I created Salsa Therapy because I wanted people to learn to have a full-bodied, somatic experience of themselves, which is often missed in talk-only therapy and in sitting meditation. It's a combination of mindfully learning salsa dance moves, connecting to the often-disconnected emotions held in your body, and processing them together in sessions. When you can feel with your entire body, you can manage what's happening inside of you - not to mention feeling more confidence and having more fun!
Although I grew up in a Mexican-American home, my family didn’t really dance. My mother loved mariachi music and wanted to get up and shake it like she did as a kid in rural Mexico, but my father was a rigid, hell no – so my mother never did and it never became a thing in our home.
Eventually I became old enough to be expected to dance, even though I wasn’t taught how. There were the occasional terrifying grade school and high school dances, which I apparently survived, but then came the time when going out with my friends meant going out to meet women – and that meant, at least to us, that I needed to dance in front of them.
So, I did what a lot of us do – I saw how others danced to the music and I mimicked the moves. And I wasn’t bad. Somehow, even though I never danced, I could move with the rhythm like the other Latinx folks around me. In those days, East L.A. had more big house parties than young adults should be allowed to have. I’d show up with my Latino crew, drink enough liquid courage to get into the dance area, and I’d show the ladies I had moves worth their interest.
But I never felt comfortable dancing this way.
You see, I also grew up socially anxious. I was a working-class Latinx who understood where I belonged on the racial hierarchy in society. I had an unseen ambitious side that made me peek through the walls that limited me to my place in the world. Coming from a parent who came to the U.S. for a better life, I came into the world with the momentum to keep advancing. But no-one saw it, including me.
But what it looked like was stepping out of my lane at times – and that meant experiencing the consistent backlash of racism. While some fight it, I often buckled under the pressure, and felt unworthy, self-conscious, and my self-esteem was swirling around in a toilet somewhere.
Like for too many of us, however, it wasn’t just the day-to-day racism. I felt inadequacy and shame in my own family. It was like a “not good-enough” feeling in my family that relentlessly rained down a mountain – and I was at the bottom of it. My shame and lack of self-esteem was deep in my bones.
That’s when salsa dancing came for me.
I say it “came for me” because I knew, back in the 90’s that I needed to learn it. I had no relationship to it, and I didn’t know anyone who could dance it, but it called me toward learning.
So, I began. I mustered up the courage to go alone to a studio that taught salsa. And, they taught it better than most schools. They were strict about form and communication.
But, they were also so focused on doing it right and on teaching the routine they planned, like most salsa instructors, they completely missed that as students we were humans and had come for more than just copying and memorizing moves to regurgitate on dance floors.
Most of us wanted to feel more alive somehow and to socially connect with others. We weren’t there simply to become an army of salseros striving to do another thing right.
I studied under a variety of well-known teachers in the last 25 years. I’ve learned to dance well and get compliments, make friends, and meet romantic partners.
But for years my social anxiety didn’t improve along with my dancing.
I still felt anxious, self-conscious, and unless I danced like a flawless salsero at a salsa club, I felt like I survived another night out. I still judged myself for not being social enough, cool enough, or not believing in myself enough.
But one day I was dancing with new friends in Colombia who said to me, “you’re too uptight when you dance. You need to relax.” “I’m not uptight,” I retorted. “This is how we dance in L.A.-style salsa” – But I knew they were right. I was performing moves to music instead of expressing the inner joy and confidence of grooving to the rich, delicious music that was playing.
That’s when it began to shift.
That’s when I started to release much of what I knew how to do and started feeling the music. It’s like I chose to just forget the combinations I had relied on for years.
I began to take in the depth and culture of salsa. It became an embodied expression of my heritage and of the Latinx person I get to be in the world. It became a super-fun, dynamic celebration of culture and a way to connect with others through that joy together. It taught me to become fully present in the here-and-now, in a way that sitting-still meditation couldn’t give me.
I developed a relationship with my own being, my own body, that elevated my self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-love on a whole new level.
Learning to partner dance can be daunting and damaging to your self-esteem when you struggle with social anxiety. Believe me, I know. But it can also help you overcome it. I created Salsa Therapy because I wanted people to know how to get out of their heads and into their bodies in a way that not only heals their self-esteem, anxiety, and confidence, but that brings them a life of fun and social connection with others.
Salsa dancing is a connection to your own body and mind that will change your life and change how you connect with others. My passion is to guide you there.
Salsa Therapy was created as a full-bodied connection to your whole self, so that you can show up in your world with your true essence. It’s built on the belief that both a balanced, self-soothed life and a celebrated, joyful life come from a lifestyle of loving and nurturing ourselves while being in all of our daily humanness. That there’s a unique beat and rhythm in each of our bodies that our minds and heartbeats can attune to and that can bring us home to ourselves – so that we can share it with the world around us. It’s about widening the scope of who we are and being about something much bigger than ourselves.
