The Dancing Bug

Irreconcilable Aesthetic Differences

Posted on: April 20, 2013

So I’m in DC for the Lindy Exchange, and perversely, this post isn’t going to be about the exchange at all. Isn’t that just like me?

See, my sister is a local resident, and since I’m staying with her, I figured it was only right I let her talk me into checking out her preferred form of dancing while I was in town. My sister is addicted to salsa dancing, so on Thursday night we dropped in on salsa night at Dance King Studio in Leesburg.

Now, I’ve done a little bit of salsa, just like I’ve done a little bit of practically every other dance that’s going these days. I’ve even had a little zydeco led on me. Never tried contra, but whatever. I figure if you can follow at all, you can pretty much follow anything.

And that’s generally true. Following is following. You may not follow pretty or look like you know what you’re doing, but at least you won’t get your arm broke off or do anything really embarrassing.

Which pretty much sums up what was happening for me Thursday night. I was managing to get through most of the turns and make it from point A to point B in one piece.

But you know what completely eluded me? The aesthetics of the thing.

First of all, as a lindy hopper, dressing up to go out dancing means something different to me than it does to a salsa dancer. I wore the only heels I had with me, a pair of black Aris Allens that are vintagy-funky-cool at a swing dance, but at a salsa dance they could not have appeared dorkier. Girls dressed up for salsa wear tall, tall spindly spiky things on their feet. Salsa dancers cover the stylistic range between elegant and slutty, but they all appear to be aiming for sexy. This is in no way the aesthetic for swing dancing. And even though I wore the closest equivalent outfit I could throw together, I’m sure people were wondering why I was dressed like someone’s grandma. I felt like a total doofus.

Secondly, there’s the music. Oh, the music. I think that in order to be able to dance convincingly, you need to be moved by the music. And salsa music does not move me, unless it’s out the door. It sounds like circus music to me, and it was way too loud. But my sister, and here’s the important point, my sister listens to that stuff IN HER CAR. Enough said?

Finally, though, salsa dancers just seem to have a different idea of what dancing is actually FOR. As an outsider, it appears to me that they’re really hung up on the whole gender-role difference thing. The men are really manly, and the girls are over-the-top girly. And when a lead approaches me with that Magnificent Beast look on his face, well, it just makes me want to laugh.

Which I actually did, periodically throughout the night. I laughed. Swing dancing makes me laugh a lot, which is why I do it. But salsa dancers don’t seem to like that so much. As a matter of fact, the highlight of my evening was when one of these magnificent beasts led a turn on me, and accidentally smacked me right in the forehead. I about died laughing. I had to stop and have a short fit of hysterics. And the man just stood there, wearing that Mask of Zorro look, not even cracking a grin. Just stood there waiting until I had recovered and could proceed with the serious business at hand. If you don’t think that made me feel like the Special Child, think again.

So basically, salsa dancing, blech.

But I will say that salsa dancers do seem to be enjoying themselves every bit as much as I do when I’m at a swing dance. So I’m not disrespecting the dance itself. It may very well be that I am just way too awkward and unwieldy for this much more adult-seeming form of dancing.

Whatever.

In fact, I’m just perverse enough that I might for the hell of it buy myself a pair of those spiky things and give it a try again next year.

(P.S. Had the honor of meeting fellow dance-blogger Jason from “Dancing Past the Godzilla Threshold” at the lindy exchange last night, and if he’s reading this, he better get ready because I intend to ask him for a lotta more dances tonight!)

15 Responses to "Irreconcilable Aesthetic Differences"

What I am going to say is going to sound very snobby, I’m afraid. I agree with some things you mention and I disagree with some of them. But that’s normal and healthy, methinks.

See, I grew up Salsa dancing. But in a country where salsa is part of the culture and something you learn from your parents and practice with your cousins at every family gathering. Salsa is as an inherent part of everybody’s life as it is the weekly Sunday lunch at grandma’s. Something you look forward to. When I listen to salsa music, some of those songs will move me to tears because of the combination of its sheer beauty and the lovely memories that accompany them.

Then I moved to Canada and discovered Lindy Hop. I was hooked from day one. Love the music, love the feel of the dance, love the vintage culture that goes with it.

