The First Salsa

An unfamiliar dance leads to attraction and reaction

By Hyun Joo Chung
Published on LatinoLA: August 1, 2002

The First Salsa

He was sitting there on the steps in front of the exit.

I was sick of dancing to 90s music so I exited out of the dark Gardner dining room where my Smith College friends were giggling and dancing in the usual circle; not one had the desire nor the confidence to ask one of the wallflowers decorated on the edge of the dance floor.

I was walking to the restroom when I recognized a face I had seen few days ago at the Davis Center. He noticed my eye contact and returned the look with a smile. It was as though his face became a light bulb and brightened as though it was suddenly Christmas.

His black eyelashes and brown eyes just seemed to reach me in its bright twinkle. But I also recognized the brown suede jacket he wore when he sashayed his hips in front of at least fifty Smith students on the day I first saw him.

The music had been playing fast beats. ?50 dollars!? ?100 dollars!? ?200 dollars!? one Smith student had yelled and raised her paddle, who was seated right behind where I had been seated. At the last amount, a large, penetrating gasp had shattered the Davis Ballroom. Such waste of money! Such excess! Where was the sanity? And now, this dancing bachelor was sitting here and there were no other Smith student nearby shouting bids. He smiled. My heart stopped. But I urged myself to move forward and I also remembered a childhood story of The Little Engine That Could: if the feisty engine could do it, then so could I.

?Hi, I?m Kathryn,? I introduced myself. ?Hey,? he answered, and I was mesmerized by his low and mellifluously sweet deep voice. ?So, what?s your name?? I asked, desperate to cover any embarrassing pauses. He said his name, which did not remain in my memory too long. ?Oh, nice to meet you.?

?So, how do you like Smith?? I asked.

?I like it.?

He told me he was going to the after-party at Morrow House. This was Spring Weekend at Smith College, with various social dance events held at the campus center or in various dormitories on campus. It was Friday night and the choices were to attend the Spring Ball decorated in silvery sham at the Davis Center or two Quad dances at Jordan and Gardner. I was in Gardner.

?Can I go with you?? I asked.


I grabbed my coat and I left.

Morrow House was directly across Gardner. The house was lit. The music grew louder as we walked. ?I love dancing to Latin music,? he mentioned. ?I love salsa and merengue.? ?Do you like to dance?? he asked, his face turned to me.

?Yes. But I don?t know how to dance the ones you mentioned. You can teach me,? I hesitantly suggested. He grabbed my hand and I was growing in anxiety.

I placed my coat down. We approached the dining room that was now filled with dancing couples and loud bursts of trumpet of salsa music. ?Let?s dance,? he suggested excitedly, and his face brightened even more, probably because of the dynamic salsa music he adored. Again, the hands were joined.

His salsa hips were lethal. This is evidence of how much I was attracted to this guy. I very much tried to imitate his complex footwork and the hip movements that are part of salsa dancing.

My hips were not meant for this sort of hardship.

They could not perform round circles like he could And my brain just could not handle the overload of instructions of trying to get my feet to movement in symmetric complement.

?Oh, I am so sorry,? I begged in apology after I suddenly stepped on his foot after whispering to myself ?So far, so good? -- but that was instantly shattered. But he was either very amused that I was willing to try this hard to make an idiot of myself for him.

He nodded and grinned in encouragement but I was dying for some instant disappearance. But some deity must have heard my lamentations or felt sorry for me because the music then hanged to hip-hop music, a familiar genre of music that did not make me dance like an idiot or require Olympian efforts from my hips.

I enjoyed the fact that he was great dance partner. His hands were warm and soothing and great to hold. His embrace was more soothing than a cup of cocoa. I was no longer nervous because he was a very handsome guy. I did not notice someone whisper something in his ear.

?Wait here, I gotta go,? he said, suddenly. I feared the worst. I pondered: ?What had I done? Did that look that stupid on the dance floor? Did he find a better dancer who could actually dance salsa??

He returned after five minutes, a time calculated because one song passed by without him.

He then took my hands and returned me to his close, comforting embrace that was warmer than a blanket. I was lost in the music. I was slightly out of rhythm. But I did not care.

We danced until the last song when the DJ threatened everyone to evacuate.

About Hyun Joo Chung:
Hyun Joo Chung is a rising sophomore at Smith College. She loves Los Angeles and does not know whether she should return to the East Coast. So far, no man has been brave enough to ask this non-Latina to dance salsa. She is still impatiently waiting.

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