How Salsa Got Me In Touch With The Wood Element of Chinese Medicine and the Root Chakra

Photo by Daniel Watson on Pexels.com

Dance moves energy within and around us, with the potential to make space for healing and happiness.

I’ve been learning a lot about different energy systems and the important role they have in our overall healthy and happiness. I have realized how various dances really bring out aspects of these systems because dance itself is energy in motion. It moves energy within and around us, allowing us to make space for healing to happen.

I’ve decided to write a series of articles dedicated to particular dances I’ve experienced and which energy systems they highlight for me and reconnect me to.

This one is about Salsa.

The Root Chakra

Salsa was the first dance I really invested time and energy into. From taking group and private lessons, attending workshops and festivals, learning from international instructors, and going out social dancing on real dance floors, it became a regular part of my life. It was also the first dance where I experienced what it felt like to become part of a dance community.

Because of this I associated salsa with a sense of belonging and the building of a strong foundation.

Salsa was where I first learned about connection, timing, and lead-follow techniques like moving from the core, or prepping a turn, or knowing where your weight is.

Through this dance, I became aware that I even had weight. I was fascinated by how I could feel a great deal ‘lighter’ or ‘heavier’ depending on how I held myself. Was I pushing down on my partner too much, or were my arms noodle like and disconnected from my body? Was I accurately matching the pressure or connection that my partner was giving? And was I engaging the appropriate parts of my body to feel these changes? I never asked myself these question before, but once salsa had me looking into them more, I couldn’t go back. It became something I could take notice of and change whenever I wanted.

I had never had this sense of body awareness before, especially in such depth and detail. And definitely not while considering how this would affect a dance partner in front of me. Without having a sport or other physical activity in my background, I was insecure in my own body. I felt clumsy and uncoordinated. But coming into salsa, I was learning how to coordinate and gain more balance. To feel safe and trust in my body’s ability to hold me and know where to go. To trust that the floor would support me in a spin and that my body would know when to stop and how to land. And to control my speed or direction with seemingly minute changes that made big differences.

Salsa was teaching me to trust in myself and my environment. I didn’t even know what my body could do and what I had been holding it back from doing all those years before. But I was glad that salsa was opening me up to these new possibilities.

Salsa was the first dance where I was more consciously listening to the beats of the music and purposely accenting the prominent beats with my body. In learning to find “the one” or “the five” in the music, for example, and making it a habit to step it out in sync with an instrument or phrase, I was gaining a sense of security and grounding. So if I ever felt lost or unsure of where I needed to be in relation to the music, my body would just ‘naturally’ get back me back on track, to a home base. This might be a beginning of a phrase, or listening for a particular instrument that was clearly a downbeat.

Once I felt more comfortable with the music and timing and making the feeling familiar in my body, the more complex syncopated rhythms made sense and fit in more easily. I felt safe to play around and experiment- to layer on top of the basics because I had built a strong base. And if the add ons felt like too much, I could revert back to the basics, trust my body to get me back ;home;, to gain some security before trying again.

All of these lessons became a strong spring board for me to learn other dances that I didn’t even know I was going to get into later. I could use salsa to fall back on whenever I needed reminders of the fundamentals like connection, frame, and musicality. Salsa set roots for me in the dance world and in my own body.

These qualities and concepts remind me of what I’ve been learning about the Root Chakra, the 1st chakra at the base of the spine in the chakra system. The Root Chakra, or Muladhara, is all about safety and security. It is also connected to our sense of belonging in this world, as well as our weightedness. Our awareness of our weight. Our presence. And that we can trust that this weight is being supported by others around us, the environment and the earth itself.

Salsa reminded me that I have a right to be here, to move on this earth, and to express my presence and worth. Salsa, being the first place I was really investing in an embodied practise, showed me how to trust that I am safe in my body and in this world. That I am supported by the universe. That I have roots here and I am allowed to and am meant to take up space and move confidently and freely.

The Wood Element

There is a Chinese Element that has no problem taking up space and making its presence known confidently. This is the Wood Element.

