Building Confidence Through Dance by Carolyn Hall

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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!

 

Salsa Dancing, A Love Story By Joaquin Magos

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By Joaquin Magos

The Salsa Club at UCR Re-founding Vice President  2012-2013

 

For me Salsa Dancing is a love story. Not one of those love at first sight type of things but it did help me find love and it has made me smile.

Just to start every Latino thinks they already know how to dance Salsa, but they’re wrong. Salsa has steps, it has a fundamental foundation that must be learned before anyone can say they know how to do it. I learned this from watching Marco Segovia teach. He is a true master, he needs a Jedi robe, but probably a red one or some kind of shiny black one because that’s more Salsay.

So I’ll say this: I first saw real Salsa at a club in Fresno called The Starline, it was a Thursday night.  I went out that night with my two brothers, Bean and Mikey, and Frankie, a cousin of mine. We were trying to find something new to do, but we weren’t old enough to drink yet or to get into the types of clubs that allowed that so we found this place that was eighteen and over in Fresno’s Tower District, The Starline.

The club was dim, people were split in two groups, men on one side, women on the other. Two instructors stood inbetween the two groups, I could tell they were good because of the white dance shoes the guy wore and the short cut of the dress that she wore. Beyond the people a fedora wearing DJ connected wires on stage. Small circular tables and wood black wood chairs lined the right side walls while red padded booth seats lined the left side. We walked in and were asked by the instructor, a man named Robert Taylor, to join the lesson.

I stepped forward with my left foot, then forward again with my right foot, something that I see a lot newbies do now, I was a beginner once too that’s why I’m so patient. When we paired up I was so nervous all I could do was stare at my feet, the back of my jeans became a towel for my nervous palms, the music intimidated me, every step my feet took frustrated me. I wasn’t able to get the hang of the Salsa steps that first time, which really hurt my feelings I always thought I was a good dancer so I was pretty bitter when I didn’t immediately catch on. I didn’t go back to the Starline for two more years, always deterring my brothers and friends from picking that place with a myriad of excuses which all amounted to a cover up of the real problem, I was afraid to go because I was insecure about my dancing skills, I didn’t want to look like a fool.

It was in the summer when I returned to Salsa, it was because my brother Mikey had a really fun drunken night, which I was unfortunately not a part of, he met this girl there and they exchanged numbers. The big pitch he made, the one that got me back there, was that this girl he met had lots of friends, the depth of her groups cuteness was like the depth of the New York Yankees starting lineup every starter was good, every chick was cute. After that night I asked my brother to teach me so that I wouldn’t feel dumb anymore. Mikey was the best dancer I knew. He was the type of guy that could hear the music and just know what to do, circles of people would gather and watch him dance at high school dances and quinceneras. We did more arguing than learning, but at least I got to lead during his lessons. Salsa on Thursdays became a weekly thing for me, I’d tag along with my brother and now I would actually pay attention to what was going on in the lesson, cute girls are a pretty good incentive.

When summer ended my brother and I enrolled ourselves in Dance 15: Social Dance, a ballroom dancing course in the Fresno City College catalogue that we were drawn to because it was an easy two units and because it had the word Salsa in the course description. We spent most of the semester on Rumba, Fox Trot, Waltz, American Tango, and Swing, then finally towards the end got to do some Salsa. It was here that my little bit of knowledge shined and impressed the people in the class that only knew salsa as a spicy chip dip. This class was an ego booster for me and pushed my confidence to a new plateau, I made the decision to stick with Salsa making it A Thing I Do.

Two years later I transferred to UC Riverside. I was looking for a way to make friends, but I wasn’t having much luck. I saw the Beginning Salsa Dance class among the courses offered at the Student Rec Center and signed up thinking maybe I can use dance to make friends. That’s how it happened. I met my buddy Danielle in there and for most of my first year at UCR we raced down University Avenue to pay ten dollars to Salsa dance, thinking back that was pretty expensive, but we became diehards. I danced in the Rec Center class on Tuesdays, danced at Sevilla on Wednesdays, danced at the Riverside Plaza on Saturdays, I was committed to Salsa.

The next year I came back for school and went right back into the Intermediate Salsa Class. Now, I was dancing in there with friends, soon after I became an officer in the Salsa club. And during that time I found the Love that I mentioned way back at the beginning. I had seen her several times before but I didn’t know she was the SHE I was looking for until Salsa showed me. Every dance with her brings a smile. So my Salsa story is a love story, a happily ever after one.