Friday, October 10, 2008

to be a salsa instructor, part II

It seems like a very long time since I last made an entry here. It's been very busy the last couple of weeks, and I simply haven't had the time to sit down and write (ok that's a lie - I've had free time, but I usually use it to chill, play games, sleep or whatever).

Salsa keeps showing up in different areas of my life. A couple of months ago I was asked to give a salsa lesson during the Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations at work. It turned out to be pretty good. The organizers split up the celebration across the span of four weeks, each week targeting the Hispanic communities in different areas of America. The fourth and final week was "Caribbean"-themed, and I was chosen as the "speaker" for the day to teach salsa. The event was pretty packed - I think it was the most people they got during the four weeks. I asked a friend of mine to help me out so we could give a little salsa exhibition first, which people seemed to like. The actual salsa lesson only got about 9 volunteers, which I found to be pretty weak (people don't like to step out of their comfort zones very much sometimes). But anyway, it worked out because it was less people to teach, so it made it easier. I would say 3 out of the 4 couples did pretty good. We taught them the basic step, simple turn, and cross body lead. At the end of the activity, I was presented with a "outstanding performance" certificate for helping out with the activities during the month, a "certification of appreciation" (with its own frame and everything!) for being the salsa instructor, which I found pretty cool, especially because it has a little thing with the Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban flags. Finally, they gave me a $50 gift certificate from It's always cool to get rewarded for things you enjoy doing, especially when you would've done them for free anyways.

Last week I went to the school again for the second salsa lesson. I was escorted to the classroom by a teacher that I hadn't met before. She turned out to be real nice, and even complimented me at one point. One thing I have to mention is that she was white. I saw some new faces among the kids, but didn't see some from last time. The teacher and I were standing at the door of the classroom just talking and having fun with the kids and whatnot while we waited for Ms. J. At some point, one of the new kids asked her if I was her son, at which an eruption of laughter from the rest of the kids followed. The kids were like "they don't even look alike!", etc. I don't think I would've made a big deal out of the question, but really, the color difference between the teacher and myself was too big to even wonder, haha. Anyway, the kids were also wondering about the contents of the bag I was holding in my hand. They were trying to guess, and I just kept telling them that they would find out when we got to the gym. One of the funnier comments came from John (Boy #1 from to be a salsa instructor, part I). He insisted that I was a time traveler, and that I had an ice cream maker in my bag (which he vividly described with hand gestures, complete with motions on how he would eat the ice cream).

As we walked to the gym, the girls were in the front with Ms. J, and I hung back with the boys...

Gustavo: (with his backpack strapped on his waist somehow) Mr. Wired, I know Karate!
Me: Really? *making chop motions with my hand* Do you like, break trees and stuff?
Gustavo: No, but I can break wood!
Me: What, like pencils? ;-)
*all the boys laugh*
Gustavo: *looking down* No..
John: I bet Mr. Wired can break trees with his finger! *proceeds to make pointing motions as if touching a tree and making it explode*
Me: -_- Dude, I think you watch too many movies.

When we arrived at the gym, I had Ms. J sit the kids down, because I had a little talk ready for them. The first item in my bag was a world map. I pulled it out, and had them volunteer to see if they knew where Puerto Rico was located. After lots of attempts (one of the kids even tried finding it in Asia -_-), I had them give up, and finally showed it to them ("Oh! it's so small! No wonder we couldn't find it!"). I proceeded to tell them about the words "wepa" and "china" as we use them in Puerto Rico (the kids started going "Wepa, Ms. J!" as soon as I finished). I then told them about the other names that Puerto Rico has/has had throughout history, and finally told them a little about El Yunque. After that, I pulled out the second item in my bag: Pocky. I gave one stick to each kid, and they really liked it. As they ate, I gave them a little talk about Spanish, and the Hispanic community in general. I talked to them about being proud of their language and culture, and about learning about other people's cultures as well, etc. I also gave homework to three volunteers (John was one of them). For next time, they have to ask their parents something special/unique about their nationality, whether it be language, traditions, or even random facts. One of my goals is to get them to learn about, and appreciate, their own cultures and backgrounds.

The kids did great in class. I could really tell they had practiced their steps. I taught them the "cuarta" (which they picked up pretty quickly), and the basic turn (they struggled the most with this one, understandably). While we were practicing the turns, one of the boys asked me when were we going to be dancing with a partner. :-). I had them all stand in a line without telling them what we would be doing. I did a little bit of prep talk about salsa being a partner dance and stuff, and then asked for a brave female volunteer...(lots of hands went up) ... to dance with me (hands went back down, and they cowered towards Ms. J). I ended up having to really stress the fact that it wasn't a big deal, and proceeded to demonstrate (because they were having none of it) with Ms. J how it's done. Some girls were then willing to do the stance with me. Their reaction was hilarious when I suggested dancing with the other boys (they are 10 year olds for the most part). After some convincing, some girls were brave enough to do it. Soon, they were excited about it because it now "made sense", and they were just having fun doing the basic step and the "segunda". I also showed them the "open" stance, but I plan to teach them to dance in "closed" stance for the most part.

Time was up after about 5 minutes of partner dancing. I gave them some more Pocky, reminded them of their homework, and sent them on their way. I was a bit surprised (in a good way) to see that John was the one that hung back as people left, and took care of throwing out the Pocky package, taking Ms. J's radio, and closing the gym. Even though he jokes around a lot, it seems like he's the most mature, and one of the better educated (imo) students of the bunch. I still look forward to the antics that are to come though, haha.

On a more 'random' note, I witnessed something that somewhat disturbed me last night. After Vietnamese class, I was packing my stuff and decided to hang back to talk about some things with the professor. Most of the class had left, except one other girl. I don't know why, but the professor asked her what her nationality was, because she had forgotten (apparently the girl had mentioned it before at some point). Anyway, I could sorta feel the vibe that the girl was stalling for time, waiting for me to leave so she could answer the question. At this, I purposely slowed down my movements, waiting for her reply. The professor asked again (I guess she thought the girl hadn't heard her the first time), and the girl finally replied -in a very low voice, with her head down- Mexican. I HAD to say something.

I think it's very sad, very very sad, that there are people that are ashamed (or not proud) of their culture/heritage. I don't know this specific person's story, so I don't know how she got to that point, but I would guess that it's a society thing. I think as people, we have to recognize and appreciate our background, no matter what it is. I don't want to get into it very much in this post, but man. Even though I've heard people make comments about how Puerto Ricans are very proud, this is one of the reasons I thank God for planting me in Puerto Rico. Not because I think we're better than anyone, but because it's a place that ever since you're little, you're taught to love your island and its culture ("yo soy boricua, pa' que tu lo sepas", "yo soy de aquí como el coquí", "que bonita bandera" among other sayings).

Don't get me wrong though - I don't mean to single the girl out by any means. It's the general mentality I have a problem with. I know not all Mexicans have that mentality, but I've seen both (proud/not proud) on different peoples at different times/places. It just encourages me even more to try and make a difference in this aspect, even if it's only with my 10 year old salsa students.