Yoga Off The Mat

Hi Everyone,

I’ve got an article in the March issue of Australian Yoga LIFE magazine. It’s about incorporating powerful yoga techniques into daily life — without getting sweaty on the mat!

I’d love you to read it and look forward to your comments.

If you’d like to learn about these yoga techniques and are in the Sydney area come and try my classes. Visit: www.yogacoopmanly.com.au for details.

I hope you can support this great Australian magazine. It’s now in newsagents, or you can subscribe online at www.ayl.com.au.

Tina Wild AYL Mar 2014

 

Sowing the seed for a happy new year

nye-fireworks-1

As the year takes its final bow to usher in a fresh new 2014, how many of you have made a new year’s resolution? You know; be fitter, healthier, shed a bad habit, find a new job/hobby – that kind of thing.

How often do you make a new year’s resolution, with high hopes (or half-hearted ones) only to break it by the end of January? Do you even remember what your resolution was from the beginning of this year?

So how do we keep the hope alive and bring the goal to fruition throughout the year?

We could take a leaf out of yoga’s wise book. In yoga this resolution is called sankalpa; a positive statement to transform negative thoughts into positive ones. The trick is to harness the willpower by repeating and re-affirming this statement every day. According to Swami Saytananda:

“The sankalpa is one of the most effective means of training the mind..a powerful method of reshaping your personality and direction in life, along positive lines.” [i]

Formulating a sankalpa can be the first stumbling block, with so many choices and opportunities, how many of us really know what we want out of life? How to decide on one single goal? As Swami Satyanada says:

“Most of us are floundering in the darkness, like ships without rudders, sails without sheet anchors. We don’t know which way we are headed because we are being led. Using the technique of Yoga Nidra, however, we have a choice in life, and that choice is created by the sankalpa.” [ii]

The sankalpa, repeated mentally on a daily basis, at a time when you’re feeling calm, is like planting a seed into the soil and watering it. It is also repeated at the beginning and end of Yoga Nidra—a deeply relaxing meditation from a lying down position that releases all physical, mental and emotional tensions—a practice I highly recommend for fatigue, stress, anxiety and overall wellbeing.

Now you may have to practice Yoga Nidra many times before you formulate your sankalpa. That’s no big deal, I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t enjoy and feel the benefit from Yoga Nidra.

I have adopted this sankalpa, it’s a poem that was pinned to my dear Auntie’s wall, who passed away recently. She embodied this as her philosophy and purpose, not just for one year but for her whole life.

“I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” Mahatma Gandhi

I have other goals that are more achievement-based but I hope this resolve will help me to become less self-centred, less competitive, to shed my ego and soften the hard edges that sometimes cluster around my heart.

Wishing you a joyful, peaceful and healthy new year, in which all your goals and dreams are realised.

Best wishes

Tina

Lotus pond

Lotus pond

Notes

[i] Satyananda Yoga Teacher Training YS1 2010; from Yoga Nidra text, Sowing the Seeds of Change

[ii] Satyananda Yoga Teacher Training YS1 2010; from Yoga Nidra text, Sowing the Seeds of Change

References

Sankalpa, Sowing the Seed of Change. Australian Yoga Life, Issue 21, July-November 2008.

 

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Yoga Nidra, Yoga Publication Trust, Bihar, 2008

Yoga for Cyclists

Calling all cyclists, MAMILs, Weekend Warriors and aspiring Kings of the Mountains.

Are you guilty of not doing enough stretching?

Do you always have aches, pains and injuries?

Do you want to enhance your performance on the bike?

Then join our 6 week Yoga for Cyclists course

When? Saturdays 3 – 4.30 pm starting 15 February

Where? Yoga Co-op Manly, Ivanhoe Park, Park Avenue, Manly, 2095 NSW

Cost? $108

Bookings: tinajwild@gmail.com

See the website for more info on classes: http://www.yogacoopmanly.com.auYoga for Cyclists Course Flyer

How does meditation help to unleash creative writing?

Tina meditation Curl Curl colour

As a meditation teacher and a published writer I have found that the two compliment one another perfectly. How? When I write my mind needs to be still and spacious for creativity to blossom. How often is my mind in that state? Not very often, unless I’m on holiday and free of life’s daily challenges. Or…when I meditate.

The purpose of meditation is to create a point of focus whereby the mind ceases to chatter. You become calm on the inside, releasing physical, mental and emotional tensions.

When I write fiction sometimes I often begin with an idea for a story. These ideas tend to be preoccupations, if you will, that by voicing on a page help me to tease out and make sense of. This reveals a similarity between writing and meditation, both of which enable you to become your own counsellor, get to the root of your problems and discover what your burning desires are. Actually it was through yoga and meditation (meditation is an integral part of yoga) that I convinced myself to stop procrastinating, stop being too afraid of not being good enough and start living my life’s purpose: writing.

