Monday, July 11, 2011

Learn How to Lead, Learn How to Follow

Thursday nights at La Revolution Mexican Cuisine Restaurant dancers give Salsa lessons. I have never seen Salsa dancing before, besides the odd clip from a movie, so I don’t know if they are any good, but they are great dancers in the general sense of the term. Last Thursday night a group of 6 of us headed to Roma neighborhood to learn the basics of Salsa. It was great fun and an interesting social experience.

There was a young Zambian woman and a young Zambian man that were to be our instructors. The young man taught us the basic counting theory to Salsa, 1-2-3 pause 5-6-7 pause 1-2-3 pause 5-6-7, all moves in Salsa are based on the count of 8 with 4 and 8 being pause beats, for the basic step anyway. Now it was time for us to put this theory into practice. The young man was having a hard time getting all of us to pay attention and the young woman was getting frustrated with the whole scene and decided to take over. She told her co-teacher off a bit, something to the effect of “I will take it from here, you are done just follow my lead.” It was one of the few times that I saw a Zambian woman tell a Zambian man that she could do it better, to back off and to let her take control. She was assertive, she was confident and she knew what she was doing and she didn’t want anyone in her way and she wasn’t going to let traditional gender roles keep back. It was fantastic.

We began with the basic step (men’s version) leading with left foot forward (1), shift weight (2), step together (3), pause (4), right foot back (5), shift weight (6), step together (7), pause (8) and repeat. While we were learning the basic step and getting comfortable with the steps and the counting, she kept asking us if "it was happening". For some it was happening, for others it wasn’t. I had one of the instructors helping me during the warm up so after the explanation it made way more sense and it was happening! For the two cute little Zambian ladies next to me, it was kind of happening but not really. Womba, that is our heroine, she looked as the two lovely ladies and said “what is not happening? I want you to be comfortable with your bodies, confident. Where are you missing the step?” Wow, this also was another first for me, an outward expression of women in Zambia to take control of their bodies and to be comfortable, confident and sexy.

Like most every culture in the world, in its present or past state, gender roles are clearly defined in Zambia and women tend to get the raw end of the deal. Things are slowly changing but women still do not have the same equality as men here and it is wonderful to see that there are Zambians taking that inequality by the horns and wrestling out something more fair. Women in Zambia, like in most other places, are expected to be virtuous this includes covering up the thighs because they are seen as a sexual like breast are in the states. Like most places women are not supposed to be "loose" this includes limited consumption of alcohol, conservative dress, and no sleeping around. These qualities are expected of many women around the world, including places that consider women and men "equal". Funny enough these virtues are not as stringent with men, if they are loose they are considered a player not a slut. I digress. Gender roles are something I spend a good amount of time thinking about and sometimes gets me really heated and angry. But not Thursday night, Womba showed us that you can be beautiful and sexy no matter where you live and all that should come out in dance, the salsa dance.

After mastering our steps alone we moved onto working in partners. What a disaster. As said so eloquently by Natalie's friend visiting from the states "it is easier to follow someone who already knows how to lead." Meaning, sorry guys, but learning to lead is difficult and right now you are at the very beginning of the learning curve. Funny enough each of the guys in the group claimed that the white girls didn't know how to follow, "we are too bossy by nature". Here is my response, learning to lead is like learning to drive. You drive your partner to perform how you want, just the same as getting a car to respond to your requests, especially a stick shift. While learning to drive, every time you stall out you can't say the car is broken or doesn't drive properly it is simply the fault of the driver, unless the car is a lemon. So gentlemen, I am sorry to say but these ladies weren't lemons you were simply stalling out. Although, the turning was quite difficult but we will get there.

Maybe we will give it another go on Tuesday.

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