Travel has always been a huge part of my life. Growing up my parents told me over and over again that one reason why they waited to have children (they were 38 when I was born, even though they married at 25!), was because they wanted to be able to afford to travel with us and teach us about the world through first-hand experiences. My best childhood memories are from the trips we took together–—hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park, exploring the Tower of London, eating ice cream on the Spanish Steps.
In addition to leaving me with incredible memories, one of the great things about going to a new place is that it exposes you to new ideas, and new activities (and somehow you’re less fearful of trying new things during a trip). Yes, I’m talking about how I discovered salsa!
The summer after my sophomore year of college I took a solo-trip to Guatemala. I spent five weeks learning Spanish and exploring the country. During the week I took language lessons at a local school in Quetzaltenango (more commonly referred to as Xela), and almost every weekend I took these super long bus rides (sometimes 12 or 14 hours one way) to visit sites like Tikal, Semuc Champey, Atitlán, Chichicastenango, and Antigua.
One night, a couple of teachers at the Spanish school took all of the students to a local club to for a beginner dance class. That was the first time I heard or danced salsa.
I remember really liking the music and picking up the steps pretty quickly. Later in the evening when the professional dancers came out on the floor, well, that’s when I feel in love.
I spent the rest of my trip dancing as much as I possibly could. I went to Spanish lessons in the morning, took dance classes in the afternoons, and went out social dancing until 2 or 3am almost every night. I was exhausted pretty much all the time, and I danced so much (and in bad shoes) that I ended up spraining my ankle a few days before I boarded the plane back home.
It really did feel like I had fallen in love—after that night out, salsa consumed all of my energy, focus, and time. Everything else felt like a rude intrusion on the precious moments I had to dance.
It’s been seven years since that trip, and I still feel like that most of the time.
In sharing the beginning my salsa story over the years, people have often asked me what gave me the confidence to take that trip by myself.
I felt ready to explore on my own in college in large part because I had traveled to Fiji and Thailand with Rustic Pathways and lived with a host family in France through School Year Abroad during my high school summers.
I knew I wanted to travel on my own in college, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a little scary! It was, especially as I was researching and planning the trip.
I’m so glad I did it though, because otherwise I don’t think I ever would have discovered salsa. At the time I knew nothing about partnered dance styles. Facebook had only just become a thing, Instagram didn’t exist yet, and there weren’t thousands of dance videos available online, and at the time nothing was pointing me in the direction of pursuing dance outside of an extracurricular college hobby.