What happens if there are no ideas bubbling to create a story? That doesn’t matter, idea or no idea, either way I still write freely in the technique known as ‘stream of consciousness’ writing or to use Sue Woolfe’s phrase ‘loose construing’. This method is extremely liberating and fun, you never know what is going to come up from the depths of your mind! And, the best thing about stream of consicousness writing is that you don’t have to show anyone, it is writing in its rawest, most authentic form. By meditating before I begin to write, I put myself in that quiet space and the floodgates of words bubble and flow like a river.

I have developed a workshop and course which marries the art of meditation with the craft of creative writing. This is available for anyone seeking creativity, whether you’re an aspiring writer with a story bursting inside you but not sure how to start. Or an accomplished writer who has lost your mojo or suffering from writer’s block.

If you’re interested in unleashing your creativity please contact me to book a place on the course: Email: tinajwild@gmail.com or call 0424 590 960

When? Saturday 30 November, Saturday 7 December and Saturday 14 December 3 – 5 pm.

Cost? One workshop $35 or book the course of three consecutive sessions for $90.

Where? Ivanhoe Scout Hall, Park Avenue, Manly 2095 NSW http://yogacoopmanly.com.au/location/

I have been teaching yoga and meditation for seven years and practicing for fifteen. Having studied many meditation techniques, my greatest influences remain the Satyananda Yoga tradition and Zen Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. See my yoga website http://yogacoopmanly.com.au/classes/meditation-creative-writing-workshop/

My love of books and writing led me to attain a BA Degree with Honours in English at Nottingham University in the UK. I am now studying a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Sydney to fulfill my goal of completing my novel.

Paris Tour de France Finale 2013

I was finally reunited with my family and friends in Paris. A rarity given we live on opposite sides of the world; me in Australia, them in England. So many occasions to celebrate; birthdays, anniversaries, immense gratitude for precious time together. And of course…the Tour de France centenary finale.

At Caratello, Monmartre

Family reunion at Caratello, Monmartre. Ironically the best meal we had in Paris was  this Italian!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were eight fragile English flowers wilting in the scorching 37 degrees, in the city of love. We admired the elegance of Notre Dame and the Arc de Triumphe, romantic Pont Neuf bridge, and the contrast of ancient and modern at the Louvre.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Arc de Triumphe

Arc de Triumphe

The riverboat has to be the worst design in the world; enclosed in glass, trapping the sun inside like a sauna. I will never forget everyone’s pained sweating faces. We only managed three stops.

The new fake beach along the riverbank was packed with sunbathers cooling themselves under water spray machines, and most exciting of all—toilets; a scarce commodity. At 50 cents a visit and 2.50 Euros for a small bottle of water, life’s basic necessities didn’t come cheap. Taxis are the only bargain in Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hotel, Chat Noir was situated right next to the Moulin Rouge in the heart of Montmartre, the red light district. Like most Parisian hotels the rooms were small but it was modern with clean lines, themed with the Moulin Rouge’s black cat. The spire of the Sacre Couer (white heart) peeped atop the tall shabby buildings, reached by a breathless climb up the labyrinth of cobbled streets lined with artists’ at their easels and paintings for sale. The panoramic view over Paris’s rooftops at the peak was worth the effort.

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the day of the final stage of the Tour de France we spent the afternoon lazing in the park near the Louvre, seeking shade. We ate ice cream and soaked up the peaceful beauty of the manicured gardens, noting the discreet fence warning us to keep off the pristine grass. Nature was clearly to be looked at, not touched or interacted with.

Anticipation buzzed in the air for the Tour de France procession, the final race around the city to the finish line on the Champs Élysées. We realised we were trapped in those beautiful gardens by the Louvre and the big wheel. Barricades encircled the city centre so we were unable to reach the Arc de Triumphe and Champs Élysées. Some people were jumping the barriers despite the police that patrolled the perimeter. We were tempted but as a large group with two seniors we decided not to chance an arrest.

Carnival, Tour de France, Paris

Carnival, Tour de France, Paris

After three hours’ wait the carnival floats came past with pumping music, entertaining the excited crowd. The energy in the city was electric. There were union jacks everywhere, waving from balcony windows and draped around people, teeming along the roadside. Royal Air Force jets zoomed overhead casting stripes of red and blue in the sky.

People hung out of windows and stood on attic roofs on Rue de Rivoli where we perched on the wall.

