Last Saturday night, to celebrate her 30th birthday, my friend Sarah dragged all her friends out for a night of salsa dancing. The evening began with an hour-long class in a midtown studio and culminated in a bout at a Times Square-area club to test what we had learned.
I came to these festivities with some clear advantages and tons of disadvantages. I’m a huge fan of Latin music—I have a huge collection of rare Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Nuyoriqueñan LPs spanning six decades, have several friends who have been active in that musical scene, and at some point I even assembled a band to play a crazy microtonal salsa tune I wrote. But, at the same time, apart from the process of physically making music, I have virtually no physical memory and my ability to watch someone do something and then replicate it myself is practically non-existent. I move intuitively and cannot channel those motions into anything faintly resembling an organized system.
To put it in simpler terms: I’m really physically awkward and I can’t dance. During the class, I often forgot which foot I was supposed to move at any given time, no matter how many times I went through the same repetitive motions, nearly tripping people in the process. And when I had to spin the women I was assigned to dance with, I kept hoping they had good health insurance policies. Later at the club, I realized that the best way I could handle dancing with someone was by standing still, which my mind knew was not at all what I was supposed to have learned but how my body responded nevertheless.
However, the realization of my complete ineptitude in this department has proven to be something of a disconnect for me. How can it be possible to love music so much and yet have absolutely no involvement with dance, particularly Latin music whose primary reason for being is to get people’s feet moving? In fact, a large percentage of the world’s music has been created for this very purpose and to not acknowledge that is to deny its essence. And yet I imagine being involved with the creation and performance of music can actually be a hindrance to being able to “use” it as a vehicle for pleasurable activities such as dancing—for other folks, dancing is supposedly pleasurable. Might this chasm be at the core of what is different between the so-called producers and so-called consumers of music? Or am I rare in being moved to make music yet not able to move to it?