Dancing on my own

I’ve neglected this blog. You would have thought that the last year would have been the perfect time to write, but until now I simply haven’t felt inspired.

I used to blog constantly. It was my main hobby really, until I started dancing. Once salsa took over, I happily let blogging slide out of view in favour of more minutes on the dance floor. I dipped in occasionally, but life was simply too busy to sit in front of a computer all evening.

Yes, life was busy, and I loved it. Up until March 2020 I was dancing 4 or 5 times a week; a regular on the local dance floor as well as a number of festivals across the country. As well as salsa and other Latin and Afro dances (such as bachata and kizomba), I had also begun my pole dancing journey. Pole dancing is a whole different kettle of fish to salsa, but one that I instantly connected with and wanted to learn more about.

And then Covid came along. Slowly, one by one, all the things I did outside of work started to close. I clung on to salsa classes for as long as I could, dancing every last dance, hugging every last friend as I reluctantly left the hall, but everything had to stop. The gyms closed, and the pole classes I had just started to really enjoy also had to end. I remember writing on my Facebook on 15th March 2020:

The idea of having the one thing that keeps me sane, the one thing that actually gets me out of the office and stops me working all night taken away from me for an indefinite period, is scary. A week or so of chilling, watching movies and reading sounds nice at first, but the idea of weeks, months, who knows how long without the chance to dance is actually something I can’t bear. What are we supposed to do?

And what were we supposed to do? No one knew really. These were ‘unprecedented times’ after all.

I’m going to just pause here and say I know that in all of this I’m really fortunate. I’m fortunate that Covid hasn’t affected me personally in any massive way, and my heart goes out to all of those who have lost someone. I’m fortunate to have been working this whole time (although with reduced pay and hours, and it hasn’t been easy). And I’m extremely fortunate to have a nice little rented one-bedroom flat where I’m safe and comfortable. I choose to live alone in this little space, and pre-Covid that was just perfect for me as I was always out dancing anyway. I remember how I used to look forward to those occasional nights in, where I could have a long bubble bath in peace, or even a rare weekend with no plans where I could wear my PJs and no make-up for a whole day if I wanted. I used to enjoy that moment of silence when I came home after a night of dancing and closed the front door behind me. I loved being alone, but I never realised that I loved it because it was the balance to my busy life.

On 23rd March I started working from home, and we all had to get used to this ‘new normal’ of seeing our colleagues in tiny boxes on a screen instead of over a coffee in the kitchen. I’d always quite fancied the idea of escaping the noise of the office for a few days a week, and with a good desk and IT set up at home, I felt quite happy initially. I would get up in the morning and lay out my yoga mat in the middle of the living room floor, do a Yoga with Adriene session, roll up the mat and go for a quick walk before work so I could ‘arrive’ at work with a fresh mind. My ‘office’ was a desk in the corner of my living room, and at lunch I would take two steps to the sofa and listen to the radio. I tried to keep good habits and finish work on time, and as soon as 5:30 came around I would put my work notebook away, turn off my computer and push my chair into my desk to symbolise that the ‘office’ was closed. Then, the living room floor would once again become an exercise space as I did a PT via Whatsapp, or a dance floor as I tried to support my teachers by joining their solo footwork classes (sorry downstairs neighbours, but a girl’s gotta dance!).

And every day I kept to this pattern of transforming my living room from living and dining space, to gym, to office, to dance floor. As the months passed, I got more pieces of equipment and would find myself stashing a kettlebell under my desk, or using a weights bench as an extra table when I wasn’t working out. Dance classes lost momentum after a while. There’s only so much solo footwork and choreography I could do before I simply felt sad that I couldn’t dance with my friends. I missed the connection that salsa brought me – both physical and mental. But I continued to move my body in other ways. Movement was what was keeping me sane in these four walls.

