Quiero Bailar! A Q&A with University Salsa Club
Nicky Demitry, Women's Center intern with the Social Media Marketing Team, sat down with Claire Poumerol and Jaqui Arechiga to talk about the culture and community of the University Salsa Club and their inspiration for an all-female dance. Read this excerpt from her interview as they explore how Salsa Club balances the sensuality of dance with consent and safety, and how it promotes body positivity and confidence.
You can find the full interview over at Iris Magazine.
Nicky: So how does salsa culture keep that platonic nature with a dance that can get pretty intense and physical? How do you maintain happiness and safety?
Claire: I think it has a lot to do with mentoring. Right before we go out social dancing, if there’s someone who is new, I’ll say, “Hey, just so you know, if anyone is being pushy or weird or you’re uncomfortable in ANY way, here are a couple things you can do to make it clear that’s not okay. And if you’re still uncomfortable, it is absolutely okay to walk away or say no at the beginning or openly flag me down.” A lot of people don’t understand you can say no to anyone at any time for any reason, so that guidance is really important.
Jaqui: Yeah, and while a lot of our mentoring does happen when we go social dancing, the club is also a lot more aware now that we have brought up these difficult topics in our exec group, especially in the last few years. We’ve seen a lot of changes, even in the way we send out our emails. We always put, “Here are your social dancing do’s and don’ts” because social dancing can happen at clubs, at practice, at parties, whenever music comes on.
I have seen people jump in and tell them “If you ever need to walk away, you can do that.” Or going up to people and saying “You have to be more aware of people’s body language. If they’re feeling uncomfortable, you need to step off. You need to adjust your behavior.”
Claire: It can get complicated with dances like bachata that are more sensual, and miscommunications happen, and there is a lot of contact, but everyone has their personal barriers that need to be respected and there definitely is a very clear delineation of what you can expect and what isn’t appropriate.
Jaqui: A consensual dancing experience is mandatory. And you can tell, if you feel any resistance, you need to be able to recognize that, and there’s a zero tolerance policy.
Claire: It’s really annoying when girls come up to me and say “I don't have the body type for salsa.”
Nicky: Yeah if you have a corporeal form you have the body for salsa.
Claire: Right! We’ve had all types of bodies in the club! It’s true that skinnier people have more of a societal support and confidence that comes with that, and it’s true that lifelong dancers are more likely to be confident when they come to lessons for the first time. And I know that can intimidate people. Or when you perform, or do sexual dances, there’s a stigma about being rounder or curvier being more sexual – like it’s viewed as more aggressive – and that really bothers me. I’m working on ways to change that mentality. We want everyone in this club and it’s very diverse.
Jaqui: I want to give props to our leadership and props to the people in the last few years – especially instructors and exec – that have been very receptive to new people and being very welcoming regardless of anything. We have female leads, our instructors are very skilled and we try to put the idea in the club that you can dance lead or follow just as well. People have really warmed up to the idea now that they’ve seen it so much. Our club has done a good job of trying to challenge certain binaries even though partner dancing has historically been very male vs. female. So it’s cool to see these changes being done very slowly.
Claire: I don’t know if this is off-topic, but I think it has something to do with how Americans are so taboo about touch and sexuality. In this environment people get more comfortable with the idea of “just because I’m touching you does not mean I want to have sex with you.” I always get comments that I’m super touchy with salsa people. I have European standards anyway so it doesn’t mean much to me, but it’s nice that we’re all so touchy and comfortable with it in a non-sexual way. Like with this dance, we didn’t want to do anything overtly sexualized, but we also want to be comfortable with our sexuality FOR US.
Read the rest of their conversation over at Iris Magazine.