November 29, 2011
Perfect Salsa Partner Written by Anonymous Salsera
Copyright 2011 Anonymous Salsera
Published with permission from Anonymous Salsera
Being on the taller end of the height scale for a woman, the first thing that came to mind when I was thinking about taking lessons was the height of my salsa partner. I dreamed he'd be a few inches taller than me. After my first salsa lesson, I learned that height was the least of my worries.
On the drive to La Luna Dance Studio, where I took my first ever dance lesson, the familiar feelings associated with being the tallest girl in grade school started to haunt me. Every time my kindergarten class would leave the classroom (a moment I learned to dread), our teacher ordered us to line up in ascending height. There I was sulking in the back of the line, towering over all the boys as we walked through the halls of my elementary school. I thought girls were supposed to be shorter than boys, and, more importantly, who wants to always be last in line? Not me.
One thing I don't remember is wearing kids clothing and shoe sizes. I was wearing my mother's size eight heels by the time I reached fifth grade. It made playing the game of dress-up a bit more realistic. By the time I reached seventh grade, I stopped growing at 5- foot-9-inches leaving me at above average height for women, but on the low-end for a model's average.
When I arrived at the dance studio, I started remembering the advantages of being above average in height. Fashion and models are often associated with tall women, and I didn't mind sharing similar heights with some of the women strutting down the catwalk. There is also a less vain, more practical approach about being tall. Whenever I'm in a salsa club, I can almost always see over the bobbing heads to spot things out like the bathroom, the bar, a lost friend, a girl trying to flirt with my boyfriend, or when I'm single, an attractive guy that catches my eye. Basically, I reminded myself of how much I've grown to appreciate the body that I was given, and I wasn't going to let it get in the way of me having some fun dancing.
One of the first things our instructor informed us of was her rule that everyone must rotate their salsa partner. "After-all, salsa dancing is a social dance and having multiple partners will only make you a better dancer," she said.
My first salsa partner was a few inches taller than me, which made me instantly comfortable with him. We practiced the basic step together, and everything was fine until after a few counts, I couldn't feel my hands. His hand hold was very tight. I tried to let him know by pulling my hand, but he counteracted by pulling me back, which caused me to smack right into his chest. Our instructor then gave a brief lesson on proper hand holds.
My next partner was at least 3-inches shorter than me, an older gentleman with neatly slicked hair. Immediately, I felt myself tense up quite a bit, which is not a good posture to have with your salsa partner according to Arthur Murray's book, How to Become a Good Dancer. I remembered two tips from the section, Helpful Hints for Tall Girls: keep the elbows low and bend the knees slightly.
So I lowered my elbows and bent my knees and it helped for the basic step, but when he led me into the right turn (the step that we were learning), I felt myself ducking my head to go underneath his arm to make up for the lack of length between his fingertips and the tip of my head. Next thing that I remembered was my chin smacking into his forearm like a bird flying right into a window. It was just as physically impossible for him to lift his arm high enough as it was for me to gracefully bend my knees without looking like a frog hopping around. This didn't seem to faze him one bit as he gracefully led me back into the basic step, but for the remainder of the song he didn't lead me into another turn. I was happy to do the basic with an occasional cross body lead. I didn't mind for I was never one that could gracefully go under the limbo stick in gym class.
"Okay, switch," our instructor said with a clap.
Finally it was my turn to dance with the tallest man in class. He had a head full of dark curly hair, a bright smile, and he was well over 6-feet tall because even in my 2-inch heels, I came up to his chest. I couldn't wait for him to lead me into the basic step, and when he did, I immediately smacked my left knee into his. Then he smacked his right off mine. We did have a few smooth basic steps before I smacked my knee of his, again and again.
That day I left the studio realizing height doesn't have anything to do with an ideal salsa partner. Yeah, in extreme cases, height differences could make dancing quite a challenge, but for the most part, even for a taller woman, height is the least of my worries when it comes to partner dancing.