Peloton, Paris

Blink and you miss them. Tour de France peloton, Paris

The swish of the wheels on the concrete as the peloton sped by was deafening. They were a blur of colour. As soon as we pressed the camera shutter they’d gone.

The roaring crowd echoed, like a Mexican wave, around the city as the peloton reached each section of the ten circuits.  The riders took it in turns to hug Chris Froome with happiness, and perhaps, relief it was over—whilst travelling at around 60 km per hour. They were practically touching the back wheel of the team car to keep in their slipstream—I think this an exception to the rule for the final stage.

Peloton Finale, Paris

Peloton race to finish, Paris

Their skill amazes and inspires me; they possess the stealth and balance of a cat and steely endurance of a bull. Christopher Froome’s victory of the centenary made it a day to put the Great back into Britain.

 

 

 

The few days in Paris were over as quickly as the blur of cyclists. It felt momentous; in terms of witnessing a unique sporting event, but more so the precious time spent with family.

Tour de France 2013

It took 36 hours from Kruger National Park in South Africa to get to Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps. A renowned skiing village and home to the iconic stage 18 of the Tour de France.

The view from our hotel room encapsulated the magnificence of Alpe d’Huez. A waterfall cascaded down the sheer endless drop. I was heavy with awe at the dramatic mountains looming on all sides, rising up vertically, reaching up to the heavens with their snow capped jagged peaks, imposing grey faces like slabs of textured slate, interspersed with luscious green and wildflowers.

Alpe d'Huez

The bus ride up and down Alpe d’Huez was hair-raising; the bus drivers negotiated sharp bends and nauseating drop offs whilst chain smoking and chattering incessantly. A continuous stream of sweaty cyclists ascended, pain etched their faces as they drove themselves on, determined to accomplish the challenge. Riders enjoyed the buzz of the descent, snaking past cars and endless droves of motorhomes, campervans, tents and people—on deckchairs, eating breakfast and cleaning their teeth at the side of the road.

Respect to anyone who endures the mighty Alpe d’Huez; 13.9 km uphill climb along 21 bends. As well as the super-fit MAMILs (middle aged men in Lycra) we saw many of 70-year plus vintage, women and children. People were also running up, on ski-type rollerblades, tandems and strange bike contraptions like a cross-trainer at the gym. I reveled in the rare occasion of cyclists playing king of the road, taking priority over motor vehicles and pedestrians. Sydney, along with many other cities, should take a good look.

On the first day we descended to the foot of the mountain where Bourg d’Oisans lay. A cute little town; reminiscent of Keswick in the Lake District, England where my husband, Phil is from. It was teeming with cycling fanatics. The clip clop of cleats at cafes was like a chorus of dedication, determination and sweat. A circus, according to the Aussie’s on the table next to me. I liked it. It was buzzing. Everyone was excited to be here for the greatest race on earth. The Tour de France 100th.

Bourg d'Oisans

While Phil started his grueling ascent of Alpe d’Huez, with raging jetlag, I took root at a café where I sat for hours, sipping café au lait, munching my way through pain au chocolat, followed by croquet monsieur — dripping with oozy cheese, washed down with copious amounts of ice cold eau minerale, and trying out my school-girl French. Marred by injury I had been unable to train to climb Alpe d’Huez with him. I felt like the odd one out, there were cyclists everywhere. Italians, distinctive by their suntans and ability to look hot and stylish at any age. Groups of lean MAWILs: Middle Aged Women in Lyrca. The non-serious MAMILs with generous paunches smoked and drank beer at lunchtime. Whereas the competitors were the sinewy machines, with gaunt faces and shaven legs, who looked like they needed a good feed.

Phil Alpe d%22huez climb

As a fierce anti-smoker the smoking at cafes got my hackles up but I tried to let it go and soak up the joie de vivre of France. Part of its charm was to break rules and laissez-faire. As a country of camping enthusiasts there were no camping restrictions. I soon remembered not to step out onto a pedestrian crossing. Buses didn’t run to timetable but the bonus was you could flag them down anywhere.

On the day of The Tour the cloud clung to the mountains. The place was abuzz with people; playing French boules, zipping overhead on the ski lifts, which take you to breathtaking walks around the peak. There was the usual queue at the patisserie and crowded souvenir shops. Flags of every nationality, particularly European, lined the bends along the mountain that were crammed with half a million fans. Horns blared, drums banged, Euro trash music blared. It was the Ibiza or Glastonbury for cyclists. Ambulances flew up the mountain, tooting cars dodged amateur cyclists that continued to stream uphill, cheered and heckled by the crowd, until only an hour before the big race.

