She’s dancing through life and changing others’ in the process.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
“When most people hear the word ‘salsa,’ they likely think of a tasty dip made from tomatoes, onions, and peppers,” the effervescent Misha Narula tells me with a chuckle as she prepares to wax eloquent on the power of dance to change people’s lives. “But for those who have discovered the joys of salsa dancing, it’s much more than a condiment. Salsa is a passionate and vibrant dance that has taken the world by storm, and for me, it’s a true passion.”
When I first reached out to Misha, who discovered salsa in her early twenties and is now a professional dancer and more recently, also teaches salsa; I didn’t know what to expect. Having done some after-school salsa classes in school, I could relate to the freedom that she talked about when moving without inhibitions on the dance floor; but I was eager to know exactly how it could be used to “inspire, express, and amplify who you are,” as Misha tells me. She gets candid about how she had a hearing limitation growing up: “Many people might not know this,” she reveals, “But after I got a cochlear implant, my life changed. From then, the world become my source of joy.” A big part of this was the introduction of music into her life, like an infectious beat that led her literal and metaphorical steps towards what eventually became her lifelong passion.
She sat down with Masala to talk further about how salsa can change people’s lives, as well as her new project, Dance to Heal.
Tell us about how you discovered salsa.
In my early 20s, I stumbled upon a local dance studio in Melbourne. I was immediately drawn to the infectious beat of the music and the energetic movements of the dancers. From that moment on, I was hooked. I began taking classes regularly when I moved to live in China with my husband and soon found myself spending every spare moment on the dance floor. There, I got the opportunity to learn salsa professionally with Kevin, one of the best salsa teachers in Asia, who taught me to go beyond my limitations. I was honoured to be part of the salsa scene for the next six years.
During that time, I also trained with Magna Gopal and I travelled to New York to learn with someone I consider the queen of salsa herself, Shani Talmore, and took different workshops around the globe with many salsa instructors. Although later I was blessed with two wonderful kids, my passion and love for salsa never stopped.
How would you personally define salsa?
For me, salsa is more than just a dance. It’s a way of life. The music is a constant presence in my daily routine, from listening to salsa radio stations on my way to work to practicing my moves at home. Salsa is a form of self-expression, a way to connect with others, and a source of joy in my life.
You’ve talked about the ways that it benefits people – what are the benefits, specifically?
Firstly, salsa is a great workout. The fast-paced movements, spins, and turns are a great way to get your heart rate up and burn calories. But even more than that, salsa dancing can improve your self-esteem and confidence in many ways. It can improve body image by increasing your awareness of your body and its capabilities, and it’s a social dance that requires interaction with others, leading to better social skills and the ability to communicate more effectively. It allows for self-expression, which can boost confidence in expressing oneself.
Moreover, whether you’re a seasoned pro or a complete beginner, there’s always something new to learn in salsa. The dance is constantly evolving, with new moves and styles emerging all the time. No matter how much I learn, I always feel like there’s more to discover.
Another great thing about salsa is the community that surrounds it – it’s one of the things I love most about it. Salsa dancers come from all walks of life and backgrounds, but we share a common passion for the music and the dance. I’ve made countless friends through salsa, and have even travelled to different parts of the world to attend salsa festivals and workshops.
In the end, salsa is a passion that brings me joy, challenges me, and connects me with others; and I know it can do the same for everyone else too. It’s a vibrant and exciting dance that has enriched my life in so many ways. If you’ve never tried salsa before, I encourage you to give it a chance. It’s a great way to connect with your inner self, to push against the belief that “I can’t” and change it to “I can.” To push against our idea of limitations of our bodies.
How have you continued your salsa journey?
While being a mother, I continued my practice and recently this year, I found the opportunity to travel to Spain to attend more workshops and learn private classes, including with world-renowned Bersy Cortez, and I also had the opportunity to train online with Michelle Morales. I also started teaching private and small group classes in my building studio in Bangkok before the COVID-19 pandemic, and have just resumed teaching again.
I also wanted to bring the healing power of salsa to those who might not usually have access to learning it, which is why I started a project called ‘Dance to Heal,’ which brings dance to organisations and the hospital industry. It’s for people who don’t have time to go out dancing after a hard day at work, and this way, they can learn in their office or hospital arrangement. They can be happier, and have something to look forward and perform better in their work and impact more people.
Tell us more about Dance to Heal and how you came up with the idea.
The idea came up based on self-experience and watching my students heal through dancing. One of them said that her co-worker told her she had a glow after salsa class, and another said through dance, she found the energy to go back to her stressful life and feeling refreshed and recharged to face life. From my experience, I would be on Cloud 9 after a class – when you dance, your body releases serotonin and dopamine which improves your emotional state, and makes you feel pleasure and satisfaction, respectively. These days, we go through a lot of stress, which leads to physical and mental illnesses. Dancing reduces this stress and helps heal you with these happy hormones.
What have been the challenges when teaching salsa, especially in the Indian community?
The first challenge I’ve encountered is that people have the misconception that salsa is difficult, very technical, and needs to be done with a partner only. None of these are true – you don’t need to bring a partner to class, you can have fun alone or with your girlfriends; and it doesn’t have to be difficult at all.
Often people in the Indian community want salsa to be pure cardio – a client one asked me to make it more like Zumba-style when I taught. But it’s two different things. In salsa, you need to exercise your body and brain at the same time. The purpose of learning is not just physical activity, but to enjoy – and to be able to dance in any salsa party in the world!
Another challenge is that people want the music to be ones they are familiar with, but in fact as you dance you’ll soon learn to enjoy listening to Spanish salsa music more, despite not knowing Spanish.
What do you want to achieve long-term in your salsa journey?
I want to encourage people to be open and learn this type of dance; I think anybody can dance salsa. If you can walk, you can dance! In the long term, I hope to impact as many people as I can, and expand Dance to Heal so that it can reach more people in organisations, hospitals, and the wider Indian community.