Wednesday, August 4, 2010


One of my favorite venues for salsa dancing got a new home this week. Boy, did that stir the pot!

Having been through many major changes in my life, I am of the mind that change, while difficult, is a good thing in the long run. I attribute that to the suprising adaptability of the human spirit or the belief that things happen for a reason to ensure progress for the better or some combination of the two.

If there is one thing that change does do without fail is that it triggers re-examination of likes, dislikes, what's important, what's not and what one desires. It challenges you especially when its unexpected or unplanned and it can bring out the worst or the best in people that are affected. It also brings out fear which has a funny way of changing your judgement: something that was not that good (AND that you've complained about) but familiar, becomes that much better by comparison.

Reactions are varied: some embrace it wholeheartedly (going with the flow), some are repelled by it (resisting it when they can) and others, just like the turtle racing the hare, take things slowly but surely and adapt to it.

So, what's the change that triggered this writing then?

Every Monday night, there's a salsa practica at a place called Halo. Its located in Capitol Hill in Seattle (WA). Its housed in a building with a yoga studio. The most prominent display on the block is a a costume store. The space has a wooden floor for dancing and wall space to promote art from local artists. There are rolling mirrors and wall mirrors, fans in set corners to help cool things down when needed and speakers situated around the room.

Monday night Salsa at Halo, to me felt like a local neighborhood pub (kind of like Cheers) for salsa dancers. Its a place that invited all levels of experience. The beginner dancer can come and enjoy the dance with less stress and pressure than going to a dance club. The experienced dancer enjoys the informal atmosphere. Its a great way to start the week - the venue opens by 7:30pm and ends by 11:00pm so its not that late for a week night. A variety of salsa styles come to dance: on1, mambo, casino and rueda de casino. In my humble opinion, it is the most welcoming place for any salsa beginner to get their feet wet with social dancing. The ambiance was homey, comfortable, welcoming and most of all familiar.

This past week, Halo Practica's moved to East Hall, located in the another building a few blocks away that houses the main ballroom, where salsa is taught and danced in on other nights of the week.

East Hall is now the new location for Monday night Salsa Practica.
East Hall is slightly smaller, more rectangular in shape [a difference of about 100 square feet]
There are no poles in the space to dance around (or with)
There are high ceilings in the new space
There is no yoga studio next door that puts a constraint on sound volume in the beginning of the night.
There is air-conditioning (though it wasn't operating on the 1st night)
The lighting is much brighter (there are some lighting changes to come)
The DJ booth is an actual booth and not just a table with equipment
There are nice benched on one side with shelves to store shoes on another. On one side there are windows mounted on the wall. By comparison, at Halo, there was an eclectic mix of sofa/chaises/folding chairs/side tables and lamps. (I believe there are more furniture additions to come into East Hall.)
The sound was a bit muffled because of the high ceilings (there are some changes on the way to fix that: curtains/fabric to hang from the ceilings) while at Halo, it was too quiet to hear because it had to be set to a lower volume so as not to disturb the yoga studio.
There were no "spots" or "corners" established yet: every dance hall has that "advanced corner" or that "beginner corner" or some other group's corner... because this place was new and very hot, the only "corners" were the "cooling corners" where the fans were located.

Opening night was PACKED! it got off to a slow start but in the end, there were lots of people, more than usual and lots of newbies and regulars made for a fantastically HOT (in all ways) night of dancing.

From my perspective, its wasn't the actual physical place that was important, it was the community that I fell into (still there) that I enjoyed. Now, I haven't been around as long as some other people in the community have been, so perhaps my attachment to the "old pub" just wasn't established yet. I kind of feel like the place got a make-over which is all good.

What follows are quotes from people about the new space and some descriptions peppered with my commentary [bracketed in italics] just to show you how varied the response was. I am not judging anything by writing them here, merely stating what I heard and my reactions where applicable.

"Its free so I came and if the dancing is going to be as good as it is tonight, I'm coming back for sure."

"Its too bright in here"

"The space is a LOT smaller" [Actually no, Halo was squarish and East Hall is a rectangle and besides, Halo had these beams that got in the way.]

"I miss those beams: I used them to dance" [???!!! apparently dancers used the beams as support or a prop to dancing or as a boundary so no one else and "cut into the slot" when is crowded!]

"The sound is bad" [But wasn't it just as bad, if not worse at Halo? I mean we couldn't turn up the volume till past 9!]

In the old space, there was a geography to learn about which groups of dancers hovered in which areas. In this new space nothing was claimed but the speculations on who would hang out where have already begun.

"I just liked Halo... I miss it already"

"This isn't bad, as long as they fix the AC"

"Its crowded tonight." [um, yes, Halo got crowded too... besides, tonight is free remember?]

"Do you think they will go back to Halo if nobody likes it?"

"We have to find a new place to go eat afterward" [This part is true, the group got somewhat splintered though my little group ended up finding a fantastic NY Style Pizza joint - yummy!]

My own reaction was positive overall. I had a fantastic night of dancing with folks that I regularly see as well as some folks I hadn't seen in a while (apparently the free night brought them out). There were some interesting interactions and I loved the new space because of the high ceilings and the fact that there were no poles to deal with. The heat was a bit much, but the old space was just as bad last summer, at least from what I remember. I got one of the best compliments about my dancing from a total stranger and some of the sweetest ones from people that I already know and dance with a lot.

Change is inevitable. I think its a necessary stimulus that can produce some of life's best work. Its never easy though, especially when the change involves something you are comfortable with or really love.

There was a time in my life when change scared me. I thought it far easier to resist and stay where I was. The truth was that staying in place was tiring and I found that when I let go, accepted the changes and looked for the positive opportunities that were there, lo and behold, there they were. I mean I still get afraid but I know that I'll be ok so the fear doesn't take over as much as it used to.

In the end, I trust myself and the people I interact with in a meaningful way. I believe that the universe at large generates flows that lead you to what's best for you, if you're open to seeing them. As things change, I become stronger, more able to face the next change and usually, blessed with more to be grateful for that I didn't have or notice before.

Time will tell what the changes moving to East Hall will bring... I have a feeling though, it will work out for the best in the end. The spirit of the place is still there in the people that come to dance every Monday night.

PS Shout out to the folks at the Century Ballroom: Hallie, Deron, Alison and everyone else there who have made dancing so accessible, fun, warm and a BLAST! We are so lucky to have you guys around :)

1 comment:

  1. From Alison Cockrill commented on the facebook page link:

    "Thanks for posting this Frances. I'm always a little resistant to change, like most folks. We would not uproot an event that is so successfu...l, and to which people feel so attached without serious deliberation. I, like you, believe that the feeling of the Monday night dance is created by the dancers, and only aided (or hindered) by the space.

    I have so much gratitude for the practica dancers who have taken the handicaps of Halo and turned them into something charming: we have to close the windows in the middle of the dance, we have to turn the music down, it's an oven in the summer, you have to navigte the poles, the sun is blinding during class. I get that. I kind of like dancing in the face of hardship. You feel like you really earned your pleasure. We are so lucky to have a group of people that have embraced that space and will miss being there on Mondays.

    Mostly, though, I'm grateful for the atmosphere that the dancers create. They are welcoming, and helpful, and encouraging. From what I can tell, that dance mostly brings out our best traits and highest values as social dancers: to dance with the best skill we can muster, in a diverse, generous, inclusive community. That, I hope and believe, is completely transferable to a different physical location...and now I can come to the dance!"