Why I Salsa.
By Black Belt Salsa Instructor, and Born-Again Christian, Carlos Colon
[2Chor 4:6]“God, who first ordered light to shine in the darkness, has now flooded our hearts with His light. We can now give all men the knowledge of the glory of God as we see it in the face of Christ. [Col 1:28]So, naturally, we proclaim Christ. [1Thess 2:4]We speak under the solemn sense that we have been entrusted by God with the gospel, [Rom 1:16] for we are not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of salvation for those who believe. For non-believers, [Rom 10:14-15] how can they call on one in whom they have not believed? How can they believe in one of whom they have not heard? How can they hear unless someone proclaims Him?
This is a set of questions that we, believing Christians, face and are called to answer. For many, the question is not if we want to spread the knowledge of Christ, but one of how we can do it. I’ve talked with people who have no idea how to share their faith with others. They all say the same thing: I feel uncomfortable sharing my faith with a stranger, it becomes awkward.; How do I share Christ without coming off the wrong way?; I don’t have a powerful testimony, it’s boring; why should I share?
Some have been blessed with the natural ability of being able to evangelize: others, like myself, have had to learn. I’m not pretending to be an authority in this area, I am just going to share what I’ve learned up to now, and more importantly, what I have learned that has worked! I used to think that, eventually, I would need to take a step back from dancing, because other things in life would become more important. Dancing, after all, was just something I was doing for fun. My journey with God, up to now, has shown me that He can take any talent, any passion, any ability and use it for His purpose, if we will humbly allow Him.
Ironically enough, one of the ways I’m able to use a passion/talent to spread Christ is thru dancing. Some within the Salsa community know my heart behind dancing, but some do not. I just felt like I need to sit down and share why I Salsa dance today, even if only one person reads this. To do that, I need to start at the beginning...
I started dancing when I was in college, in Texas. At the time, I could go out Salsa dancing Wednesday thru Sunday. My friends were all musicians in a Salsa band, so I got to travel with them and dance at all of their events. Needless to say, there was ample opportunity for me to dance in my earlier years of Salsa. After a few years, though, I was doing more dancing than anything else: it consumed my life. All I wanted to do was learn new combinations, find new artists to listen to and get out there every night and dance! All that fun, unfortunately, came at a price. I added an extra semester onto my college career, because I failed a class on account of not studying. I was always out Salsa dancing and rarely did I ever study for anything. This class, obviously, got the better of me. I was headed down a slipperly slope, but thankfully, it was around this time that I was saved.
There was a guy going around the music department offering free jazz lessons. He had studied jazz at NYU and was a phenomenal musician. Who could pass up free lessons with such a great musician?! Throughout the lesson, he would ask me about my faith, where I stood with Christ, etc. At the time, I was Catholic, a non-practicing one. His questions really provoked me and caused me to stop and think about things. This went on for several weeks.
One weekend, I was in my studio apartment thinking about “God”. I remember contemplating two thoughts, “Do I believe God exists and do I believe satan exists?” Once I’d confirmed, for myself, that He was real and alive, there came a thought stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a sobering question that rang loudly in my head, which was, “If you believe there is a God and believe that satan exists, and can admit that you haven’t been living your life for God, then who have you been living your life for?” I dropped to my knees right there in my living room and gave my life to Christ, all alone. I told Him that I was sorry for not having lived for Him and that, as best I could, I would live the rest of my life for Him.
Life resumed after that day. I was really happy about had happened, but I had a lot of questions. After a while, I started feeling like I needed to take a break from dancing. I felt like I needed to take a step back and reanalyze some things in my life - but it was more than just a thought, it was something in my gut telling me I needed to take a step back. Thru talking to friends, I realized it was God asking me to give up Salsa dancing. I wasn’t going to church, I wasn’t studying like I should have been, I wasn’t always practicing my saxophone: I was, however, always going Salsa dancing. What I was most faithful to in my life, even above God, was Salsa. So, most obviously, that was the very thing He was asking me to give up – and that was a hard pill to swallow. To bring this into perspective for my Alabama football lovers: imagine God asking you to give up watching Alabama or Auburn football. No Sports Center or ESPN to keep up with their stats, no watching highlights, just stop watching all together. That’s what God was asking of me in asking me to give up Salsa dancing. I didn’t know, at the time, how long it would be, all I knew was that I was giving it up, “until further notice.”