People who have Wood as their primarily element are sure footed, deliberate in their intentions, precise and like structure. It has been said that when a person who has a dominant Wood Element energy walks into the room, people notice and they hear the person’s footsteps, not because the Wood element person is necessarily big, but they tend to be stalky and secure. So their expression, movement and stance is assertive.

Wood elements are organized and direct. They don’t waver on things and they go after what they want. They are not afraid to speak their mind, and are firm in their voice.

Looking back, I see now that salsa, especially the way that I was first taught it, drew me in because of its Wood Element type qualities.

I didn’t have the agression or confidence or directness of a Wood Element type person, but I came from a teaching background where I was used to planning and structure, and following rules and breaking things down into small, manageable chunks. And I did work hard and was very focused with what I wanted.

The linearity of the movements in salsa – especially in particular steps like the crossbody lead, made it more of a clear picture for me. The precision and exact count of it basic steps, made it feel less of a mystery as it did to me originally. The structure with which it was taught to me was actually such a relief because it made it more tangible. Something that I could grasp, instead of something that felt so out of my reach. It didn’t feel as free flowing or ‘random’ as what I heard or experienced in lyrical dancing or hip hop. It seemed to have a kind of map that I could follow. And I needed that at the time.

With my background as a teacher, and my more methodical ways of thinking, the more direct way that I learned- with chunking the moves into counts and numbers and very clear directions so that I could see the dance almost formulaically- helped me believe that it was learnable. It gave me a direction to follow and allowed me to be intent with my movements because I knew exactly where I had to go on which count. And my partner was always mirroring the basic steps in front of me! How convenient!

Of course, that was and is not the nature of salsa or any other dance- to be almost robotic or mathematical in your movements. Most people who dance it fluidly or grew up with it would probably argue against it being taught or even connected to structure or counts or anything but feeling. In fact, salsa probably first appealed to me because the dancing looked so organic and passionate, flowing as if it had no counts and couldn’t be broken down. LIke you had to be otherworldly or on a whole other level to even grasp it.

But that is what would have also scared me away – thinking that I would just have to feel the music and let my body move freely to it. I hated it when people said that. I wanted to scream, Obviously, if I could do it in that way, and knew how, don’t you think I’d be doing it?

I was so grateful for the instructors who taught me salsa in the way that I can now see I probably needed at that time. It was systematic, precise, may have even involved angles and some marching to begin with, but it simplified it for me. And that helped me stick with it. With the counts and the mapping out in a sort of geometrical format – with shapes and clear directions of where I should be in comparison to my partner- it made it less intimidating for me. The breakdown of steps made me more comfortable and less anxious and actually hopeful that maybe I could learn this. That I could take it step by step, and that there actually was a formula to it. At least to just get the basics down.

And that’s where I needed to start. Just the basics.

My teacher mind – that was so used to planning and chunking and organizing needed that kind of learning to begin with. It made it less overwhelming, and made me think that maybe this dance wasn’t as mysterious at it first appeared.

Sure, that meant that I wasn’t putting much expression or style or individuality in my dancing at that time. But at least I got my foot in door or on the floor, to start. To just be there, and learn, and keep coming back- lesson after lesson until this scary thing started becoming more enjoyable and fun and familiar – was huge. It was because of the direct, efficient, simple, break down of movements, that I could connect more with the dance. And that allowed me to loosen up gradually. To find spaces to express myself and finally just feel into the music and my body. But I needed the structure of it first.

Allowing myself that approach to learning made a huge difference to my own confidence, my own sense of presence and directness, and my own understanding of being intentional with my movements. I was able to build myself up piece by piece, rather than overwhelming myself with too much. And this even helped me be able to explain the movements to someone else who was maybe coming to dancing with the same apprehensions as I had had.

And I still, to this day, turn to salsa when I need to come back home- to a foundation, to precision, to clarity, to a sense of belonging. Salsa grounds me and reinstills the balance between structure and freedom for me. It’s a base that reminds me why I was able to finally stay committed to a sport and embodied practice. And that I am always welcome to return to it for connection, support and balance. That I have a right to be here and let my presence be known.

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