Uno, dos, tres, y, cinco, seis, siete.
After a week of beginner lessons at El Bar, the rhythm of salsa runs through my head constantly. I wake up thinking it, I surreptitiously mark the basic step to it while sitting in class, and from 7-8 pm Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, when the music blares and the instructors say, “¡Se va!” I let it consume me fully.
The rhythm of salsa can also be broken down into “rápido, rápido, lento” or “fast, fast, slow.” One, two, three and five, six, seven are the beats that get all the action. Step, turn, arm swing, place change—all of this happens on those beats. Four and eight are the rests in between. They are where you return to your center, to your base position so that you can be prepared for the next complicated move.
The art of salsa bears a striking resemblance to the daily dance of being in another country and speaking a second language. Every conversation I have in Spanish, every class I take, every time I try to figure out the bus system is like a quick turn, which is sometimes completed gracefully—at other times a bit sloppily and off balance.
When the basic step becomes as easy as a resting count and a right turn becomes as easy as a basic, you know you’re making progress and won’t have to be in the beginner class forever. And when having lunch and talking with your host family seems almost as natural and comfortable as speaking in English to your friends back home, you know you’re making progress then, too.
We all lead hectic, busy lives during the semester to the point where it can seem that every beat is an active beat, that we have to constantly contort and catapult ourselves through movement after movement. But the beats in between, where we stand still and take a breath, are what make all the other ones possible.
One, two, three, rest, five, six, seven.