The fourth in the “Defining Moments: Search for Identity Series.” This one comes to us from educator and writer, Cindy Tovar. Read more of her personal blog, Hispanecdotes and follow her on Facebook and Twitter, @Dagny32

The music is blasting, the lights are dim, and I’m in my element. My eyes search the crowd, looking for someone who can show me a good time. I look for the right signs: a man moving his hips rhythmically, a man whose eyes are searching the crowd with the same urgency as mine, or if I’m really desperate, at least a man who is taller than I am.

I find one standing alone across the bar, and move quickly. Wouldn’t want him to find someone else. Not for this song.

I smile and stretch out my hand. “Do you want to dance?” I ask, not worried about rejection. I’ve only been turned down once. (That jerk!)

But I wasn’t always so bold on the dance floor.

Oh, I’d always loved to dance, but I was about eleven years old when I realized that “dancing in your own way” was only cute in front of your

So I stopped dancing. At least in public.

I wasn’t exactly popular as a child. I was more of a nerd, and extremely shy. My appearance, with crooked bangs that I insisted on cutting myself, large glasses, and a mouth full of metal, didn’t help my case either. Thankfully, over time, the glasses and braces came off and I finally realized that just because I cut Barbie’s hair, that didn’t qualify me as a hair stylist. But I was still shy and felt that, besides my good grades, I had nothing going for me.

pictureWhen I was fourteen, something happened during a family trip to Colombia that changed my life. I remember walking into my aunt’s living room where my older cousin was listening to music while working on a school project. My body started moving to the music, almost on its own as it always does, and I danced a few steps when my cousin looked up and said, “That’s not how you dance salsa.”

I stopped moving. He hadn’t said it in a mean way, but I was still embarrassed.  “No?”

He decided, right then and there, to give me a dance lesson. The first thing he did was show me the difference between salsa and merengue, which up until then I’d just lumped together under the category of “Spanish music.” The actual teaching part didn’t take long at all: I learned the basic salsa step in just a few minutes, and laughed at how simple it was to dance merengue. It seemed I had a knack for it.

He gave me one short lesson, but it was all I needed to get started. I returned from Colombia a changed person, with a new found appreciation for “Spanish music” and a renewed love of dancing. Suddenly, La Mega was my favorite radio station, and the small Latino music stores I’d always walked past became my paradise. Somehow, by practicing the steps and singing the songs, I felt a connection with my culture that I’d never felt before.

Through music and dance, I was slowly able to come out of my shell.  I met other people who loved dancing as much as I did, and partying with them made it bailandoeasier to meet other Latin-music lovers, as well as giving me a chance to learn new moves. I even joined a salsa dance group. And the best part for an introvert like me?  When you dance with a cute guy, you don’t have to say much. You know, because you’re too busy dancing!

It was only a few moments of someone’s time, but it made a huge difference in my life. Up until then, I had felt like a nobody. It turns out, I just needed to find something I was really good at to give me the confidence to feel like I could be a somebody.


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