A year and a half passed before I felt a desire and release to return to dancing. I remember walking into Panache, a nightclub in El Paso at the time, on a Thursday night. Absolutely nothing had changed! I saw the same people, heard the same music was being played by the same deejay and everyone was doing the same dance moves. I remember feeling excited and relieved, thinking, “Man, it’s good to see I haven’t missed out on anything!” Looking back, I can see that God was showing me that if I had made Salsa my #1 in life, just like the scene had been stagnant the year and a half I’d been gone, the possibility of having a stagnant life would have been very real. God asked me to give up Salsa dancing so that I could learn to focus on Him, not to punish me. It was one of those pivotal and valuable lessons that I learned from Him: to lean not on my own understanding (Provers 3:5). Had I not listened, I may not have gotten to where I am today in my relationship with Him. [Isaiah 55:8-9] “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Shortly after returning to the Salsa scene in Texas I ended up moving to Alabama. This was a scary move for me on several levels. My friends, who’d been more like family, had abandoned me, so I felt alone and was hurt. I was going to Alabama where I knew no one except my family, so that just added to that feeling of loneliness. On top of all of that, I was re-learning how to listen to and hear God for myself. My first four years of being a born-again believer I had spent with someone telling me how He felt and how I should feel. This new dynamic between God and myself, just He and I with no middle man, felt new and I wasn’t sure how to approach Him. The Bible calls the Holy Spirit our Comforter. I remember driving to Alabama with my dad and this realization hit me that instantly gave me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes. I believe that realization, or thought, came directly from Him. He said, “I am the same God in Alabama as I was in Texas. You know me, Carlos, you won’t be alone.” It took everything I had in me to keep from bursting out into tears right there next to my dad…and to also keep us from crashing, because I was driving! He truly comforted me that day, I’ll never forget it.
Once in Alabama, my plan was to practice my sax the 2 months I was going to spend here and then audition for whatever cruise line was looking for a saxophone player and leave town and, hopefully, the country! I wanted to get away from all the drama I’d left in Texas and get away from all these life decisions I was going to have to make sooner or later. I didn’t want to think about where I wanted to settle down and call home, because, at the time, I knew it wasn’t going to be Alabama. With a degree in Music Performance, I needed to decide what that meant to me and what I wanted to pursue with that. Did I want to settle down somewhere, become a teacher and just find a band to gig with? Did I want to cruise the world for a few years and then settle down as a teacher? Did I want to try “finding my sound” --which was never found -- on my horn and start a project? I didn’t want to think about any of that, I just wanted to get away for a while. So after the 2 months was up, I contacted a professor back in Texas who had done a few cruises back in his day. He gave me a phone number to a cruise line booking agent and told me to use him as a reference. I was all set to make the call and begin the audition process with a solid reference in my pocket. I started praying, making sure that God was okay with this decision and that it was what He wanted for me. Then it happened: I felt a “No” from Him. As soon as I started to pray, I felt my heart fall to my feet. I just knew it wasn’t what He wanted; I could feel it! I was in disbelief. Here I was, a Puerto Rican in Huntsville, Alabama with no real friends and now, as far as I could tell, God was telling me I was staying put. I couldn’t believe it! What was I supposed to do now? All I knew was that I wasn’t supposed to go on a cruise, but I knew nothing else. I felt like I was in a pitch-black room; I had no idea where to turn to try and find the light switch. To take up time and get me out of the house and out of my parent’s wallet, I got a job at Cheddars as a waiter and just filled my time with that. I figured I’d make some money while I waited on God to tell me what my next move was going to be.
I was going out Salsa dancing here in Huntsville throughout this whole process. Naturally, the thought of becoming an instructor here in town crossed my mind. But, in all honesty, I did not want to be an instructor. I felt like becoming an instructor would tie me down in Huntsville. I wanted to be free and ready to move once He spoke and told me what to do.
