Dancing Through the Adaptation Process
Dancing Through the Adaptation Process
by Julie L. Parenteau, Ph.D., President of Global Perceptions
As a newcomer in Puerto Rico, I was looking for ways to immerse myself in the local language and culture so that my cultural adaptation process would be a little smoother and so I would be a more credible intercultural communication professor. One of the things that really intrigued me about Puerto Rican culture was salsa dancing. I asked around on campus and one of my students told me about a place nearby that was starting salsa lessons. I vowed to find out more. The following week, my cultural orientation to life in Puerto Rico grew to include what would become an incredible personal passion. Let me tell you how it all started….
Seeing the line of people standing outside the local club, I feel anxiety rise within me. I took some salsa lessons in the States, but this is Puerto Rico, home of all things related to salsa, and that alone makes me nervous. Stepping out of the car, I slowly walk the dark street to join the line. I have no idea what I will find inside, but I am hopeful. I love salsa music and the dances that accompany the music so this will be an adventure. The line moves and within minutes I walk into the space. Noticing how many people are inside already, I wonder, “Is it really possible that all of these people fit in here? And how can we dance like this?” Looking around, I spot another American guy and walk up to introduce myself. He greets me and tells me he’s from Iowa. “What a coincidence,” I think, “another Midwesterner who looks like me and lives here, but speaks fluent Spanish and is interested in salsa dancing.” I didn’t think there were any other people like me around so this is a nice twist. We talk for another minute before the instructor steps onto the stage.
“Damas y caballeros, bienvenidos a nuestra primera clase de salsa,” the instructor begins adjusting the microphone attached to his lapel.
The wide-eyed audience looks at him, waiting for the first step. My new friend and I get into a line of people and face the instructor.
“Uno, dos, tres, cinco, seis, siete.”
Trying to see around all the others in front of us, our feet begin to move. “Oh yeah, I remember this!” Thankful for the previous lessons, I blend into the rest of the group as much as a white girl can. The class continues as we learn the first few steps. This part is easy.
“Ahora vamos a hacer las vueltas,” the instructor calls with a smile in his eyes.
Uncertainty waves through the audience as everyone starts talking to each other about how difficult turns are. Personally, I am wondering how we’re going to attempt turns when we’re packed in this space so tightly. Then I think about how easily Puerto Ricans fit their cars into the most impossible places and figure that if they dance like they park, this won’t be so bad. With a quick reminder of the order of the steps, I catch on. “Gosh have I missed this,” I admit. Feeling a bit nostalgic, I look around at the other people. Most people seem to be getting the idea. There is one guy however, who just can’t seem to make his feet move in the right order. Believing that I have enough skills at this point to teach him this basic turn, I offer to help him. After a couple of minutes he is turning on his own. “Mission accomplished!” I gloat, wondering if he ever thought a gringa would be teaching him salsa.
As the class comes to an end, I look to my American friend and ask if he’ll be back next week. He assures me that he’ll be there and we part ways. I drive home thinking that maybe despite all the other issues that I’m having, something about this country has redeeming value. I commit to making space in my schedule to participate in these salsa lessons each week because they make me believe that there is hope for me on this island.
Adapting to a new culture is challenging for all. If you are thinking of moving to Puerto Rico, I can help. I have been through the adaptation process in personal and professional settings and want to help you avoid the pitfalls that I discovered along the way. Don’t hestitate! REACH OUT TODAY and learn what it takes to successfully adapt to the culture and language of Puerto Rico!
Global Perceptions is a full-service communication and relocation consulting business based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. For more information on our services, visit www.global-perceptions.com or call 787.455.7764.