We pitched our spot at bend one, near the top. A popular vantage point, with sweeping views of two bends below and glimpses of the church spire at Dutch corner. By mid morning it was packed with people behind the barriers, spilling onto grassy banks, reclining on camping chairs, picnicking and waiting. Campers lit fires and dogs ran about the mountainside. I love that the French are a nation of dog lovers. They were everywhere, of every kind, in hotels, restaurants, trains and peeping out of tents. I saw two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels just like my two and was just as excited about the dogs as I was about the race.

The road was treacherously wet. British cyclist, Christopher Froome was in the lead overall with the yellow jersey and king of the mountains status. We hoped he wouldn’t encounter any setbacks in the way of spills and flat tyres. The Tour is so unpredictable.

Froome

The caravans came through around 2 pm, along with the sunshine. The hills erupted in excitement. People squabbled like vultures over tacky merchandise flung from the carnival floats.  A giant inflatable Chris Froome sailed by next to Mickey Mouse and girls on horseback and skis.

When two helicopters hovered overhead and the motorbike and car appeared we could hear Dutch corner, a few bend below us, go wild. The breakaways came first around 3.30 pm. I got so close I almost head butted a few gangly pros approaching. As they hugged the barriers, I could smell their sweat, rolling off them. They looked like they were grinning but I realized they were grimacing in pain. There were the gurners, eyes bulging — digging deep in the recesses of their minds to find the strength to endure.

Sagan

Van Garderen from USA was leading the first ascent. Froome, overall leader was at the head of the main peloton.  Spaniard Contador tried to attack on the narrow dangerous descent from Alpe d’Huez along Col de Serenne to Bourg d’Oisans. We waited another hour and a half. This year, being the centurion, the riders ascended Alpe d’Huez twice.

 

To our surprise Van Garderen was still leading on the second ascent. Froome was still at the front of the peloton after the few breakaways. French Riblon won the 18th stage at Alpe d’Huez.

Van Garderen

The day following the tour Phil couldn’t resist a second crack at Alpe d’Huez. He descended via Col de Serenne, apparently an even more spectacular scenic route, where the pros had cycled. Followed by an ascent of Alpe d’Huez to attempt to beat his first time of one hour and twenty minutes. Meanwhile I decided to kick myself into gear. All these sweaty cyclists made me feel guilty and lazy.  So I walked down the mountain. It took two and a half hours and I rewarded myself with a hearty lunch and an afternoon siesta. I was aching for the rest of the day whereas he suffered no muscle soreness or fatigue!

Thankfully after all the cycling of pros and amateurs whilst negotiating crowds of half a million there were minimal accidents at The Tour. Phil didn’t fall off and my only casualty was getting hit in the mouth by a German flagpole on my walking descent of Alpe d’Huez.

With one stage to go it’s looking almost certain Chris Froome will take the glorious yellow jersey into Paris. We will be there cheering him on the Champs- Élysées to complete a unique trip of a lifetime.

 

It’s All About The Bike

Featured

MAMILs photo

What motivates someone to get up at 5 am to put their body through a grueling 100 km bike ride of physical pain and mental endurance?

A large proportion of men, and women in increasing numbers, willingly do. They’re known as MAMILs or Middle-Aged Men In Lyrca. My husband, Phil is one of them. He and his friend, Jamie are like Batman and Robin. They compare bike bling, equipment, chat about Strava records (like Facebook for bikers; to track race times), butt butter and sending out messages to other cyclists as they put down the pedal to smash personal best times. Like any subculture they have their own language. There’s the Weekend Warriors who go for the burn only on weekends. Or the Diehards who discipline themselves during the week as well, and Super-Diehards who take it to competition level. Not sure which category Batman and Robin fit into yet but I think they’re past the Weekend Warrior stage.

A non-MAMIL friend, Andy, calls Phil the bike pusher because he recruits unsuspecting newbie riders into the MAMILs cult. Andy, unconverted, often asks Phil, ‘What’s it all about? What are you trying to prove?’ My thoughts precisely. So I asked a few road biking enthusiasts what motivates them to pound the concrete on those skinny tyres, risking life and limb among Sydney’s discourteous drivers.

The first thing you notice is the bulge, sorry I mean the bike bling. It is a very specific dress code. No surprise that Sydney siders take it seriously, given their competitive nature at everything else. If you don’t have the right gear you’re considered a novice and, therefore, a safety threat. Nobody wants to ride close to the back wheel ‘out of the wind’ as the lingo goes, of someone they don’t trust.  According to Jamie, ‘the uber fanatical will worry about; the height of one’s socks (long socks are generally regarded as a pro look!); getting their obscure European branded cycling cap at just the right angle for mid ride cafe wear (if done correctly it’s a homage to riders of the 60s and 70s) and the correct matching of knicks and jersey. If you see any of the above you will most likely have a safe and competent riding companion on the roads.’ Dead give aways of the novice, he said are: having a pump attached to the frame; too baggy a jersey; too big a helmet; too low a saddle or high bars; pedalling too fast or too slow; sweating too much or just generally looking like you’re trying too hard, including vomiting at the roadside, which he did a lot when he first started. He avoids anyone with the above — they are likely a menace on the roads. So beginners take note.