Eventually, I started teaching. Through this whole season of figuring out what I supposed to be doing, I’d started hosting Salsa nights and teaching some classes. I remember setting up for one of the Salsa nights one Saturday afternoon at the former D4C dance studio when I, finally, heard from God! I was so excited! It was a whisper that said, “Weekend Boys & Girls Club”. I pictured a facility that had a beautiful room full of mirrors, a dance floor, lighting, sound, all for the purpose of hosting dance events for teenagers on the weekends. I pictured a rock climbing wall, a recreational room with ping-pong tables, pool tables, fooseball tables, the whole nine. “Why not open up a facility that catered to the teenagers on the weekend, so that they could stay off the streets and out of trouble?”, I thought. It was then that I started hosting my Salsa nights, gearing them towards teenagers. I had never had a heart for youth and I, definitely, wasn’t a business man, so I had no idea how to even begin approaching this dream. I just started promoting that Salsa party to local youth groups and churches, letting them know it was a safe environment that they could send their kids to. We would start the night out in prayer and I was careful about what music I would play - regardless of their ability to understand it. I don’t think the facility was ever something that He wanted me to make happen. I think He was preparing my heart. I’d never had a heart for the youth up to that point, so I think God was preparing me for what I’d be doing for a living.
Today I work with intercity youth. I work in a private Christian school, where our goal is to make our kids aware that there is an eternal life that we can all tap into, by simply acknowledging that there is a God and getting to know Him (John 17:3). I teach them different dances from Salsa to step once a week, I am over the school’s Chapel class and I help with the after-school enrichment program. So, in essence, that dream was fulfilled, I just don’t have that fancy building with all the luxuries. I do, however, have that heart to want to teach these kids how to make good decisions and live a life sold-out for God!
After running the Salsa night with a focus on the youth, something happened that gave my dancing a different, more permanent purpose; something that gave ME purpose. It all started with a student named Olivia. She started coming Salsa dancing and ended up in one of my classes. She was funny and Ashton and I enjoyed having her around. One night we were all at Hog Wild dancing and Ashton and I felt like we needed to invite Olivia to church with us. She was a self-proclaimed atheist, but by nature being so kind, she couldn’t say no to Ashton inviting her to church -- Ashton was just too sweet! Her plan was to go to church with us, just to be nice, and then avoid going again if ever asked. That week something happened to Olivia that changed everything. She was driving and hit an eighteen-wheeler. Her car was pinned underneath the eighteen-wheeler and its wheels were slowly crushing the passenger side of her car. She thought she was going to die and in what she thought were her last moments, she threw out a prayer saying, “Okay God, if you’re real, get me out of this.” The car span out from under the semi and came to rest on the shoulder of the road. She walked away from that crash with a seat belt bruise. She came to my class the following Monday and I remember her approaching me after class, asking if I had a minute to talk. She told me something had happened to her and felt like I was the first person that was going to understand the magnitude of what had happened to her. She’d told some family and friends about the accident, but they had made light of the situation. So after she’d told me everything, she looked at me and told me she wanted to go to church with Ashton and myself that weekend. We cried, we hugged, and then we prayed! She went to church that weekend and gave her life to Christ! Ashton and I had the privilege of walking alongside Olivia in her newfound faith and have been able to watch her blossom into an incredible woman of God. We were blessed to be there on her wedding day, watching her marry an outstanding man of God. I couldn’t help but cry at the wedding when I thought about Olivia and everything she’d gone thru to get to that day. It was also humbling to realize God had used Ashton and myself thru our Salsa night to save His little girl, Olivia.
It was after seeing Olivia give her life to Christ that I realized that had she never gone Salsa dancing, Ashton and I would probably have never met her and spent so much time with her. Then God spoke, again. I heard, “Salsa ministry”. I’d like to clarify, at this point. When I say I hear God speak, I don’t mean that I literally hear a voice. I’ve never heard the voice of God, in that sense. What I do hear, however, is my own voice in my head, but it’s giving me ideas or asking things of me that are out of the ordinary for me. Up to this point, I’d have never thought to put ‘Salsa’ and ‘ministry’ in the same sentence, but God would! It was at this point that I felt God showing me how my dancing would have a real purpose behind it. It was going to be a ministry, in that, I would use Salsa as a platform to share Christ with people.