After a few more pole dancing classes in the studio over the summer when restrictions were eased (eased enough for solo pole, but not enough for partner dancing), I realised I was going to need to bite the bullet. If I wanted to get through the winter and another long and lonely lockdown by myself, I was going to need a pole. How could I possibly fit more exercise equipment into my tiny flat? It seemed impossible, and slightly ridiculous, but all those years of playing Tetris were now paying off. Now, with my shiny new pole standing proudly behind me on every video call at work, it was less a case of having to pack up and transform my small space every day, and more a case of doing a slight assault course when I needed to make a cup of tea. Did the pole work in the space? Just. Did it bring me absolute joy to be able to take online pole classes and build my strength and technique? More than you can ever imagine.

Back in March I asked the question “what are we supposed to do?”, and I guess what this experience has taught me over the last 12 months is that actually I knew what I was supposed to do all along. I was supposed to dance. I was supposed to keep moving, in any way possible. I learnt that dancing, training, learning new things my body can do, even hula hooping and knocking things off my shelves, would get me through this. I learnt to ‘close the office’, lay out the mat and switch my day from one mode to another. Did this work perfectly every day? No. Were there times when I was too stressed and tired to do more than practically fall from my desk chair to my sofa and wrap myself up like a burrito in a fluffy blanket? Yes. Am I going to beat myself up for not exercising every day and pushing through the stress. Hell no!

But for the most part, if I could just make that switch from work to home, my evening’s activities would put a smile on my face and lift my mood, no matter what the day had thrown at me. I miss social dancing with my friends terribly, but at least with pole I can dance with my static partner. I can move my body in new ways, express myself to the music, learn new things and have a hell of a lot of fun.

I can’t wait to get back to dance and pole classes in person, but for now I’ll keep dancing on my own.

Why I dance… 

Why do I dance? It’s simple really. Dancing makes me happy. I dance because I love the music. I dance because moving my body and learning new things excites me. I dance because I can. 

I love my dancing friends and family. The dance community is a truly special place and I can’t imagine life without it now.

Tonight was the first night back this year at my regular class, where it all started, Salsa Souls. Although I now dance various styles in different places, and I enjoy travelling to congresses and events elsewhere, Salsa Souls will always my dance home – where my heart is. I owe so much to the teachers there and the amazing friends I’ve met there.

This year, as I approach three years on the dance floor, I feel like I’m ready to dial it up a notch. I want to get good. So, I’ll work on my shines and footwork, I’ll try not to anticipate the lead, and yes teacher, I will learn to spot when I turn!! 

Why do I dance? Why on earth wouldn’t I? 

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.


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)


Observations from an exercise class…

A bunch of pink, sweaty women, writhing around in a school gym on a Tuesday night – what must we look like? Every week (well, almost every week – you know, unless there’s an offer of something better to do) we gather to shake our booty to the Latin-inspired beats of what is known as “Zumba“.

We wiggle, we shake… we even try to shimmy. The toned and tanned instructor smoothly moves from dance step to dance step, encouraging us to be sexy. Sexy? In an exercise class? Yes. We’re supposed to be sexy women, proud of our bodies, shaking our butts and sticking out our boobs. Calling out to imaginary men to come and dance with us.

We try. In our minds, we all aspire to look something like this:

(Image source)

In reality, we actually look more like this:

(Image source)

The class is entirely female, although men are welcome. Men do do Zumba, but not here. Our class is made up largely of middle-aged women – some younger, some older. There are certain stereotypes you will find in every exercise class. There’s the ever-so-keen one who always arrives first and stakes her place at the front, chatting with the instructor. Self-tan woman, who is an interesting shade of orange. Awkward girl, whose body is really stiff and robotic. The older lady, whose boobs occasionally brush the floor. And me – the hopelessly uncoordinated yet still enthusiastic one.

I generally stand somewhere around the middle, but to the side so I can dash out for water when I start choking on my own sweat. I try to watch the instructor and ignore everyone else around me. I try to “dance”, rather than “exercise”. I try to forget aerobics classes and think salsa, merengue, hip hop. I try to “zuumbaaaah” but, being British, I do find all the shouting and “yee hah”s a bit much.

Still, at least I earn my dinner on a Tuesday night.