MAMIL bling

Another friend, Jim, who just joined the MAMILs — well he bought the bib and brace, that resembles Borat’s mankini, as a starting point, said, ‘My girlfriend doesn’t know what to do with herself when I put that outfit on, she doesn’t know if to call the police or what.’ I’m thinking it could be the polka-dotted crotch.

There’s no doubt there’s been an explosion in cycling and triathlons in recent years, especially among men and women of a certain age. A lot of runners get into cycling because of their knees. An average 3.6 million ride their bike more than once a week in Australia, with 1.1 million of those in Victoria. Not surprising this state are the biggest pedal nuts given the cycling-friendly flat landscape and infrastructure of Melbourne’s bike lanes and tracks.

A lot of inspiration for cycling comes from the greatest race on earth; the Tour de France. Cadel Evans’ victory of the Tour in 2011 provided a role model and huge incentive for Australians, and Bradley Wiggins’ win in 2012 inspired Brits (Sydney is full of them) to get on their bikes. Maybe they’re trying to emulate ‘The glory, suffering and soul of the Tour de France’[1]. But it has to be more than that. Is it also pride, ego, and proving they’re still got it?

What a surprise, Phil turns 40 this year. He has set himself the goal of climbing the iconic Alpe d’Huez, in the Alps in July where we’ll watch the Tour de France centurion. Yep that’s the mountain with 21 hairpin bends, traversing uphill for over 13 km. That’s a red flag way of proving you’re not over the hill yet – if you’ll pardon the pun. So he’s been training like a mad man for that. Though he doesn’t shave the legs yet and neither has he become teetotal so he’s not quite at the Diehard stage.

What about the WAGs of these MAMILs? We bike widows have to endure the early weekend wake ups and play second fiddle to the carbon beast. You know it’s a serious obsession when cycling comes before social events; when an early night to be fit for a ride is more important than a late boozy one. He’s lucky. I understand about having dreams. He’s approaching 40 – not that that’s old I hasten to add, as I cling onto the last year of my 30s, but in competitive cycling it’s not young either. I believe anything is possible, and it’s crossed my mind I’m projecting some of my ambition onto him, but in a society where 40 is the new 30, and 30 the new 20, there are, thankfully, no age limits to success, achievement, and fun for that matter.

You’re no longer too old for extreme sports by 30 or 40, and expected to take up golf to ease into respectable retirement. Cycling has overtaken golf as the new sport for business executives. Sitting at a desk for 10 hours a day presents no physical challenge, risk or excitement. They get the adrenalin rush from work stress and that needs to be quelled somehow. Cycling, like any exercise, is a great stress reliever but is there an imbalance with this adrenalin-fuelled life; toiling all week at work then subjecting their bodies to a brutal bike ride at the weekend? Perhaps high achievers at work are equally as ambitious in other aspects of their lives. No surprise that cyclists tend to be of the AB demographic — in other words, cashed up.

Jamie, aka Batman, mentioned all cyclists are angry; they’re battling inner demons and that’s what fuels the impetus. Having read Lance Armstrong’s autobiography It’s Not About the Bike (now moved to the fiction section in bookstores), I appreciated what an unbelievable athlete he was — to have beaten cancer, made a comeback and won all those Tours — and now we understand why it was so unbelievable. What struck me most though was my lack of empathy for him as a person. He presented as a very selfish, aggressive man, highly driven by self-motivation, ego and anger; the essential force that kept his fire burning and wheels turning.

Does cycling require a certain uncompromising personality? It’s both a team sport but, more so for amateurs, a solitary sport, though a lot of the MAMIL brigade enjoy the social side of it. Even my mother in law commented that ‘only a pretty unusual person with a screw loose would to want to ride those races.’  Was she talking about her son? But he’s not an angry man with inner demons, and neither is he a stressed out office worker. He’s just unusual. Or not, as the story goes — with more MAMILs joining the Weekend Warrior craze; gathering at cafés in multi-coloured gaggles, clinking shoes and embarrassing bulges — that we ladies try and fail to avert our gaze from. I wonder if some of them don’t ride at all but just put on the bling and head down for a cappuccino with the MAMIL crew. He’s a guy who wants to challenge himself, physically and mentally. And who can object to that? There are worse obsessions and midlife crises to have.