Today, Ashton and I pray over every night we host. We ask God to reveal Himself to everyone within our Salsa community and ask Him to bless them as He reveals Himself. We are always looking for opportunities to share with people, but we don’t force it. Sometimes we go months without sharing Christ with anyone - and that’s okay. We are still providing a venue that has been prayed over and is safe. Sometimes we have to put in work to reap the harvest and in those “dry seasons” when we are not sharing, that’s what we’re doing: we’re providing the night and getting ready for the harvest!
All glory to God, there have been more than 10 people who have come thru our Salsa classes and/or parties and been affected by Him in the process. Ashton and I have had the privilege and honor to help these people renew their faiths, rededicate themselves to God and their faiths or, like Olivia, find their faiths for the first time and give their lives to Him.
It says in [2 Corinthians 4:6] that we can give all men the knowledge of the glory of God as we see it in the face of Christ ; that is my responsibility and reason for dancing. How do I do that? I had to stop doing some things to start doing that. I used to listen to, and believe, the spirit of the age, when it said, “It’s just dancing, Carlos! It’s okay to grind on a girl or pull her in extremely close as long as it just dancing and doesn’t leave the dance floor! It’s what the music is asking for!” I’ve since learned that, although to spirit of the age is saying that, it is not what the Holy Spirit is saying. He has asked me to respect the women; to hold myself to a higher standard and treat the women as the gifts that they are. I’m called to show them that they are not pieces of meat, but princesses and queens of God that should be respected both on and off the dance floor. How do I do that: by keeping a respectful distance, plain and simple. In doing that, I’m keeping the focus on dancing and not on the rush or feeling of pulling in a girl close to my body so that it ‘feels sexy’. Whether the girl I’m dancing with realizes any of this is irrelevant. My prayer and purpose behind this is to show her that she is respectable, beautiful and worth being pursued, which is all part of that knowledge -- of the Glory of God -- that they need to know!
God, in His graciousness, has allowed me to continue dancing Salsa, under the condition that He be getting glorified. In having it set up this way, it forces me to pursue Him. I want to be able to hear Him clearly when that crucial moment arrives and I am privileged to be able to share Christ with someone. I want to say what God wants me to say and know IF He wants me to say it. To be able to do that I need to know what He sounds and feels like off of the dance floor. With this purpose behind my dancing, Salsa will never become the main focus of my life again. I can, confidently, say that if I had to walk away from Salsa today, I could do it with no regrets or hesitations. I know if He asked that of me, it would be to begin preparing me for another assignment, not to punish me. I’d be ready and willing!
So when people ask me why I don’t promote my events harder, why I don’t try and grow my classes, why I don’t host more events, why I don’t teach out of town to grow my ‘popularity’, why I don’t put together a performance team, the answer is simple: it is not what God has asked of me. I believe He has me where He wants me and how He wants me, plain and simple. And I’m happy with where I am! It’d be easy to say, “God has blessed me with the ability to dance, so I should do my absolute best and do everything I can do to grow my classes and events, because He’s given me the talent to do so.” That’s a valid statement. For me, however, that would be a justification to do what I wanted to do, using God only as the means to get to the end that I, myself, have established. I want God’s established end, which, right now, involves me keeping things where they are. Why? I’m not 100% sure, honestly. I think it has to do, partly, with not running myself into the ground with everything else I have going on. Outside of work, church and Salsa, I have, most importantly, a wife I need to spend time with and focus on!
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to push my beliefs onto anyone. I’m just trying to share what God has done for me and how He’s taken a passion, a passion many would deem a “worldy activity” in the world that I work in, and turned it around and used it as a tool to shed light into the darkness! I could easily just go out and dance, praising God for providing me the ability to dance and the connections to host the Salsa parties at different venues and be grateful and leave it at that, but that’s not enough for me. I want to take it a step further and “return the favor to Him”, if you will. There is a reason that this ability was given to me. There is a reason why those connections to different venues and owners occurs. I don’t want to promote myself and “grow my popularity”, as I said before, because in the end, what good does that do? People know the name, “Carlos Colon”. Big deal! What can he do for you? If, however, the name that becomes known thru all of this is Jesus Christ, the One who can save you, meet you where you are and truly help you, then all this dancing and promoting becomes worth it!
This is why I Salsa.