Saturday, December 31, 2011

Community: Diversity and Unity

When I moved to Seattle 4 years ago, I walked by a billboard about salsa dancing which has brought all sorts of joy in my life. I thought: dancing would be a great activity for a new comer: meet people, be active and have fun. Perfect! Now, I dance almost every night of the week and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon.

I remember the first time I walked into Halo (East Hall's predecessor) on a Monday night. I was so unsure of myself: new place, new dance and new people. It was nerve-wracking to say the least. I would sit and try to look calm yet inside I would project "pick me! pick me!". I would watch the more experienced dancers and think "I wonder if that will ever be me?". [NOTE: I am forever grateful to the leads that were welcoming to a total stranger: they asked me to dance  and helped to "find my wings" on the dance floor.]

Back then, I had no idea what the salsa landscape was like. It didn't take me long to find out that there are a LOTS of other teachers and studios and what? places to go dancing EVERY night?! Then there's this congress concept: a weekend full of workshops and dancing. Then I stumbled upon other salsa styles: casino, rueda de casino, on2, mambo, dancing on the 3, on the 5... holy smokes! And what's this? Performance teams? wow, does it ever end? What a rich, fun and interesting community I found myself in. It reminded me a lot of the volleyball community I left when I moved away from Massachusetts. There was diversity but still a lot of community: people supported each other by attending tournaments that were hosted in different locations. These discoveries happened quickly as I began to dance more and more: it was easy to meet all these different sub-cultures within the dance community. It was great to see and meet everyone from these different pockets out dancing in the same place on the different nights. Every now and again there would be a special event like an anniversary or birthday that would be in a different place, offering a pleasant diversion from the usual happenings.

Fast forward to 2011. There is still dancing every night but sometimes there's more than one place to go to. There are more studios that have opened, each with their own practica and/or social. Some places have closed, some places have re-opened and new places have tried to start and stuttered. There are now nights with 3 or 4 different events to choose from and instead of being able to go to one event knowing that everyone will be there, I now have to pick and choose which one to go to, based on where I think my friends and favorite dancers will be.

Its a hard life right? Going from only have one option to having to pick from 3 or 4. It's infinitely better that there are more venues to dance rather than less. But I miss being able to go to one place knowing that everyone will be there. I hate having to choose which event to go to: who do I support? I want to support all the different venues and studios because I want to keep salsa strong in the community but I can't go to every event.

What I also see is that studios have created more insular communities that no longer mix: its like having invisible borders. I love that the folks are committing time to teach and have their own studio space. I understand that providing a safe place for beginners to go and practice is must in order for these budding dancers to keep going. I'm sometimes sad to see that these "borders" now keep some folks from experiencing that same richness in diversity that I was able to when I first started dancing.  I know that as a dancer I improved because I was exposed to so many different styles and schools of dance when I went out.

As a whole Seattle's salsa community is welcoming. There's no shortage of choices for places to dance and people to learn from. But, I feel like there is more divisiveness now compared to a few years ago and it makes me wish for change. Our community is not so big that it can sustain all the different businesses and venues out there and I think there are ways that the different event organizers and studios can cooperate and coordinate so there are less conflicts when they run events. It would be nice to be able to attend an anniversary party without having to skip someone's fund raiser or a live band.

Its a tough thing to balance: running a business and investing in the community. I think though that keeping the  dance community alive and growing is in itself an investment for dance studios and related businesses. You can't entirely lose sight of one for the other. I certainly don't have good answers and I'm not sure how many other people feel the same way I do but as 2011 comes to a close one of the things I'm hoping for is that there will be more opportunities for events that bring together the entire community of salsa dancers while still sustaining all the independent businesses that keep the salsa dancing strong in Seattle.

Just sharing a wish... and hoping everyone out there has a wonderful new year celebration as we head into 2012: much love, more hugs, lots of dancing and whatever else your heart fancies.