How Sultry Salsa dancing is Like Language Learning

September 12, 2015

Salsa Dancing Video

By Salina Maria Khanna

A month ago I started taking Salsa classes with Robin, a lovely gentleman about my height at a place called Academia De Baile Bogotá: Dance in Motion. Robin is built like a dancer and had a hint of feistiness, which I love. I learned this the day I showed up to class with dog doo doo on my shoes. I also learned that I should watch where I’m walking when I decide to walk through the park. I’m thinking through the beginning of class to myself “poo…” Even with my attempts to be discreet, Robin unfortunately noticed the shoe situation and stopped the class to clean the floor. However, my love for salsa started prior to that moment, perhaps with Mexican restaurants in Lynchburg (the picante habanero is vital to life in our family). It progressed to Bachata and Dance Arabe! Heyyyy! Robin helped this love grow. After all, as we discussed in my level 10 English class on Saturdays a teacher can certainly help peak your interest in your academic pursuits, education, or the process of learning. Dancing, like language learning, is after all how you express your creative abilities and certainly others can be a part of helping or hindering that learning process. The rest for me is history. Side note: I’ve included a playlist (and links to the music) for your listening pleasure in between a synopsis of what each dance has taught me.

La Vida Es un Carnival

Some tips about learning how to dance or learning how to learn a language…or just learning for that matter: Keep counting– knowing your moves (or your words) is half the battle; someone else can assist and offer guidance, but they cannot be your crutch. Repetition and practice are extremely important. Listen to the rhythm of the music. In languages, as in dance and in life—context matters! There are so many different types of styles that if you learn only one routine or listen to only American English for example, you will get find yourself a rigid dancer or speaker only able to adapt to that specific version. Thus, one must face the music and DANCE! Como podemos a aprender sin practica? Oh yeah did I mention the classes are in Spanish? VAMOS!

Ahora Quien

Salsa- Marc Antony, Havana, Colombia- what’s not to love? I definitely learned that you can either learn better or worse with a partner. It depends how their skills mix with yours: they either meet them, challenge, or hinder them. I’ve had partners lead me and other ones that I have clearly schooled. So choose wisely and look for one that can challenge you but also assist you. Trusting oneself and one owns instinctual abilities is certainly just as important in all aspects of life. You have got to learn the move’s for oneself before you rely on anyone else. You could potentially end up looking like a fool, alone or as a duo due to someone else’s lack of coordination.

Although I feel as though I have progressed in a month from beginner to intermediate in Salsa, I’ve realized sometimes it’s okay to go back to the basics. I think some we get so caught up on the idea of wanting to advance that we are afraid of being bored and regressiong. However, as my recent review in a basic Spanish class has taught me, it’s not all that bad. You will forever learn new things and as long as you are challenging yourself along the way, you will continue learning. That is the ultimate goal isn’t it? So use the training wheels when needed and on occasion as a refresher, but when you’re ready for the challenge, step up to the front and don’t be afraid to dance without the mirror.


Bachata- More steps that you can count; Romeo Santos may be singing it but who doesn’t want to do it? Last week around 7 AM we had a warmup session with my morning Level 6 ladies. I’m not talking English, we were speaking the language of the caderas (hips), and we were singing and dancing bachata!

I learned Bachata before… or so I thought. Just because your friends are Latino and think they can dance does not certify them as teachers. To me, this recounts the same idea that native speakers are qualified to teach a language, FALSE. It is essential that if you want to learn something and learn it right that you find someone who has some experience in the matter as well as the techniques of teaching. While everyone around me is perhaps more qualified than I am to correct my errors in Spanish, sometimes they are not: for example when they fail to explain the corrections (the key part to making them). Sometimes they correct simply because it sounds right, when it may be in direct contradiction with what I’m learning in class. To their credit, this is sometimes due to the many nuances in Spanish versus Colombian Spanish. However to effectively make errors we must be able to learn from them. Part of that learning process is an explanation or clarification of the errors in the first place.

Yo Tambien

Arabe! A lot more muscles than you will ever use doing any other kind of dance. Like learning a language, learning different styles of dance challenges the use of different skills, abilities, as well as different parts of the body. For example as we discussed in Spanish class today, Spanish requires a lot more of the tongue whereas German you utilize your throat with guttural sounds. The same goes for Hindi and from my understanding Arabic as well. They all certainly have their own cultural idiosyncrasies. For example, the Arabic shimmy is a bit more controlled than the African shimmy/shake and perhaps a bit more modest than the Latina shimmy. Just ask Shakira, she’ll tell you the truth. Hips don’t lie! Shout out to those students who ever dedicated themselves to the Arabic dance. This one for me requires a lot of persistence and practice—but really I recommend you try them all.

Salina, Salina

(A special shoutout to all the Saudi/Arabic students who ever dedicated this one to me)

BOLLYWOOD! Is happening! For my next act, I have an extensive plan for my Arabic dance teacher, Laura from Pasto to give some quality lessons on the Bollywood dance style. We are due to start an exchange soon, English slang for Indian hip thrust. I’m thinking that this lesson will include a whole different brand of backup dancers and most likely some lavish scenery like a mountain or on a train. Regardless of where or how, many life lessons are to be included. I am hoping to get a recording. Stay tuned my friends!

Chaiyya Chaiyya


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *