The Heart of Salsa in Herts is no Longer Beating
Trying our best to keep moving forward, we adjusted to the world as it went mad. Masked shopping trips and a lack of hugging soon became our 'normal'. Children went back to school, we all saw familiar faces at a distance, and some of us were able to go back to work. Then, we went back in time. Following the PM's recent announcement, we are all once again overwhelmed with apprehension, angst and dread. Whilst we have been told it will only be for six weeks, the impact to businesses like Salsa Mish and its founder, Mish Yanni, will last a lifetime.
Since early March, Mish has been unable to run his business, and the mental and financial impact has been debilitating for him. But, as is true to his nature, he is far more worried about the wellbeing of the Salsa Mish community, saying:
For me, I feel like I'm helping loads of people coming to Salsa and forget about their problems for one night. So, I feel like I'm not helping people anymore. It's a family community of dancers. And, it's stopped completely. Without it, I feel like I have no purpose. It's had a bigger impact on my mental wellbeing than I could have anticipated.
His world is bleak without Salsa and his community. Mish expressed that "it's like you have a painting, and you've taken the colours away".
Dancing improves your physical and mental health, but people often underestimate the real power of dance. Dancing releases endorphins and serotonin, the happy chemicals, and can significantly reduce the effects of depression and anxiety. From a social standpoint, dancing is a great way to form relationships and lower loneliness. Partner dancing specifically, like Salsa, can build trust, communicative skills and confidence. Dancing can also improve your cardiovascular health, as those who dance are at a 46% lower risk of having heart problems. One study shows that those who dance regularly are 76% less likely to suffer from cognitive declines, like Alzheimer's. The benefits are endless; it's good for the soul. And, as Mish says, "the music, the dancing, the social element, they all help you with any problems you have. Dancing relieves your problems; it's a way out, an escape". Now, more than ever, we need to dance. And we can't.
During the first lockdown, Mish Facebook streamed live solo dance lessons from his dining room. He ended up doing 100 videos, keeping his Salsa community in high spirits and boosting his, and their, mental health. It was the highlight of his day. The response from his community was beautiful. One person messaging to say, "thank you so much for these nightly classes! I am stuck at home 24/7 and doing this gives me the exercise I need and it's so lovely to see your smiley face every evening!".
As lockdown started to lift, other Salsa clubs were beginning to open in phases. Mish had also planned to open:
I would have opened as individual distanced dancing and exercises, but it's not the same. As a promotor, you feel responsible for everyone who comes to you. It's not easy to just make a decision based on government advice alone. My priority is my people. Always has been, always will be. I can't open without considering the impact it might have on the people I care about the most. The financial implications don't influence my decision to open if it means compromising the safety of my community.
The government can't provide a solution at the moment; dancing and lockdown do not go hand-in-hand. Though, it feels as though the arts sector is neglected. Without the arts, we would not have survived the first lockdown. There is no guidance for this industry, making it all the more confusing for small business owners, like Mish. The significant decline in funding and respect for the arts is crippling; try one day without music, dance, television or art. We need them more than we could imagine, more than we care to admit.
The heart of Salsa in Herts is no longer beating, and it's heartbreakingly devastating. Hopefully, Salsa Mish will be open in the Summer, all being safe and well. But, for now, as Mish says, "stay strong, sit tight, you aren't alone".