From Unskilled Salsa Dancer to Slightly Better Salsa Dancer

Salsa web

It was a peculiar Monday October night.  Placement night for Dance Studio, the first step in the month long process that results in the March Dance Studio performance.  Was this just another event of Wharton students succumbing to the “herd mentality”?  Or was this actually going to be a good time?

As a rhythmically challenged dancer, or as a fellow classmate aptly described my dancing abilities by explaining that “I dance like a Jewish boy,” I had never participated in an organized dance show before in my student nor professional career.

While I could easily blend in with fellow Wharton dancers at a club, I was determined to change that and improve upon my lackluster dancing abilities.  Dance Studio also seemed liked a manageable commitment of only one hour a week.  The witty Eugene Dayangirang (WG-15) put everyone at ease with his charming emcee abilities.  After witnessing the 19 impressive choreographers demonstrate portions of their dance routines, I signed up for the Salsa dance performance, led by the astute Vikram Chandrasekhar (WG-16).

The first three lessons reminded me of military drill at Quantico.  I had always struggled with drill, believing it was pointless.  The number counts constrained you and forced you to act like a robot.  But this was different.  Salsa was drill with flair.

“One, two three…five, six, seven!”  Vikram called out.  “One, two three…five, six, seven!”  He repeated again and again.  It took multiple iterations, but the basic 8-count rhythm that serves as the foundation for Salsa slowly became ingrained.

After lesson number five, I partnered up with the uplifting Rini Bhatt (WG-16).  The one-foot height differential did not make it an easy match.  But the nine dancing couples were going to learn to dance, no matter what, as Larry David would say.  Thinking back to my drill days, I tried to execute each move as aggressively as possible, turning Rini with power.  Vikram, had to correct and rectify and shift my technique from power to grace.  As we got closer to the March 25th show, we finally started developing some dancing chemistry.

Then about a week out from the show, the previous manageable one-hour a week commitment raised sharply to about 15 hours in preparation for the show.

A rehearsal one week out reminded me of the jazz band leader played by J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, who vividly stated that the two most harmful words in the English language are “good job.”  After some much needed corrections, we were ready to execute.  We finally possessed the flair.

The dress rehearsal the day before the show allowed our salsa group to see the other dances up close.  Bhangra, with its most impressive energy, clearly dominated.

During the actual show, all the dancers reside in the Prince Theater, and watch a live stream of the show and perform any final rehearsals.  Aside the actual salsa performance, and the awesome after party at Woody’s, this was one of the highlights of Dance Studio.

The small theater would erupt with enthusiastic cheering and applause whenever a dance group left to go line up to prepare to go on stage or whenever a group returned after completing their dance.  The nights only standing ovation given by fellow performers was addressed to the brave second year male student who danced with elegance in the Indian Classical routine.  He earned it.

Also in the Prince Theater. I saw one of the most eclectic sights, with 90s club and belly dancing groups simultaneously rehearing their routines at the same time, right next to each other.   It’s one of those moments that defines Wharton.

As Salsa, “Team Mambo,” moved into position ready to go on stage, Vikram reminded us, “You are no longer training.  You are performing.”  Stop trying to over think the moves and simply execute.  Street Jazz finished their set, and we moved into position.

The music started playing, the lights turned on, and for the next two minutes, the nine couples of Salsa twisted, turned, and smiled.  Fortunately, mostly in unison.  Then it was over.  The imperfections reminded us that we were still students first, and were there to have a good time.  Indeed, it was a fantastic time.

As I continue to practice my salsa moves in the future at Brasil’s, Dance Studio is an experience that I will replicate next year.  To all those unsure whether to sign up; you should.  At a minimum, you will get a good laugh and learn a move or two.

Twelve months before, I first met Vikram in my Team Based Discussion for admission to Wharton.  We were presented with the question of what alumni could do to continue their business education.  If I could go back, I would answer, “keep on dancing.”


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