, for the first time in my life. Of course, the teacher supported me at first, but before even half the lesson was up I was able to do it on my own (albeit with a bit of a wobble, and not necessarily in a straight line). I have two more free lessons, and I intend to make good use of them! Of course, at some point I shall need to buy a bike too, but I’m not going to try and run before I can cycle. 😉

I feel so proud of myself, not just because I could ride a bike, but because I was brave enough to have a go. I’m not writing this blog post to blow my own trumpet though, I’m writing it because I’d like to inspire others to get over their fears and jump the hurdles in their lives. Yes, it’s embarrassing if you can’t do something, for whatever reason, but there’s bound to be someone out there who can help you learn that skill or get over that fear. I’m so pleased that I didn’t just bookmark the page as “something to do one day” but that I actually went straight ahead and booked a lesson.

I’ll end with one of my favourite inspirational quotes:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it… Boldness has genius, magic and power in it, begin it now!”

(Quote attributed to Goethe, but possibly from another source)

Girl cycling through the park

(Image source)


The locks of love, part #5

If you follow my other blogs, Haikugirl’s Japan or Picturing England, you might already know that I’m moving to Bristol at the end of the month for a new job. London is a brilliant city, but it can get tiring, and I’m ready for a new adventure. I’m actually really excited about having a whole new city at my doorstep to explore, and have found myself exploring already even though I haven’t moved yet. I was in Bristol on Friday flat hunting, and managed to cover rather a lot of ground (on foot) while looking for a place to live. On Saturday morning I was too tired to walk far, but had a little wander around the harbour.

I found a curious bridge called ‘Pero’s Bridge‘, dedicated to the memory of Pero, an enslaved African man who was brought to Bristol in 1783 as a servant.

Pero's Bridge, Bristol

On the bridge, I was delighted to find some love locks. As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of this often neglected blog, I have a bit of a thing for ‘love locks’. Love locks, as I call them, are the padlocks that people leave on bridges, declaring their undying love for one another. I guess I am a romantic at heart.

Love locks on Pero's Bridge

Love locks on Pero's Bridge

Love locks on Pero's Bridge

I’m glad to know there’s a little bit of love in Bristol…