It’s about harnessing the strengths and sacrifices of our ancestors to lead ourselves through our pain, toward the lives we’ve been wanting for generations.
It’s about an unwavering stance for social and racial justice in yourself and those who are different than you. It’s in healing all forms of oppression – starting with how you oppress yourself. It’s the embodiment of fascination with beauty, love, connection, and kindness – starting with your own body, mind, and spirit. It’s an anti-fragile stance of loving your own struggles and becoming stronger because of them. It’s also about owning your inner sensuality and sexuality, balanced with love and boundaries.
And, it’s about reclaiming your pride in who you are and in your heritage. Not because you fit in, but because you’re at home in your body and you can feel your own goodness. Because you can speak your truth and because you keep showing up to be seen and loved as you are.
It’s about stepping into your own swagger, over and over again as you move your body and your mind toward the person you were always meant to be.
Talk therapy is the traditional treatment for anxiety, including social anxiety, but it often lacks a somatic component. Salsa dancing classes can teach you the dance moves, but they cater to folks who already feel confidence in their general dancing abilities and they typically teach fast-paced moves in which students must sink or swim, with the more confident extroverts staying above water while others are left feeling that they’re drowning in even more insecurity and anxiety.
I created Salsa Therapy as a licensed psychologist who has been a therapist and salsa dancer for over 25 years – combining the latest in psychological research, training, and theory with somatic dance.
Salsa Therapy is an embodied combination of therapy and dance for Latinx, Black, and all other folks who struggle with social anxiety and a sense of disconnection and loneliness, whether they’re single or in a relationship.
Salsa Dancing Therapy may help you if:
* Salsa Therapy may not be appropriate for everyone, such as folks with physical disabilities and limitations that may make salsa therapy sessions unsafe and those who are experiencing severe mental illnesses. In the initial assessment we will discuss whether it may be a good fit for you before beginning treatment.
There a tremendous amount of research that has been done on the emotional, mental, and therapeutic benefits of dance and dance therapy. Studies show that it can increase your self-esteem, self-confidence, improve your mood, happiness, and vitality, and it can improve your relationships and overall social bonding with others. They show that dancing decreases anxiety, including social anxiety, severe and mild depression, loneliness, anger, low self-worth, and that it can supercharge the connection between your mind and your body.
Dancing teaches your body to deeply sense what’s happening inside and outside of you in ways that using just your head can never manage. And since your body movements are louder than your words, it can help you speak with a renewed confidence.
Especially if you’ve always seen yourself as a bad dancer with two left feet, you can learn to dance as a practice of developing comfort with your discomfort and confidence in the face of fear.
And if you’ve always had a racing mind or a fidgeting body like me, salsa dancing can bring you focus and presence.
“We dance to fall in love with ourselves” -Kamand Kojouri
While most of my clients are Latinx and Black, I maintain a diverse caseload in my practice. What you do need with this embodied therapy is a love for Afro-Latino music and Latinx and African cultures. If the music and movements make you feel more connected to yourself and proud of who are, then Salsa Therapy can be a highly effective treatment for your social anxiety, imposture syndrome, and disconnection with your body and with others.
Please know that inclusivity is my highest priority. All of your social and marginalized identities, seen and unseen, including your gender and sexual orientation, as well as your body type, and level of dance experience are welcomed and honored here.
As a psychologist, I know that trauma, attachment styles, and our self-judgments are held and maintained in our bodies. So, the more that therapy is somatic (focused on the body), the deeper it can help you heal.
Salsa Therapy for Individuals
In-person talk and dance therapy for social anxiety, shyness, disconnection, and loneliness – especially after a pandemic.
Therapy sessions are based on an assessment of your challenges and goals. The first half of sessions typically begin with mindful awareness of your body, some body warm-ups, connecting to the music and its impact on your body, and move toward getting grounded with your feet, legs, and hips inside of the music. The second half is often used to integrate the experiments and experiences we worked on, using methods from Gestalt and somatic therapies.
Salsa Therapy for Couples
In-person talk and dance therapy for couples wanting deeper connection and more effective communication – especially after a pandemic.
Couples Salsa Therapy sessions are also based on an assessment of each partner’s challenges and goals, and are often an adjunct to your ongoing couples therapy with your therapist. In this treatment, we may focus on soothing your inner emotions and self-talk while physically connecting to your partner. We may work on your connection to each other, as well as how we lead and follow with grace, lightness, and fun, and we may work on movement to increase intimacy, energy, and spark in your relationship.