Last year I was living in Colombia, and while I had a language mission to speak any language despite location, and of course learn Colombian Spanish, one of my main projects in the country was actually to dance salsa.
I consider my languages to be a huge asset not so I can just say that I speak them, but because I have learned so many amazing things, had life-altering experiences and made some fantastic friends through these languages. Learning salsa with locals and the experiences I share in this brief video documentary would have been totally impossible for an English-only tourist.
You can see the video documenting my learning experience in English here:
Or watch it in Spanish instead here:
Based on recommendations from Dave, a friend of mine and blogger based in Medellín I found a great salsa school and instructor (note: my instructorhas since started her own school, so if you are in the city and want to get in touch, her address is Carrera 43a # 25-233 Poblado , loma de San Julian and her email is ytherrera AT hotmail DOTcom) and my typical day in Medellín included intensive salsa lessons there. Yamile, my instructor, was fun and a great friend and eased me into learning the essentials, while making sure I had a blast during the lessons thanks to her quirky sense of humour.
She especially liked playfully taking the piss out of how Peninsular my Spanish is! (When I said something particularly Spanish she’d tease me with joder tío, qué dizzzzes?) Despite that I’ve tried to sound a bit more Colombian in the Spanish version of the video.
Cali – my favourite place of the year
But I have to say that the highlight of the Colombian trip, and I’d go as far to say my entire year, was the short number of days that I spent in Cali, Colombia’s third city.
I stayed at Jovita’s hostel, which included free group salsa lessons (as shown in the video), that I followed up with private lessons. The owners of the hostel brought me out on the town with them and made sure that I got to see a side of Cali that I’d never forget.
As a lone traveller, it usually takes a while before I meet people willing to bring me so deep into their social circle, but after just meeting them, Katy and Carlos could see that I was genuinely interested in getting to know the residents and culture of the city and introduced me to so many incredible caleños and took me out with them to several great venues.
This included an amazing dancing competition for the school associated with the salsa lessons, Son de Luz. The dance school is an important part of the community, giving the poor children of the city something to work towards. You can see in the video how talented they were. Salsa is literally getting them off the streets as they make something of their lives.
Imagine my surprise when Jenni (my instructor), Carlos and Katy had arranged for me to dance in front of the judges and the very experienced dancers! With 10 seconds notice, and everyone cheering the only foreigner in the building on, I didn’t really have much of a choice! So I gave my camera to someone and luckily had an excellent end to the above video, since all my other attempts to record real dancing (outside of lessons) were in too poorly lit dance clubs.
It’s the most intensive memory-filled experience I’ve had in a city considering the short time I spent there – I’m used to bouncing from one place to another all the time, but me costó mucho to finally leave Cali.
I hope culturally relevant asides like this hint as to why I am so passionate to get people to stop focusing on over-studying of their languages and start using them. The other foreigners you see briefly in the group lesson had a weak level of Spanish, but they were trying to understand the teacher anyway and actually learning to dance well because they were focused on communication rather than hiding away behind their doubts until they spoke it perfectly.
They were using the language in a real life situation before they were “ready”.
THIS is what it’s all about for me. A language is a means to an end. If that end is just to say “I speak Spanish” with no use for it, then in my opinion it’s an empty achievement no matter how good your level may be.
Let me know what you think of this video and anything else in the comments below!