Building Confidence Through Dance by Carolyn Hall

Building Confidence Through Dance

by Carolyn Hall

The Salsa Club at UCR Re-Founding President 2012-2013

Music has been a huge part of my life since I can remember, but dance was always a bit of a challenge for me. I have found that I can physically and emotionally connect with any type of music (besides Screamo) with no need to understand the language that it is in. Many different languages have surrounded me throughout my life. I had babysitters who spoke French and Swahili, my mother speaks some Hebrew and Mandarin, my father speaks some German, my next-best-thing-to-cousins speak Japanese, and most of my close friends are Spanish speakers. I have spent time learning some basic Spanish in high school, and basic Japanese and Korean during college. Besides that, my many years in the internationally touring Piedmont Children’s Choir (now the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir) had me singing in countless languages, while being taught to love and respect each style of music that we learned.


But dance is another story. I tried Tap dancing when I was young, but I am told that I had stage fright and refused to move during my group recital routine. I also tried Ballet as a child, but that didn’t last long after I bit the instructor because she forced me into full splits on my second day. An eye for an eye seemed appropriate to me at that time, but these days I try to keep things more diplomatic. I have tried Line Dancing, Hip Hop, even Musical Theater Dancing, but nothing really clicked. I also Figure Skated for about 6 years, but was never very graceful at that either. I’m just not very coordinated, and so finding that I’m actually able to connect with Salsa and Bachata has been a strange change for me. Not that I would consider myself anything close to Advanced level in these dances, but just finding something that has allowed me to finally connect my body to the music that I love so much has been one the most amazing experiences of my life.


So my dance story started in April 2012, during my first year as a transfer student at UC Riverside. I had gotten myself overwhelmed by all the academic work I had decided to take on all at once, and my stress level was getting to my head. I asked a friend for advice on how she handled the difficulties of her workload. Her answer was basically the mixing exercise and music, and she invited me to come try the Salsa class she had started taking at the Student Recreation Center. I joined her the following Tuesday evening, and I instantly found myself caught up in a whirlwind of amazing music and dance. While that would mark the beginning of my dance addiction, that was also when I met my future Fiancé, Marco.


From that first class, I made efforts to practice every day. I practiced in the kitchen, in my apartment building laundry room, in the hallways at school, while I explored the shampoo aisle at Kmart, while I brushed my teeth, and while I reviewed my homework. As I remembered from Figure Skating, investing real effort and time in practicing always pays off, and it really did for me. Because of the effort I put in to my practicing, I was able to start helping out in the Student classes during the next Fall quarter, and gradually I also began to pick up Bachata (now my favorite), Merengue, ChaChaChá, and Kizomba with that same mindset. I’ve always believed there is no substitute for actual time and effort, and from what I have observed between those who practice outside of classes regularly and those who mostly just rely on practice during classes, the skill and confidence gaps are extreme. Also, the benefits of going out social dancing are just as obvious. Trust me, it’s worth it.


During that summer, quite a few people on the scene began telling stories about the “UCR Salsa Club.” Even my boyfriend at that time (now Fiancé) began to tell me his own nostalgic stories of learning to dance, performing routines, and making lasting friendships through his years in the Club. I wasn’t in any active clubs at the time, and I was so eager to learn quickly and to make friends who also enjoyed dancing, and so that peaked my interest in trying to find the Salsa Club. To my dismay, I was told that the actual student organization had dissolved several years prior, and that there were no similar clubs available on campus. Several people suggested that I restart it at UCR, and I immediately decided to take on that project with all of my energy. While the future difficulties and surprises involved in the running of this organization would eventually be outshined by all of the amazing experiences, I must say that the related stress caused me to lose quite a bit of weight and grow a few white hairs.


Before I came on the dance scene, alumni and fans of the Club had asked several other students at UCR to try to restart the Club, including my good friend Erika de la Cruz. I asked her to join me, and we began trying to figure out how to actually go about restarting a student organization. It turned out that the deadline to do so was only a couple weeks away, and that put the pressure on us from the start. We had to write a Constitution, find a minimum of ten members to start the Club, and we had to pick officer positions ASAP. We asked our friends from the Student Recreation Center Salsa classes if they’d be willing to back us up, and we filled positions in a matter of days. Most of the re-founding officers were beginner-level dancers, a couple were intermediate, but what mattered was that we were all eager to recreate this beloved organization, and we were all excited to be doing something together.


We re-started the organization based on the stories and history we gathered from alumni members and loyal supporters. One of the biggest goals was to keep the Club the same in as many ways as possible so that the new generation could continue what the Salsa community had created in the past. My wish is to have something that connects all of these dancers through the years with similar positive education, experiences, events, and relationships. Over the past year, it has been amazing to see the fruits of our labor through the enjoyment expressed by our students and supporters during Club lessons and socials. The response has been overwhelmingly positive since the beginning, and I have been very touched by the kind words of encouragement and enthusiasm from many different people.  While there is still plenty of work to be done, I find that it is worth all of the hard work when I can see so many people having positive experiences and building wonderful memories through our efforts.


As I began to write this piece, I was still wrapping up my final Summer days of being the re-founding President of The Salsa Club at UCR in its return, which was made possible by the efforts of some very brave students and myself. I would like to thank all my amazing officers from the bottom of my heart – Joaquin Magos, Michelle Nuño, Sergio Garcia, Farah Khan, Danielle Fernandez, Hira Khan, Jeannette Gonzalez, Ismael Esquivel, and Erika de la Cruz. It has been an insanely challenging year as we rebuilt this organization, and honestly I will not soon recover from the physical and emotional stress that has resulted from the unending barrage of curveballs and frustrations that always come with these unique sorts of management positions. This is particularly true of one where there is a lot of miscellaneous skills required, a lot of (sometimes false) confidence called for, a lot of money involved, with a lot of people and businesses invested in the growth of the organization you run. There is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes when running this type of group than most people are aware of, due to the educational focus (where there are many different levels of skill in one group), the type of space required, the amount of money needed, and the community involvement that is so essential to the Club’s existence. There are so many things I wish to share with the future officers and members of the Club so that they can continue to build something amazing for the students and the community members to provide opportunities for learning, regardless of skill level. Also, I wish for them to maintain the atmosphere of family that defines the legacy of the Club that has existed in people’s hearts since the early 2000’s.


To the future officers, members and supporters of the Salsa Club at UCR, I have some parting wishes for you before I end this piece. I wish for you all to always find in the Club a welcoming family, not a group of self-obsessed dancers. I wish for you all to treasure and learn from the nostalgic history and love that is such a huge part of the legacy of the Club. I wish you all the strength and discipline that it will take for you to truly embark on a dance adventure of your own, one that is hopefully as positive and life changing as mine. I wish for you to be able to fully realize the motto of The Salsa Club at UCR, which is that we are all about “building confidence through dance.” This motto is such a large part of why we do we do, and expresses exactly what we want for you each to achieve for yourselves. You don’t need to become a professional dancer or become forever obsessed with Salsa – what you should focus on most is building your self-confidence within this family to find inner strength and character that will stay with you for the rest of your life. You will make new friends, you will have fun, and you will even improve your health! This is a world where you will always have room to improve yourself and learn something new.  Please always remember that dance is not something you can master in a week, a month, or a year – it is like a flower that requires serious time, effort, respect and love, but when you put in all of those things it can be something beautiful that will bring you so much joy. On your dance journey remember to remain humble, act respectfully, be safe, and most importantly remember to smile!


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