Five or six months into this adventure, a new event showed up on my facebook feed. A Salsa Night. Once I started making more and more dance friends, my feed was all about who was dancing where. Most of them were simply too inconvenient in time, place, or cost. This time, what caught my interest was I recognized the area. Second, that it was on a night following my day off (as a weekend worker, this is a hard feat). Third and most important, people I knew were expressing interest. I decided to give it a shot.

I’ll preface by saying my interested friends did not attend. As no promises were made, this was a risk I decided to take. But if you’ve read my stuff in the past, you know I have some issues with new situations and social anxiety, and this may have tinted my view of the night.

I arrived right on the hour, and was the first one there. I liked this. It gave me a chance to check out the place and the people that came in. The place was small, but not quite quaint. A dance floor took up most of the space, with tables all around it. In the corner, a family with young children was having a late dinner. I took that as a good sign.

I picked a chair and watched the people trickle in. I chatted with some of the first comers who were kind and friendly. When asked about where I danced normally, most of them had heard of my teacher, and I guess that made me okay in their books. And as salsa is among my teacher’s favorite dances, and he is known well in the salsa scene, I thought I was well prepared for this night.

I was wrong.

This isn’t a commentary on my teacher’s skill. Not at all, as I still think him an amazing teacher. In fact, when teaching styles like salsa, the words “now when you go out and dance in the clubs…” came out of his mouth often. I listened but I didn’t really understand. Salsa felt fairly straight forward. How different could it be?

What I didn’t account for was the very distinct difference of studio-taught, club-taught, and self-taught. Yes, salsa can be very straight forward. And that means the ways in which you can deviate, embellish, and style are never ending. The form was free and the moves were creative and fun. The footwork was unlike I had ever seen (“shines” I would later learn to call them). I watched, completely enthralled and out of my depth to this club style salsa, wondering how in the world my studio salsa could fit in. I was so intimidated about this, that when the first man asked me to dance, I told him I knew “a little,” and in turn he went easy on me.

I had several dances (and several chats) throughout the night, though being the insanely early bird I am, I was still the first to leave. I never had a bad dance. Everyone who asked me to dance could see my nerves and possibly that I felt out of place, and did their best in their dances to either put me at ease or either pull me further out of my shell. Style aside, I knew the moves, and I was having fun. But then it was right in these moments of the dance, my lead would let me go of my hands and move back, and I would realize I was now expected to bust out some fancy solo footwork. The shines I watched with such fascination on the sidelines became a subject of total panic on the floor, and I had to stop myself from reaching back for them, thinking, “Noooo! I don’t know what to do! Lead me! Come back!” But they didn’t: smiling encouragement at me in that “Go on! Give it a try!” way. So I did. My other choice was deer in the headlights. I tried a few steps. I tossed up my hands and spun. I put more hip in my basic. Then my self-conscious little heart couldn’t take it anymore, and I was reaching for my lead again.

I haven’t tried going to another salsa night. In truth I’m not sure it’s a scene I could fully immerse in. I think that a large part of me still needs the rules and structures of a studio. That wouldn’t make it my last adventure dancing outside the studio scene, but I’m pretty proud of myself for having that first.