A long, long time ago… I decided on a whim to take up salsa lessons, proceeding to diligently enroll in one of the local area’s best-rated amateur dance schools.
I’ll not pretend to have been particularly good, but even in spite of the distinct absence of rhythm that this experience flagged up - I ambitiously agreed to be part of a (very small) production that my then-teacher was putting together.
The details of what happened next are, admittedly, all a bit blurry. What has proved less forgettable, however, was the introduction to the idea of ‘belly fire’ that this first (and last) foray into dancing provided.
My teacher at the time - a talented Belly Dancer come Salsa Queen - had emphatically described of how the track she’d chosen for the show (Buttons by the Pussycat Dolls) was selected specifically for this reason.
For how the drumbeat seemed to ignite something so cellular that it could scarcely be described… only felt.
I think about this phenomenon often.
About how some riffs and beats can set our core aflame, and transport us away (even if only momentarily) from our in-the-moment reality.
Everyone probably has their own unique shortlist of songs that fit this very specific brief.
For me, however, the top five tracks would definitely have to be:
The Gotan Project - Santa Maria
The Corrs - Runaway (when the beat drops)
Aerosmith - Cryin' (the intro)
Wonderwall (the intro)
I was discussing with a Psychologist recently, why it is that we’re drawn to certain tracks more than others, and how important it is to really attune to the emotions that music can trigger, as a way of understanding ourselves better.
It was particularly fascinating to learn, that one of the tracks that I found ‘stressful’ listening to… had actually stirred up completely contrasting emotions in a previous client of hers.
She went on to explain, that the root of this difference lies, in the extent to which a song’s core qualities, help to make up elemental deficits in the individual psyche.
I’ll not purport to fully understand the depths and complexity of this nuance of psychology, nor venture to suggest that music, per se, is prescriptive.
All I know, is that there is an escape hatch in music’s power to rouse, sooth, excite or inspire…. that I have probably been neglecting for way longer than I should have.
As a die-hard Dirty Dancing fan, for whom ‘feel the music’ became gospel fairly early on, I probably should have really realised this connection much sooner.
Alas, however, it would ultimately take more persuasion than even Patrick Swayze, to convince me that I need to close my eyes more often, and attune to ‘The feeling. The heartbeat.’
By a stroke of stark coincidence, I happened across a Salsa teacher in the sauna at my local leisure centre who (with his air pods in and eyes closed) seemed to embody perfectly, this idea of getting ‘lost in music.’
After a few minutes, the lady sat next to me (whose curiousity was almost as palpable as my own) decided to seize an opportune conversation-starting moment, and interrupted this one-man silent disco with a choice (but well-meaning) complement on his playlist.
The man laughed, then proceeded to tell us how only a few days prior, in the same situation, someone had been so concerned by his thumb-clicking-head-popping behaviour, that they’d ventured to question whether he might be having some sort of ‘episode.’
His response, apparently, was ‘nope, I’m just having a good time!’
In that moment, we all shared a laugh, and I sat in the realisation that this man was - by all accounts- the embodiment of that ‘belly fire’ my Salsa teacher had talked about. The ‘grounding’ songs my Therapist had talked about. The ‘heartbeat’ that Patrick had eluded to, in his hip-thrusting heyday.
At the very least, I’m confident this lightbulb moment has helped create a renewed appreciation for the power of the playlist.
At best, the subsequent decision I made to lean more into the eyes-closed-volume up-experience - it’s helping churn up the top soil of some long-dormant feelings on which 'mental wellness' (or so I'm learning) is at least partly dependent.