I lived in Denver for ten years and always dreamed about it, but I somehow never had the time or the guts.

But I moved to a small town in southern Colorado where’s there’s little to do except feed the horses, and I don’t have any horses.

So I took up salsa dancing. Finally.

I cannot dance. I can’t do the Macarena or the Hustle. An eight-year old just taught me (this week) the Electric Slide. I would constantly turn down men who asked me to dance down because I was embarrassed or scared for his toes.

I was tired of offending men and ascribing to Billy Idol’s mantra of Dancing with Myself. So last winter I found myself a partner and signed up for some Latin dance classes at the local college. It turned out to be a very well spent $160.

As a kid I took ballet and sat in on my sister’s tap and jazz classes. I did this until ballet turned to pointe, which I think meant dancing on your toes. I didn’t think my Fred Flintstone feet could handle the pressure so I bowed out. Fast forward 30 years.

Our instructor was a native Venezuelan, who probably played salsa while I was playing cowboys and Indians. Our first night we learned the merengue and its history. I like history because it explains things. We learned, accurately or not, that the merengue was a creation by Carribean slaves who wanted to dance but couldn’t lift their manacled feet. Hence the merengue was born. It’s a simple dance, with a one-two/left-right pattern. You can do all kinds of fancy turns in the merengue because the footwork is so simple. We spent half of our time learning the merengue.

Our next dance style was the bachata. I thought it was machata until I looked it up. Our dance instructor called the bachata a conversation between two people, and its footwork is fancier than the merengue: a one-two-three-four footwork pattern either out to the side or back and forth. The merengue had been easy, but turning and keeping the bachata’s footwork pattern while turning was my first hurdle. I went home and practiced until I got it.

In fact, my partner and I were practicing as often as we could: at bars, at friend’s houses, on the sidewalks. We were learning and having fun and were constantly patting ourselves on the backs for being the overachievers in the class.

Mariachi music drives me crazy (as does zydeco and too much bluegrass), but the music of this dance class was catchy and, yes, sexy. It makes you want to move your hips. Check out iTunes radio and click on the Latin station for a sample: merengue, bachata, and salsa.

A month into the class one of the female instructors in the class brought attention to my footwear. I’m a clog person and have been so for almost 20 years. My Flintstone feet fit easily into these wide-toed shoes. But without ankle straps, I was making dancing difficult for myself. I needed heel support. Serious about my endeavor to become a competent dancer, I went out and bought black pumps at WalMart–yes, I know, I hate WalMart too, but the nearest good shoe store was 75 miles away so cut me some slack.

At this point our instructor introduced the salsa to us. He would usually do this about an hour into the class when only the diehards were left. The salsa became my favorite because of its crispness. There are different variations but Mr. Caracas taught us the one-two-three pattern with one foot, followed by a slight pause (four) and a five-six-seven with the other foot. Salsa, unlike the other two dances, really requires that you listen and feel the music. You’ve got to listen for the cowbell (thank you, Mr. Walken) and step back when you do. Only the dedicated or talented stuck around to learn salsa. I was of the former.

In fact, I was itching to watch Dirty Dancing again because I’m pretty sure I was learning the same dances as Baby. I wanted to watch and listen as Patrick Swayze gave her directions on how to become a dancer in a few days’ time.

One night we took our class out on the road to a local spot. It was our first chance to perform without the confines of a class or learning a new move. When the salsa came on, our instructor brought me (as one of the dedicated ones) out to the dance floor. The cool thing about the salsa is that you can keep time by stomping your feet. Soon a crowd had gathered around us like a bad seventies show. He kept it simple, and I was able to follow. The crowd cheered at the song’s end.

I was euphoric. These people had no idea that four weeks ago I thought salsa was a condiment. I had done over 200 steps in a span of four minutes and hadn’t crushed anyone’s toes. I had arrived.

Now I’m an addict. I just moved back to Denver and am looking for a salsa night. My mother found one back in Rhode Island, where I’ll be for most of July.

Oh yeah, and my twentieth high school reunion is coming up. From tomboy toe-crusher to salsa queen. And it only took twenty years.

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