The 2013 Tour de France has just kicked off and we’re gearing up for Alpe d’Huez. Put down the pedal Robin and send out a message, we’re not over the hill yet!

REFERENCES

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/sport-active/getting-on-your-bike/story-fnc9wiz4-1226493918983

http://www.theroar.com.au/2012/01/11/will-cycling-bask-in-evans-glory-or-sink-like-americas-cup/

http://theconversation.com/australian-cycling-boom-nope-its-a-myth-8020

http://cyclingtips.com.au

Sarah Edworthy, Dave Brailsford, The Official Team Sky book of the 2012 Tour de France 21 Days to Glory, HarperCollins 2012

 

 


[1] Sarah Edworthy, Dave Brailsford, The Official Team Sky book of the 2012 Tour de France 21 Days to Glory, HarperCollins 2012

Confessions of a Salsa Addict

Image

Pascale salsa pic1Moro

left image: Pascale Dernacoure                                             right image: El Moro

As soon as I stepped into that room my life changed. The addiction began. The vibrant pulse of Latin music hit me sideways, sparking an old familiar fire in my belly that instantly burst into flames, filling my whole body, pulsing in my ears, making my blood swim, banging in my heart, making it beat quicker than it had in months, years. The gleaming wooden floors squeaked and clopped to the chorus of stamping heels (everyone had the dance shoes); a rainbow of colour and fabric – sparkly silver and gold, black satin, skin-coloured with ballet ribbons, snake skin, shimmering midnight blue, fire engine red, burnt sunset orange. My eyes drank them in greedily, like a magpie, as the advanced salsettes twisted and turned, spun and dipped to the rhythmic beat of the clave. 123 567. I was captivated by the teacher, Pascale Dernacoure. Her hips and shoulders shimmied effortlessly like rippling water. She was ultra stylish: a professional dancer with elfin blonde hair and perfectly applied make up. I wanted to dance like her, I wanted the silver shoes. I had something to aspire to again.

My mind and body were totally absorbed in the music, the rhythm, the sheer joy of the synchronised body movement, the novelty of dancing with a partner. I saw a new me in the studio mirrors, smiling and flushed. Not the me with lilac-tinged bags like bruises under my eyes, carrying the weight of my grief from ten years of fertility struggles.  Learning these new and unfamiliar dance steps took all of my concentration and energy. I was captivated, right there in the moment. From the very first salsa lesson I was hooked. I went obsessively every Sunday. Even when I didn’t feel like going, it whisked me away to forgotten dreams. I hurried to put my shoes on, fumbling to fasten the sparkly diamante buckles over the black satin T bar, so the escapism I craved could begin. The smell of my anticipation, wood, minty breath and sweat was intoxicating. My life had just begun.

At first social dancing was intimidating on several levels. Out of the practiced repertoire of the class situation, I didn’t know the guy or what sequence of steps he was going to do so I had to learn to trust my partner, trust myself, learn to let go, follow his lead and have fun. The standard was so high; I felt I’d never progress but more than anything the desire to improve fed my addiction. Pascale, my teacher agrees the addiction takes hold, for many, once they’ve got over the initial hump of being a self-conscious beginner. They’re propelled by the natural spirit of human competition, of wanting to be as good as the teachers and professionals on the dance floor doing their tricks and spins. When you see those seemingly impossible sequences then a few weeks later you discover you CAN do them, it’s inspiring and this instills self-belief. As you become more proficient at the steps your body relaxes and the movement becomes fluid. This newfound confidence, according to Pascale, extends beyond the dance floor. I found myself being inspired to pursue goals in other areas of my life that I’d put on hold during the ‘trying in vain to have a baby’ years.

Pascale observes how salsa attracts different personality types and is intrigued by how personality is reflected in the way people dance. A guy who is a rough dance lead is often domineering whereas a really limp leader is usually passive or lacking in confidence. Equally, it’s easy to spot the women who are strong or control freaks. It’s common for ladies to lack trust, partly because our culture promotes independence for women but also because they are not familiar with partner dancing. The movement tells a story; revealing personality, mood and feeling, culture and life.

Salsa definitely attracts divas, extroverts, exhibitionists and addictive personalities but also, surprisingly; it draws introverted wallflowers in equal numbers. Shy guys who wouldn’t dare chat to someone in a bar gain confidence on the dance floor as they share intimacy through non-verbal communication; body language, eye contact, self-expression. ‘Would you like to dance?’ is a simple hand gesture.

