The art of not caring

One of the first memories of dancing I have is being at a party and really enjoying myself. I think I was imitating Michael Jackson at the time (probably dead on) and all of a sudden I hear my mum say “Jor-Jor stop that bad Michael Jackson impression, you can’t dance”. Truth be told those probably aren’t her exact words but that sentiment stayed with me for a long time after.

I remember being in a club, at uni called Cogs, and standing inside what was called the black corner (where the blacks congregated to have a good time). I remember many times being there, wanting to dance but holding back because I still heard my mum’s words in my head and that made me even more self conscious (as if my incessant sweating wasn’t bad enough). I spent too much time watching others as they danced by themselves, or with others, and seemed to be having a ball. On occasion, I would try and be enjoying myself for a while before catching a glimpse of an innocuous smile which based on my insecurities would be one of the following thoughts.

“See mum was right you can’t dance”

“They can see you sweating, you’re disgusting”

“You don’t have rhythm”

This poisonous self talk was dampening my spirit and for a long time I just let it.

I remember a Christmas party I attended, where high on the festivities (and a little wine) I let loose and joined my friends dancing the night away; and something incredible happened. I had a lovely time and the voices were silent. In hindsight, I think it was the environment, everyone was supportive and living in the moment which made it much easier for me to join them rather than sit stuck inside my head. 

One good turn, led to another and before long I found myself comfortable dancing (while inebriated) at parties. But I was just warming up. 

We found ourselves with no other option so we wandered in. In Amsterdam, high off life (and other things) and together with two of my closest friends, I ventured into a club promoting a latin night and my life changed forever. Time stood still as I watched the salseros and salseras spin, glide and simply move across the dance floor. Pure poetry in motion, we marvelled at the skill and grace before us. I remember one gentleman in particular, who we affectionately referred to as “The Don”, masterfully lead a woman so effortlessly that I couldn’t help but applaud once he finished. All on the same wavelength, we promised each other “We must do this when we get back to England”.

And two of us kept this promise (all the shade).

The first lesson, I was more nervous than I thought I’d be as I entered. Memories of The Don fresh at hand I was eager to start, so the fact my good friend Tyler had found a club so quickly, set aflame the spark of excitement that had been building since Dam. But at the start of the first lesson, my resolve wavered. Long dormant thoughts started to arise.

“ You can’t actually dance”

“You’ll look like an idiot, being so tall trying to dance”

“No one will want to dance with you”

But I saw Tyler’s often smiling face, he cracked some stupid joke and the voices abated. So I took one lesson, one became two, two became four and before I knew it I was going twice a week. I was having so much fun and learning so much, I didn’t have time to hear the self doubt. I also learned something else, never get too high or too low. On the days, I’d be feeling myself a little too much, I’d be quickly humbled. Whereas on the days that I was struggling I’d always be encouraged whether that be by someone asking me to dance or simply just losing myself in the music I’d come to love.

Months of practice and I got gassed enough to go to a salsa festival in Croatia. Technically it’s called a congress but weird name aside it was sensational. I didn’t have any expectations, as it was my first time in Croatia and at an international salsa event but I was still blown away. The workshops were intense but fun and the beach parties were some of the most lively experiences I’ve had so far but the main attraction was the nighttime social dancing. The venue was so huge, there were 6 rooms dedicated to different types of dance. Everything from Kizomba to Bachata. My plan was to go to the salsa room but that was a challenge in and of itself as it emerged there were three! There was a romantica, cubano and main salsa ball room, where the creme de la creme danced. Always up for a challenge, I started on the highest difficulty by opting for the main ball room.

And naturally, thankfully not literally, I fell on my face. The main room difficulty was not just the level of the dancers but the intricacy of the songs. A salsa song follows a beat that goes from 1-8 and understanding where the 1 falls is vital for everything from the simple basic step to the more advanced triple travelling turn. What I learnt the hard way was that in the main ball room however the songs would frustratingly switch up the beat mid song, multiple times. This switch would leave me and my partner feeling awkward as it would catch me unawares and lead to me dancing offbeat (much to my embarrassment).

After a few of these false starts, tail between my legs I wandered into the salsa romantica room to see if my luck there was any better. And it was. The music spoke to me and all of a sudden I was reminded of one of the lesson I had learnt in an earlier workshop;

“feel the music, don’t just dance to it”

You’d be forgiven if you think that sounds airy fairy but the moment I truly lost myself in the music I found my dancing mojo. Dance after dance I was being thanked by my partner, asked for another dance or hugged excessively while I was sweating (profusely I might add). I was buoyed by this obviously but the true challenge, my personal Everest was the main ball room. So with the mantra “feel the music” in my head, I ventured back in and if my magic I found my flow.

So what does this have to do with what my mum said to me all those years ago. Well recently, I took her to see a play – the Barber Shop Chronicles. That was an amazing experience itself, that’ll I’ll talk about one day, but a funny thing happened before the performance. Before the play starts the actors come onto the stage, which is situated at ground level in the centre of the audience, and in typical millennial fashion encourage the attendees to take pictures with them and the props. I seized this opportunity to take a picture with the up and coming actor Tom Moutchi but that wasn’t even the coolest thing that happened before the play started.

Naturally music had been playing in the background before the event started and being an African inspired play, the selection of music was black centric and therefore very lit. So it was unsurprising that the song “candy” was played. What was more surprising was that as it started, the actors encouraged more of the audience to come to the stage and join in on the much vaunted “electric slide” (that simply must accompany the song). Obviously, I joined in but what surprised me was my mum’s reaction when I got back to my seat,

“you’re so brave, you looked like you were having fun”

That passing comment meant more to me than she knew and highlights the reason for this post. What have people said about you that you’ve internalised and held onto. Is it holding you back from doing something you feel called to do, something you feel drawn to. Do it. Forget what people may think or say or do, you do you. We waste too much time not living because of other people. There’s another option and that starts by not caring what they think. Try it, you may find your next passion.

Peace and Love, 

Aharoun the Author.