I don’t do much salsa in North America. Basically because of some of the reasons you stated. Salsa clubs here have the “wrong” feeling to me. I don’t have anything against sexy. I love sexy. As a Latin woman, I can’t help it. I embrace it because that’s what I am. But I aim for the elegant side of it that you mentioned. I also love heels. I grew up dancing in spiky heels. I feel as pretty and comfortable wearing spiky heels and as I do wearing vintage-inspired swing shoes.

But what I hate the most about salsa dancing in North America, is the theatricality of it. In other words, the whiteification of salsa. The ballroomification of salsa. The hustlefication of salsa. I don’t like New York salsa precisely for those reasons.

Salsa is all about fun. About sucking the marrow of life. About having a good time with your friends. And sure, as any other dance with a big African influence, about showing off a little. If you see people in Cuba, or Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic or Colombia salsa dancing, they are always smiling. Always having a great time. And that’s the spirit of Salsa dancing. Dressing up and getting together with your friends to have a wonderful time.

In that sense, it is really no different from the Lindy Hop world. We dress up, we get together, and we have a great time.

As for the Irreconcilable aesthetic differences, well thank goodness for it. That only makes for variety and ultimately more fun, don’t you think?

I love love love this comment! Thank you so much for sharing what you love about salsa dancing – it makes a lot more sense when you describe it that way :) “Ballroomification” of anything is just a bad idea, isn’t it?

HAHAHAHA yeah, it is ;)

And pheeew! I’m glad you liked it. I was afraid it was going to come across the wrong way

Well written! Thanks :)

Also, apologies for the super long comment. It looks like a blog post itself

I’m a west coast dancer. And a musician. I feel the same way about salsa. To me, the music is just annoying. I don’t like the clothes. Or the attitude. When I express this, people look at me as if I’ve said something politically incorrect. Sorry….it doesn’t speak to me. So I appreciated your statements. Thanks.

[...] read this post by a Lindy Hopper just the other day. It’s called Irreconcilable Aesthetic Differences. I invite you to read it. It has some very good points. But the gist of it is that the author [...]

Just popping by to say thanks for the shout out but thank you even more for the dances Friday and Saturday night. Wish I could have had a few more (on less crowded floors)… but definitely hit me up again at the next event we are both at if I don’t ask you first. :)

For this I subscribe! Sadly in my town we have no swing, but we do have salsa. I haven’t yet got the guts to go, but maybe I will still try it!
Here’s hoping I don’t hate the music as much as when I tried Rock n Roll!!! ;)

I get the music, I get the aesthetics of the dance but it is the culture of it here in the USA AND other places in the world that bothers me…I supremely dislike the gender roles and stereotypes that make up so much of the Salsa scene, it may be different down south but out in Europe, parts of Asia, its the same shit. I can’t get into it. i dance to let go and look and feel happy, not mask my excitement in a scowl or a mean mug. I wish there the elements of joy in Salsa rang through and all the posturing BS went by the wayside. I do love the heels though…:)

Somewhere out there, a salsa dancer (or tango, or WCS, or hustle, or ballroom) has gone out with a friend for one night of Lindy Hop, and has made equally amusing judgments about that dance scene.

They would pass out with envy at how cool Lindy Hoppers are.

As a West Coast dancer who’s visited practically every scene locally, I think we all make equally amusing judgments about each other. When I see Lindy hoppers, I have mixed feelings of “that looks like FUN” and “there’s no way my knees will be able to handle that when I forty.” I’m guessing some Lindy hoppers and ballroom people look at us and say, “They’ve corrupted swing.”

I look at ballroom people and have mixed thoughts of, “Elegance of form but no elegance of character” and “I wish I could look that wonderful.” They probably look at us playful WCS people and go, “Come on, get serious.”

Salsa dancers? I think, “I’ve been playing music all my life, and I couldn’t play that music even if I practiced for years.” That’s both a good and a bad thing, as I’m impressed at how musical salsa dancers are. Having said that, I pull a lot of salsa dancers off their floor to dance West Coast on ours, and they think OUR dance is musical because we can change speed so easily.

So many dances – so many things to learn from each other!

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