Over the past few years I have talked to many people (at all stages of their journey) in order to improve my knowledge about the motives of people who stay in and thrive in Salsa.
For the majority of people their introduction is through one of the many Salsa sub-communities; these can be built around a promoter, a club, a Salsa school or a Salsa instructor. At the start most people will stick to a single sub-community where they meet people, find friends, kindred spirits, learn their basic steps and discover their passions.
During my initial years I never committed to a sub-community as my motivation was to learn as much about Salsa as I possibly can; I subscribed to the idea that I am solely responsible for my own growth, learning and development. Looking back at the start of my journey I now refer to myself back then as a Ronin (浪人) which is the name given to samurais with no lord or master during the feudal period.
This article is for the dancers that are currently Salsa Ronin and those within a Sub-community
Disclaimer: This article is based on my personal experiences through my travels in Salsa and informed by my talks with other people who have experienced the same journey.
Most of us would love to find a place that we belong, feel comfortable and where your personal expectations are matched. Sub-communities within Salsa can offer a wide range of things including structured learning, individual and group fame or recognition, dance philosophy or more tangible offerings like teaching and performance opportunities. For some, being a part of a sub-community is their sole purpose as the friendships and shared activities are more important than the pursuit of Salsa. For others, being a part of a community is a vital ingredient to their own personal growth as the comfort, structure and people act as a catalyst.
The list of reasons that people join a sub-community are endless but for all the benefits joining a community does have potential downsides which can go against your personal learning and soil your journey.
Community convergence describes the situation where dancers within a sub-community collective thoughts, views and opinions narrow to that of the community leaders; this narrowing can have an extreme and profound effect. The effects could also have physical manifestations which goes beyond dancing; I have seen members alter their dress code, hair style and even (scarily enough) mannerisms to match that of the leaders.
Another negative aspect is the tribalism that can arise where dancers in the sub-communities build a sense of loyalty to dogma to the point where they isolate themselves from the wider Salsa community.
Belonging to one of these sub-communities can have very beneficial and negative effects. In the next section I will contrast that with the life of a Salsa Ronin.
NOTE: If you are a member of a sub-community be aware of your motives and reasons. Remember that you do not need to be exclusive nor do you need to isolate yourself. This also goes for your personal thoughts about Salsa. For the most part I have seen many dancers feeling alone after leaving a sub-community as they have spent years in Salsa but are struggling to adapt to a larger and more anonymous community.
Life of a Salsa Ronin
I spent the first 3 years in Salsa as a Ronin and attended all classes that I could find; my initial target in Salsa was to be able to dance with anyone in the world and feel comfortable and confident enough to give my partner a good time. I felt like the only way to get to this point was to learn as much as I could and from as many people as possible.
As a Ronin, I was free from the dogma that is prevalent in a lot of sub-communities and was able to form my own opinions without the peer pressure or the need to conform. I learned Columbian Salsa initially, followed by Cuban, Crossbody On1 and then found a home with Crossbody On2.
I was able to explore my own ideas of musicality through conversations with people throughout the wider scene and took what I liked and discarded what I did not. In some of the sub-communities that I frequented from time to time I could feel that I was kept at arm’s length as I did not agree with the teachers and philosophies, but I did not care, I took what I could and then moved on.
I have talked to dancers who did not agree with the dogma and philosophy of the community that they belonged to but did not feel empowered to leave as their friends and family were there; this for them removed a lot of joy that could come from Salsa but as a Ronin I never had this problem.
Things were not all merry as for the longest time my journey of learning was very lonely. I crossed paths with many people who were on a similar path to me but I did not feel that my learning was a shared experienced. I do not feel like I grew alongside anyone, any friends, any companions. This was how I felt for the first few years of my journey.
NOTE: If you are a Ronin, you can make friends and strong bonds with people. It is all about opening up and making sure you put in the time. This time comes naturally when you are a part of a sub-community but as a Ronin you need to put in the extra effort.
The life of a Salsa Ronin is both freeing as well as lonely at the same time.
Until I co-founded TNT Dance I was a Ronin. I had attempted to join several sub-communities within London Salsa but always felt like there was a clash in philosophies or the dogma pushed onto me was overwhelming. I always cherish this time and believe that the dancer I am today is because I was a Ronin.
Belonging to a sub-community for me came into place when putting together TNT Dance. We wanted a place where all dancers could come together, share their experiences, explore themselves through dance and more importantly be themselves without the need to conform; essentially this is a gathering place for Ronins where you can be yourself, be with others and build strong bonds through shared experience of dance.
Are you a part of a Salsa sub-community? Are a Ronin? What did you experience throughout your Salsa journey?