Kon, a charismatic guy with an addictive personality, discovered the benefits of salsa when he suffered a stroke. Prior to the stroke he indulged in a hedonistic lifestyle with a daily dose of alcohol and recreational drugs as an antidote to his high-flying stressful job. He claimed salsa helped enormously with his incredible rehabilitation after his stroke. Learning the steps has been helpful in restoring his memory and hand-to-eye coordination. Pascale believes the biggest therapy is building new neural pathways in the brain. Kon now feeds his salsa addiction almost every night; maintaining his fitness, social life and keeping stress levels down all in one hit, without drugs.

My new dancer friend, Rachel (name changed[1]) was recovering from a painful divorce. She found solace in salsa and the new social life that went with it. Being part of a community and experiencing intimacy through dance without the pressure of dating or chat- up agenda was liberating. Sydney has an exciting salsa scene, comparable with other major cities like Paris, New York and LA. Like me, Rachel took full advantage of the availability of salsa socials, which were on every night of the week. She developed the confidence and independence to go alone, knowing she would recognise people there. It was an escape from her problems and a welcome stress relief. Salsa has been more successful for Rachel and I in creating happiness and improving self-esteem than any counselling or therapy.

Salsa arrived as a welcome saviour, bringing me back to life but it eventually caused problems in my marriage. My husband was relieved my depression had lifted but he was resentful and threatened by the new version of me that emerged: the teenager with an enthusiasm for short skirts, heels, lipstick and going out dancing all the time. He thought I was having a mid-life crisis (he could have been right!), or looking for a new man. My hobby did involve late nights, dressing to the nines, and being in the intimate company of men. In his head the salsa scene was a bunch of single people out to pick up.

You’d think his resentment would have spurred him on to join me but he resisted for a long time. Like a lot of western men, he wasn’t accustomed to dancing, and certainly not with a partner. The rhythm and hip movement doesn’t come naturally and he admits the self-consciousness is on a par with public speaking. There’s a widespread perception in our culture, reflected in the media, of salsa being an erotic, frivolous past time for gays, Latinos and divorcees. The clichéd portrayal whiffs of desperation, with comical stereotypes of snake-hipped Latino men in tight satin pants – think John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and young single girls in short twirling skirts. In Cuba, the roots of salsa, dance is not eroticized but is an intrinsic part of their culture.

Eventually I persuaded my husband to learn salsa. The negotiation was that I purchased a road bike (his obsession) and all the Lycra bling, to train with him and do his dream climb: Alpe d’Huez, where we’ll watch the Tour de France, as part of a trip to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. A fair exchange I thought, until I realised that his dream involved a grueling 13-kilometre ride uphill traversing 21 hairpin bends – attempted only by professionals and over-zealous kamikazes. He’s still a salsa beginner, stepping on my toes as we practice, but it’s a start. I’ve told him he has to be proficient enough to dance with me in Paris for our anniversary. His hips are starting to move and I think I can detect a determination starting to take root – in the set of his mouth and the intense concentration in his eyes.

I assumed that the revival in salsa was partly a result of reality TV shows like Celebrity Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance. On reflection I think its popularity is more about people craving connection with others. Growing up in the 70s and 80s with disco, then clubbing in my teens and twenties, I never had the opportunity to dance with a partner. With society becoming less sociable, people are increasingly time poor and use technology: SMS, email and Facebook, to communicate, society is losing its kinesthetic awareness. Salsa provides an opportunity to connect on a different level. It liberates people from the rules, structure and stresses of work, associated with survival and the mental realm. It gets people out of their heads and literally into their bodies: into feeling, engaging with their senses and with other people.

If lack of intimacy and experience in partner dancing is symptomatic of our individualistic western culture, this is the antithesis of Cuban culture. In Cuba, salsa is a street dance for all ages. Many Cubans are taught to dance by friends at school, partners and siblings, rather than formally at dance schools, though that is changing now they realise that salsa, along with other traditional dance forms, entice tourists seeking an authentic Cuban experience.

Graydis, a professional Cuban dance teacher, who I had the pleasure of being taught by once, says the way Cubans dance is deeply ingrained in the fibres and essence of their culture, history and genes; the way they dance reflects how they live. They walk with that slow hip wiggle because of the hot climate. They stand, one hip jutting out, hand on hip, telling the husband off for coming in late or not cooking dinner. ‘Boobs to heaven, bum to hell’ is how she described the women’s posture. In other words, chest lifted, bottom protruding. The posture makes the woman look attractive, it may sound sexist but SHE is the boss.

