I’ve always been shy when I meet people. I tend to be quiet and let myself hang in the background until someone speaks to me first. Then things go one of two ways: scenario one, the person says something that I can relate to and suddenly I’m as outgoing and friendly as anyone else; scenario two, they go off on a tangent about something I have never heard of and/or have no interest in and I get about as awkward as Kristen Stewart in an interview.
I’m not especially skilled at making conversation myself, so it drops off when I can’t think of anything to say. The person wanders off and I usually end up completely convinced that they think I’m a crazy person.
My first semester of college was the painful embodiment of scenario two. I wasn’t looking for a large group of friends, but in high school I’d met a few people whose personalities fit mine in just the right way. We had a thousand things in common and our conversations never awkwardly dropped off. I came to college thinking I’d find people like that right away. Instead I ended up binge-watching shows on Netflix, my standards for a good series getting lower and lower as I sped through all the good ones.
Finally, I decided that I was going to join a club–something I had wanted to do all along but hadn’t really gotten around to yet. I remembered a friend of my roommate’s once telling me about the salsa dancing club he was a part of and, despite my acute inability to be graceful, I decided to try it.
I could hear the club before I saw it; the salsa music and chatter told me I was in the right place as I hesitantly walked up to the Reitz Union. My ever-growing stage fright settled in my chest as I saw the vast number of people gathering around the breezeway, where the classes are held. At the beginning of the meeting, a few songs are played and everyone is free to dance (although it’s usually the more experienced dancers).
I remember observing everyone and nearly leaving right there and then. They were amazing. I watched, enthralled, by their turning and twisting and tapping bodies. They made it look so easy. There was no way I could do that, I thought. Ever. I don’t know why I stayed. Maybe pure curiosity was to blame. The ringing voice of one of the instructors snapped me out of my reverie.
The instructor asked first-timers to raise their hand—essentially, all those who had no idea what they were doing. We went to a corner of the breezeway where two different instructors showed us the very basics—stepping. Forward with your left, step in place with your right, back to the original position with the left, then back with the right, step in place with the left, and back to original position with the right. Repeat.
It was just fancy walking, and I managed to get even that mixed up, somehow finding it impossible to make the intermediate step in place on the right foot while having no trouble doing the same with my left. We moved onto a couple simple turns that I eventually conquered, with difficulty, and before I knew it, my first salsa class was over.
I felt strangely euphoric. What started as just something I would try quickly turned into a passion.
I came back twice a week to every class available. It took longer to get rid of the stepping difficulty than I care to admit, but eventually, I began progressing with the same group of students and soon formed a tight group of friends I now consider a second family. I now see them three or more times a week, for classes and socials and just spending time with each other. We learned that we had many things in common apart from salsa, like our sense of humor, games, TV shows, books, movies and such. Some of us have tried out other clubs together, and we’ve gotten groups together for game nights and movie nights.
In terms of my salsa skills, I learned not to stare at my feet constantly, and eventually became comfortable enough to know the basic steps without having to think. I’ve come from stumbling beginner classes to the intricate advanced class. Now I’m one of the people that dances before class, in those complicated, elaborate spins and dips. I’m even training to teach on my own and am a member of the extended e-board, becoming more and more involved with the club.
More importantly, I’ve gotten past my shyness and have become just as talkative and enthusiastic as anyone else. I can now follow and contribute to the conversations that used to make me falter. I feel confident interjecting my own opinion and being and acting like myself, rather than trying to tame my personality to fit society. I talk to complete strangers, advertising the club, and help new salsa students integrate comfortably in the club. We organize socials where people from other classes come to dance as well. I not only have found something I love to do, but have discovered a way to contribute to UF and help others along their path to self-discovery.
I’ve joined other clubs since, but salsa was the first since I came to college, and I will always have a particular love for it.