• Melissa Mansfield

On Stage: Learning to Let Go at the SF Salsa Rueda Festival

It took three months of rehearsals and was over in 3 1/2 minutes. Even though I was really nervous leading up to it, when the time came, it was so much FUN and the crowd seemed to really love it. Also, I didn't fall on my face in my 3" heels .... victory!


It was my FIRST salsa performance! Back in 2015 at the International Salsa Rueda Festival in San Francisco.

Even though this performance was a few years ago, the lessons I learned still apply today.

  • I can't control everything and it's OK if it's not perfect. In the last few weeks before our performance, I was getting really nervous. After months of practice, we had finally finished the choreography, but we were a long way from having it nailed down. I wanted to try to use my project management and strategy skills to organize the process so I would feel more secure about our progress, but that was a level of control I didn't have. It wasn't my group, it was my teacher's. I finally let go of my perfectionist expectations and realized that I was just going to do the best I could do and it would be what it would be.

  • In my longing to be a better dancer, I sometimes forget how far I've come. As I dealt with my nerves about the performance, I realized I was focusing a lot on the negative: what we hadn't learned yet, what we hadn't perfected, where I thought we'd fall short during the performance. But I made a mental shift to look at what we had accomplished and I realized there was a lot. We were learning all new choreography, some of which was pretty complicated. We had come a long way from our first rehearsal together and so much of our dancing was looking really tight.

  • The process is exhausting and also fun and inspiring. Due to our conflicting work schedules, we practiced 2-3 times per week for months, from about 9:30-11:30 pm. Before we started, I had been practicing for another performance and caught a cold. Once salsa rehearsals picked up speed, the cold kept coming back to haunt me - it was very difficult to fully heal with our late-night practices and a demanding full-time job. But once I was in rehearsal, if I could shut out the outside world, there was no other place I'd rather be. I loved everyone in my group - we got along great and all shared a sense of fun and humor while being conscientious about doing our best. I feel like we really bonded and when our rehearsals ended I truly missed seeing them every week.

  • I need to perform more so it will scare me a little bit less each time. Did I mention I was nervous about this performance? I was REALLY nervous. I think performing in an official salsa festival put more pressure on me because I felt that I had a bigger obligation to deliver something terrific for the organizers, teachers and students. I know that if I perform more often, those nerves will be less nauseating.

  • I'm inspired to organize my own performance. I think I have a pretty even split of creativity and strategic/organizational thinking. I'd like to put my theory to the test - that I could choreograph and collaborate in a creative way, while also being organized and goal-oriented so that the process of preparing for a performance isn't so chaotic and stressful.

All in all, it was an amazing experience. When we performed, the energy of the crowd was fantastic and I had loved ones in the audience who encouraged and inspired me so much. Once I walked onto the floor, I just went into performer mode - I felt confident, I stayed calm, and I just focused on having fun with the crowd. It was a blast!


Three years later, I look back and I'm still very proud of what we accomplished together. AND, I can see that I have definitely improved since then, which feels great! At the time I had no idea that a professional performance in Havana lay in my future.


So, here it is, Hot Timba's performance at the 2015 Salsa Rueda Festival with the amazing Miguel A Vazquez (our teacher and choreographer), Tola Williams, James Wiester, Hebert Aguilar and Mellissa Katarina! (Special shout out to Diana Manning, a fellow dancer who helped us with almost all of our rehearsals while she recovered from an injury, and recorded this video!)


#salsa #rueda #performance


* An earlier version of this blog post originally appeared on Follow-My-Lead.com on April 5, 2015.

© Follow My Lead and Melissa Mansfield 2010 - 2018

Photo credits: Sophia Heinke and Diana Manning

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