Addis may not have all the amenities of a world-class city, but it does have one unexpected thing that is close to our heart-salsa. It was with surprise and delight.
The surprise did not end there. The local salseros were energetic and dedicated, and made up for lack of technical training by sheer creativity on the dance floor.
Salsa is a small and underground phenomenon with fanatical following around the world. Among the general public, it may be a little better known than rave parties or Gothic rock, but by not much more. But salsa and its culture have been slowly gaining ground for the past several decades; salsa clubs can be found in any world class city worth its salt. From London to Dubai, from Miami to Sydney, people dance with like minded souls almost every night of the week.
Salsa is a secrete and instantaneous passport to penetrating and unfamiliar city, where within an evening, one can walk into a club and start dancing with anyone without hesitation. There is no need to speak the local language. Whether in Tokyo or Shanghai, salseros are conversant in the common language of this Latin dance that sprang from the barrios of Cuba, Columbia and the Dominican Republic.
Salsa is a skilly, and frivolous pastime, especially for a grown man . But that is precisely why we love it. The music seeps into our bones. The head is held high, the chest puffed out like the front of a Volkswagen, and salseros usually sport a sly smile that seems to shout. It is impossible to dance salsa and be depressed at the same time.
There is no better feeling like walking a woman to a dance floor with the full knowledge that know what we are doing.
In joburg salsa is a steadily growing phenomenon that brings together a diverse group of people who otherwise may have very little in common. In a city that still parties along ribal lines, salsa is a common denominator for people who share nothing but their love of the dance. The salsa scence in joburg revolves around five instructors who have a loyal following. 60 per cent or more of salsa students are female, a ratio that is similar around the world.
The Achilles heel of Joburg dancers is their adherence to technique. Some of them become so attached to the back and forth steps that they forget the fundamental element- a feel for the music and the beat. That was not a problem for the Addis dancers. These guys danced. They improvised, they created and they were fleet-footed.
My guide was a woman I had met at a conference that had broungt me to Addis. As a lark, in the middle of a conversation, I said to her, “Do you salsa?” She looked at me with surprise.
“How do you know? Have you seen me dance?”
I told her I was just being cheeky but was delighted she was a fellow salsa fan.
The next day began my tour of Addis salsa with her. The girls I danced with seemed impressed by my hesitation combs, cross-body leads, hammerlocks and all the other new-fangled techniques that I had brought from Joburg.
But I was impressed by the male Ethiopian dancers whose interpretation of Cuban salsa was a delight to behold.
For the first week, my new friend seemed awed by my moves. I had about a dozen dependably impressive moves, but I knew my material was going stale fast.
Sure enough, about a week later, she lowered the boom.
“Do you know other moves?”, she asked innocently.
Jeez, she was already getting bored with my routines.
Fortunately, this was only salsa, not romance.
It was time to head back to Joburg to keep honing more salsa moves.