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Death by Salsa

by Darius Johnson

What follows is an account of how I nearly decapitated someone while executing a simple cross body lead:

I was in LA dancing at Steven's Steakhouse. The song was a pretty fast salsa. I was dancing on2 with another on2 junkie - having a great time. The floor was packed. You could still dance, but you needed to manage your space. That's to be expected. I had noticed that there was a wild man dancing nearby. He was dancing on 1, 3, and X intermittently. I would say they he was dancing between 1.2 and 1.6 times the speed of this already peppy song.  He was also taking up enough space for three couples and he kept changing the angle of his slot. No problem. I kept him in my peripheral vision most of the time, but he never got too dangerously close to me or my partner, so I didn't panic.

I did a Copa and followed it with what I hoped would be a 360 cross body lead. Well, halfway through the CBL, I gasped. I just happened to glance to my left before bringing my partner through the slot and there they were - the wild man and the poor poor soul that he was dancing with (I'm only assuming that she wasn't enjoying herself - I could be wrong). The wild man had executed a flashy, impressive, spontaneous, BADASS (not by my definition), pure L.A. style neckdrop. Oh, did I forget to mention that it was almost fatal? His partner's head was about two inches from the floor and IN MY SLOT. If I had stepped into the slot or led my partner to finish the cross body lead that we had already started, momentum would have caused one of us to trample this poor girl's head into the floor.

Am I overreacting? Not this time. I'll admit that I complain constantly about the dangers of dancing with this wild dancers in L.A. They have all of these crazy moves - I like those. They dance with flare - I like that. They LOVE salsa - I really like that. The problem is that the music might as well not be playing because they don't dance to it. Moreover, each of these wild dancers needs their own roped-off 20 square foot dance floor to keep everyone else safe. That's my perspective... but then again, I'm not from L.A. So usually, I complain and people chuckle at my sarcasm, not realizing how truly serious I am. 3 out of 4 times that I dance in LA, I get injured by someone other than the person I'm dancing with. What does that say? I might be more open to the possibility of it being my fault if it happened ANYWHERE ELSE.

Anyway, I say all of that to admit that I'm biased and cynical. But this time, I was dancing with an L.A. native and her eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw that couple in our slot. If you're familiar with the 360 cross body lead, you know that there's some element of momentum involved. It would have been very easy to crush this girl's face.

I'm such a purist - a true conservative when it comes to salsa. But this is why. It's painful, ugly, and DANGEROUS otherwise. No one should have to have reconstructive facial surgery because of an accident that occured during a cross body lead. Geez! And this is only the beginning of the dangers that dancers face unnecessarily. People complain about pains in their knees, shoulders, hands, etc. Don't get me wrong - you should feel a burn... maybe your feet hurt. But, there's a thick forest between feeling the burn and dislocating a shoulder, snapping a wrist, or STEPPING ON SOMEONE'S FACE.

This really upsets me (obviously). These cats stroll into the club wearing the most ridiculous outfits, glittery gloves, gelled hair, and bandanas tied around their biceps. If they would put half of the time that they spend dressing themselves into learning timing, spacing, and lead/follow technique, their dancing would be better, safer, and truly badass.

While I'm ranting, let me put out a few facts that no one else seems to want to reveal to salseros:

  • Men do NOT look good in white satin see-through shirts.
  • You're not more of a badass just because you take up the entire dance floor.
  • Wearing biker gloves and a pink belt doesn't cover up the fact that you're dancing off-beat and approaching the speed of light - it draws even more attention to you!

I have a dream... that one day salseros and salseras will get back to dancing for the music and the personal interaction. One day performances will only take place on stage and the dance floor will once again be safe for down-to-earth, rational, SAFE dancers.