Before I set off on this crazy Parisian adventure, I made the decision to be open to new experiences, and when offered the chance to try something new, I would always say yes. It would be my own personal version of the film Yes Man, but without the manic Jim Carrey shenanigans that could potentially result in my visa being revoked. So far, saying yes had been going well, but my commitment to this new philosophy was tested last week when a friend of mine invited me to go salsa dancing with her and her boyfriend. I’m not much of a dancer, having barely survived a disastrous attempt at swing dancing many, many years ago, but since salsa dancing posed no threat to my visa, the answer had to be yes. That was how I found myself on a packed dance floor last Wednesday night, wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into.
My friend had assured me that there would be a lesson for beginners prior to the evening’s dancing, and while there was indeed a lesson, the problem was that it was conducted entirely in French. Thankfully, the instructor spoke slowly and articulately as he demonstrated the various different salsa moves, but I still only understood about 30% of what he was saying. A victory for my burgeoning French skills, but a huge disadvantage to my non-existent salsa skills. For about 10 minutes, we all danced by ourselves in lines as the instructor went through the steps, and I was on the verge of figuring them out when he suddenly had the class pair off and move into several large circles. It was time to stop dancing by myself and give it a go with a partner; a partner who was going to lead and who expected me to follow. This was when the lesson became almost comical.
I cannot describe to you the utter paradox of trying to memorize and teach your feet dance moves in another language, while at the same time having to abandon what you’ve halfway learned and simply follow your partner’s lead. Every 30 seconds or so, we would change partners, and I quickly came to realize that the best ones were the guys who knew what they were doing, because they could simply push me where I needed to go. However, these guys were few and far between, and when you throw together two complete novices who barely have a grasp of the rudimentary moves and don’t share a language, well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. After awhile, a look of bewildered frustration was permanently fixed on my face, and as I bumbled my way through partner after partner, I began to seriously question my new “say yes” life plan. I was about to throw in the towel on salsa dancing altogether, when my next partner took pity on me and gave me a quick tutorial of the most basic salsa steps. In English. I could have hugged him, because with just those few steps in place, something clicked, and as I made my way through the next couple of partners, my steps became more confidant, enthusiastic, and more importantly, more or less correct. I even started to believe that I could tackle the more complicated moves, but I was quickly proved mistaken while dancing with my last partner of the lesson. I forgot to follow his lead and went the wrong way, and he responded by throwing a little hissy fit that was so thoroughly French in nature it actually made me laugh out loud. Needless to say, that did not improve his opinion of me.
After the lessons were over, the lights were dimmed, the music was cranked, and the dance floor was immediately packed. My usual dance strategy of hiding in the corner beckoned, but I firmly pushed the idea out of my head as I headed out onto the dance floor with a very patient friend, and before long I was twirling along with the music, laughing, and generally having an awesome time. I wasn’t doing the steps correctly, not even close, but that wasn’t the point. It was just fun to get out onto the dance floor and try. Two hours and half a dozen dances later, I had made some new friends, marginally increased my skill level, and had even managed to hold my own in a very basic conversation in French with one of the club’s bouncers. All in all it was a great night, and it’s a testament to what can happen when you say yes. I’ll remember that the next time I’m tempted to say no just because the adventure lies beyond my comfort zone.