These clearly defined traditional gender roles play out in the dance. During lessons, El Moro, the Cuban teacher, tells the ladies to stand proudly, moving to the music, looking sexy whilst waiting for the guy to ‘collect’ her. The guy must lead strongly and take charge. He gets frustrated if a girl tries to anticipate or doesn’t follow the lead properly! It’s an interesting dynamic for an independent western girl. That said, it’s clear that for Cubans the woman, though the follower, has an enigmatic power over the man and the feeling is not at all of diminished power and subordination.

Kasia, a friend I met through dancing, made similar observations when she travelled to Cuba. She loved the way Cuban men treated women. They were very complimentary but not in a sleazy or threatening way. Their appreciation and celebration of women and their important role in society was apparent on International Women’s Day. Men of all ages congratulated her. There were no inhibitions, fear or lack of confidence for men asking women to dance either. It was very natural to them; a part of their culture and upbringing. A Cuban friend said to her ‘if you don’t dance in high school you’re lonely, and if you don’t dance after that you’re either a recluse or not Cuban!’

The discovery of Cuban salsa is my latest addiction. Each week my heart quickens as I approach Bar 100, the dance venue in The Rocks. Butterflies soon transform into a feeling of liberation. We could be in Cuba; the humidity of Sydney’s summer clings like fog to the salty air, the music and the teacher, El Moro, originally from Havana, provide the authentic experience.

El Moro says Cuban salsa is organic; it’s an expression of how you feel. Salsa was something that was ‘born in him’ at the age of 20, a late starter by Cuban standards. He used to work in a factory and saw dance as an opportunity, a new start, it awoke something latent in him. His alpha male physical presence and teaching style reflect the Cuban personality and culture. His angular face speaks elegance, his posture confidence, grace and energy. No surprise that Michael Jackson was a huge musical influence on him growing up (more so than Latin music, which is unusual for Cubans). He is very Michael Jacksonesque in his white felt cap – the trademark of all male Cuban salsa teachers, and his array of spangly animal print dance shoes. Like Jackson, El Moro moves smoothly like silk, noble as a cat, gliding fluidly across the dance floor, with an easy wave-like rhythm that we try to emulate – which comes, not just from years of practice and dedication, but also from his Cuban roots.

 El Moro seizes the opportunity for fun and humour in class, mimicking and exaggerating our errors in a comical way. I remember one class when a little dog randomly bounded through the centre of the dance floor. ‘Quick Helen’, he shouted, ‘you have a new man, grab your new dance partner’.

He leads us to dance Rueda, a form of Cuban salsa and an expression of its heritage. Rueda is a game; if someone makes a mistake they are ‘out’ so there is a process of elimination with a winner at the end. It’s fun and playful, we clap hands, we smile and laugh. It’s like being a child again.

Travel plans to South America are underway: salsa in Cuba and tango in Argentina – for mine and my husband’s fortieth birthdays.

I wonder what it will smell like in Cuba? I can feel the sticky tropical air clawing my skin as we dance on narrow cobbled streets under a moonlit sky, with whispering palms and coconuts jangling in the breeze to the beat. Beads of happy sweat trickle down our backs in a Havana nightclub – me in my silver shoes and red dress. The sharpness of lime meshed with the sweetness of rum and fresh mint fizz.

 


[1] Name changed to protect privacy

ENDNOTES

To find classes in Sydney visit http://www.sydneysalsascene.com

or contact one of my dance teachers below in the interviewees list, Pascale for LA salsa and El Moro for Cuban salsa:

Interviewees

El Moro

Buena Vista Dance Cuban Academy

http://www.buenavistadance.com.au/contact-us

Interview conducted via Skype on Friday 29 March 2013

Pascale Dernocoure

Life of Dance

Pascale.d@live.com

http://www.lifeofdance.com

Interview conducted in person on Friday 22 March 2013 at Pasta Zu, Mosman

Kasia Gurgul

Interview conducted in person on Monday 1 April 2013

Kon Betpeara

Interview conducted by phone on Thursday 28 March 2013

Other References

Vivas dance magazine and website: http://www.vivaz.net.au

You Tube – Black Roots of Salsa http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HywjkqmxjRo

http://www.salsa-dancing-addict.com/history-of-salsa.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f43QcdSMuU The History of Salsa Dancing Part 1 – Afro Caribbean origins

http://www.salsadancing.cc/casino-rueda/

http://www.salsabeatltd.com/benefits.htm

http://www.salsacrazy.com/salsanews/2008/03/10/the-seven-amazing-and-crazy-benefits-to-dance-salsa-dancing-in-particular/

http://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/sites/default/files/Journal/2003-2006/Vol_16_2_2004_fall/10_Renta_p138-157.pdf

 http://www.ausdance.com.au