Teaching Salsa Between Sets

Trish Connery is the feisty lady the microphone in the middle of the Sizzling Summer Nights dance floor

By Teresa Borden
Published on LatinoLA: August 2, 2011

Teaching Salsa Between Sets

When the Thursday Sizzling Summer Nights headliner band at the Autry is about ready for a break, that's when Trish Connery steps into the spotlight. She's the feisty lady you see with the microphone in the middle of the dance floor, bantering with diva dancers and cajoling salsa beginners as they learn to trip the light fantastic without tripping over themselves.

You'll see her there again this Thursday, between sets, when Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca play the Autry. But the rest of the week, Connery also teaches full classes in Glendale and El Segundo, and not just salsa, but swing, two-step, hustle and many other styles of couples dancing. (Hint for engaged couples: she'll help you look like you know what you're doing when the music starts playing at your wedding reception). She also writes DanceChatter, an electronic newsletter about dance that goes to clients across the country.

"To me, dance is truly a gift," Connery says. "It just teaching you something, the whole thing about applying yourself, you get results, confidence. And the dance community that I tend to move in, it's also very social. So dancing for people is not just about dancing. It's also about community and it brings you in contact with people that you would never know otherwise."

Connery has been working with the Autry for about four years. She trained with Skippy Blair, the teacher of teachers known as the first lady of swing, who has choreographed for television shows, judged at numerous dance competitions and taught across the country.

"It was through her motivation and through her encouragement that we even felt like we could do this at all," she said.

Connery, an Oklahoma native, arrived in Los Angeles after a divorce, looking to reinvent herself. She said she got involved with dance a little more than 17 years ago, in response to an invitation by a friend to go country dancing at a local club. As she became more proficient, she got a partner, began competing on the professional circuit, and slowly gained the confidence, first to demonstrate steps for Blair, then to teach, then to leave her day job as an office manager and make teaching dance her full-time occupation.

"It's just taught me so much about myself and what I can accomplish," Connery said. "I would never have dreamed, ever, that I would be capable of getting up in front of people, and not only talking to them but telling them what to do, or running a class, or running a business, for that matter."

Now, Connery is starting over, again. She recently moved to San Diego with a longtime boyfriend, so she commutes to L.A. to teach her classes and keep her contacts going, even as she works on building a clientele in San Diego.

Connery believes that, of all the styles of dance for couples to perform, from ballroom to tango to two-step, salsa may have the most balanced mix of steps and turns for both people on the one hand and of freestyle dancing on the other.

"To me, that is the most wonderful blend," she said. "(It's) the freedom of the partnership, where the guy is leading you, and you're connected with them either with a handhold or closed position. And then there's this freedom when he lets go of you and you get to do your own thing for 32 counts or 64 or whatever. It's just this freedom, that you're dancing with someone, but you're doing your own thing."

And salsa, like chess, isn't complicated -- at first.

"The basic pattern is not hard; it's actually a very easy basic step," Connery said. "It gets difficult because the music gets so fast. There are two dances that I call user-friendly dance: one is salsa, and one is country two-step. If you've never danced either of those two dances, and you happened on a kind soul who either asked you to dance or said they would help you, you would be dancing by the end of the night."

It's also with salsa, more than any other kind of music that she teaches, that Connery catches herself choreographing in her head during free moments. She might be in her car, at the grocery store, in line at the bank. If she hears a song she likes, she might start figuring out a combination right then and there, making her feet follow what she sees in her mind's eye.

"The music is just telling me, move, move, move," Connery said.

Connery doesn't believe she'll be pushing the pause button on her love affair with dance any time soon. In fact, she sees herself dancing into the near and far future.

"I love music and I listen to music every single day," she said. "I can't imagine life without music and I can't imagine a life without dance in some form. I sincerely hope that when I'm 95 or 100, I'm still doing something to music. And it may just be, you know, water aerobics or Jazzercise for geriatrics.  I truly believe that's one of the things that's going to keep me healthy and motivated and moving forward."

Related stories on LatinoLA.com

Yari More Remembers his Salsa Beginnings

Eddy Ortiz, an Adopted Son of Salsa

Johnny Polanco Watches Salsa Come of Age in L.A.

About Teresa Borden:
Teresa Borden writes the Trading Posts blog at the Autry.
Author's website

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