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.
Have you read Miranda Hart‘s book, Is It Just Me?, yet? No? Why on earth not?
I finished reading it yesterday and feel the need to share now. I laughed (out loud, sometimes, while in public places), I almost cried, and I nodded my head in agreement quite a lot (on pretty much every page actually – must have looked like some kind of nodding dog). Throughout most of the book a knowing smile was spread across my face, and people around me on the train or in Starbucks must have wondered what it was that I knew that they didn’t. It was simple – I knew I was reading a gem of a book!
Just before I read the final chapter of the book I had been wandering along a quiet street in south-west London when I suddenly imagined myself bumping into Miranda Hart (probably literally, since we both seem prone to bumping into things). I often imagine such scenarios, and now I know that it’s not just me who does this, which is reassuring. After bumping into Miranda, I imagined apologising profusely, laughing it off together, and then explaining to her that I was just about to finish reading her book and that I loved it. In the past when I’ve met famous people I’ve become a jabbering sweaty fool (sorry Jonathan Ross!), but on this occasion I would exude confidence and wit and Miranda would instantly see that I was her kind of people (that’s how the fantasy went, anyway).
Because I am, dear reader, I am her kind of people. The book asks “is it just me?”, and I can say with total confidence that it most certainly is not just you, Miranda. Never have I read a book I related to more. It was hilarious because life is hilarious, isn’t it? And if you don’t laugh, you’ll probably just cry. Or sit around frowning, which I admit I am prone to doing sometimes.
Right from the first page I knew I was going to love Is It Just Me?. Miranda talks about where you might be reading the book (I was stood in Sainsbury’s having not actually bought said book yet, trying to kill some time because the tills weren’t open – bloomin’ Sunday trading laws). On that first page Miranda makes a reference to commuting, which perfectly describes why I hate it with such a passion: “Maybe you’re standing on a commuter train, using this book as a filter between you and a repellent armpit. If so, I’m terribly sorry. That’s no way to start the day, is it? Face in a pit.“. I knew I was going to love every word that followed.
Is It Just Me? is an amusing romp through life’s trials and tribulations (good word, ‘tribulations’), in which Miranda talks to her 18-year-old self, who attends and all-female boarding school. As she covers each topic, from music and hobbies to office life, to diets, dating and dreams, Miranda gives advice, tells anecdotes and asks “is it just me?”. If you’ve ever seen her wonderful BBC comedy (currently showing series 3 on Mondays at 9pm), you’ll have an idea what kind of stories you’re in for. These are stories of ordinary stuff, like how to balance a drink and plate at a buffet and actually eat the foot on your plate (you can’t, it’s impossible), making small talk with super intelligent people (just don’t get me started on that!), and carrying watermelons (we’ve all seen Dirty Dancing, right?).
But it’s the last chapter on ‘dreams’ which I really adored, and which actually brought a tear to my eye. I won’t ruin it for you, because I do insist you buy and read this book yourself, but Miranda talks about the importance of following one’s dreams, just as she has done. She reminds us all that life is silly and difficult at times, but that we must hold on to our dreams, even the little ones. We must also be honest with ourselves about what those dreams are, and not attempt to make our dreams fit in with what we think we should be doing or what the rest of the world thinks we should be doing. If it’s been your dream since childhood, and it’s still your dream now, then it probably is what you ought to be doing. I’ll give you a small quote:
I think it’s sad when people stop dreaming, or start losing hope. Because holding onto the bonkers dream might just turn out to be the most marvellous thing you ever did…. Allow me to sit back, fold my arms, hoist my trousers northwards and say, ‘YOU. YOU are the person this industry has been waiting for.
So it was with this thought about dreams that I finished Is It Just Me?, while riding on a slightly sweaty Piccadilly Line tube, face not quite in a pit. Ever since I can remember I have been writing stories. When I was a kid I wrote stories about killer piranha fish and Sylvanian Families. Now I write stories about Japan. Although it’s always been my dream to be a writer, I guess I struggle with the idea that I actually could. I find it hard to imagine walking into a bookshop and seeing my book on the shelf (I’d better hurry up or bookshops might cease to exist, what with all this technology), or being invited to a bookshop to give a reading, but why shouldn’t I achieve my dream?
When I heard Miranda had a book out, I just thought it would be a jolly good laugh to read – such fun – and it was, but I didn’t expect to get a real life lesson too.
Thank you, Miranda Hart, for what I call I really fabulous book!