By Fatima Najm
As dance instructor Hamzat Brama demonstrates the dynamics of the salsa by twirling his petite partner almost fairy-like before bringing her back and then letting her go, it becomes quite clear that this man is one hell of an athlete. Bramo’s sport may not be about scoring goals, but scoring chicks is certainly a possibility.
“Watch me,” he says, propelling himself around the dance floor with his hips as he demonstrates the instructions again.
“Gladly!” titters a tall blonde in knee-high boots, hip skimming skirt and spray-on shirt. Her friends giggle and continue to sweep their eyes over Bramo’s physique.
He stops, the show’s over, and the aspiring dancers are left at the mercy of the multitude of male students that flock to the Organization of Latin American Students’ Latin dancing lessons held every Thursday and Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Oakham House.
Latin dancing stands elegantly poised at the intersection of sports and performing arts. The discipline, strategy and strenuous workout Latin dancing entails brings it closer to being a sport than most jocks would believe.
Coaching is also an important aspect of this rhythmic ritual.
Male students in the room are grilled by Bramo and other instructors in the art of leading their female partners through a series of perfectly timed twirls and synchronized steps which culminate into a complex routine.
It is at this point that I decide to join the frenzied fray of beginners and put the athletic aspects of this exotic experience to the test.
My first partner was so enamoured with carefully counting the steps of each combination that he spent the entire time alternating between scrutinizing our feet, and staring into space as he rhymed off the numbers.
My second partner was a finger-cruncher, a breed of beginners with whom I became intimately familiar while lighting up the Oakham dance floor.
He was so obsessed with the idea of controlling female movements that he held onto my hands so hard I heart my joints crack every time he wanted me to follow his movements.
I escaped potential injury when salsa veteran and third year architecture student Tom Smeirzchalki arrived to rescue me.
I joined Smeirzchalski on the advanced side of the room and realized advance students get the smooth wood paneled floor that is so much more conductive to the swirling sets of steps necessary to execute the salsa than the carpeting in the remainder of the Oakham lounge designated for rookies.
And we got to move in time to actual music.
The down side was that I was not surrounded by serious students of the salsa, cha cha cha and merengue, who were determined to get their routine right in their remaining hour.
Their incessant swirling drove me to dizzying depths of despair as I realized how incompetent I seemed among them.
Because my partner was better versed in the ways of Latin dancing that I, I decided to trust him.
Smeirzchalski smiled at my mistakes, sought help for me from various instructors and gently took me through the motions until we were making our way across the floor, twirl and all. As my partner whisked me around to the sounds of the salsa, the dynamic was completely different than anything I had ever experienced.
I am used to South Asian dance, where a woman expresses emotion through gestures, or moving to techno, where you meander to the insistent beat of the music, or Arabic belly dancing, where the hips sway sensuously to surreal beats of the table.
All these dance forms expect men to follow rather than lead.
In salsa dancing, the focus seemed fixed on my male counterpart.
“Your job is to move when I tell you to,” one partner informed me, and I could have sworn he took perverse pleasure in taking charge of otherwise independent female student types.
OLAS instructors mingle among the beginners and the intermediates, watching over the excitement, calming down the over-ambitious and encouraging everyone to learn to execute the basic side by side step before attempting the cross-body turns.
This is a sport that is guaranteed to ensure you acquire discipline, a dramatic disposition and the desire to let loose.