Sissi Korhonen enjoying dance

Many people think that crossing a continent by bicycle is living the dream. And it definitely is wonderful! However, it’s personally not my biggest dream in this world. Don’t get me wrong, I do love cycling, yet there are many things I love just as much or even more (rock climbing, paragliding, diving…). And there’s one thing that has been a dream of mine ever since I can remember: dance.

TIP: If you want to get into my mood while reading this, click here and open my Saturday salsa playlist in a new tab! 

Lost childhood opportunities

There are only three things I regret not having done as a child, although I wanted to: ballroom dancing, gymnastics and playing the drums. As I already went to tap dance and took viola lessons at the age of eight, my parents didn’t consider gymnastics an option. When I wanted to change viola to drums at the age of thirteen, my mother told me it made no sense as I had already played the viola for five years (…although I never actually loved it, I continued playing the viola until I was twenty-seven). And then…  there’s dance.

At the age of six I started ballet and quit it around half a year later, as I found it extremely boring. At eight I started tap dance, which I continued for the whole year we lived in the US with my family. The same year me and my friend Katie did shows to Paula Abdul’s music for our whole class. At nine I started ballroom dance, yet quit it almost immediately, as I couldn’t find a partner for myself, no matter how hard I looked. I still went to watch all the shows of the school, imagining myself in those beautiful, sparkling outfits. At ten I started street dance (or “disco dance” as it was then called), and with a group of five we did great choreographies for our whole school, to the music of Madonna, Paula Abdul and Snap, to name but a few. Yet, even this I quit after two years  as the viola simply took up too much of my time. And that was it with dancing for me for a long time. A time during which I managed to forget how much I loved it.

A persistent love for dancing

When I was sixteen, my family lived in Vienna. There, I could enter bars even as what would be considered a minor in Finland, and every weekend me and my friends would go out and dance the night away in Grinzing. At seventeen I was living alone in Italy. In the town where I worked, there were only two clubs for going out – one for salsa, one for top summer hits. That’s when I first got in contact with salsa.

When studying in Poland, me and my friends would go out and dance in clubs as often as possible. I’ve never enjoyed sitting in bars to drink, but if there’s dancing, it’s hard to get me to leave. I was even in the non-pro dance group of the university, although none of us four were too serious about the matter, I suppose. Later, in Finland, I was going to bellydance classes even four times a week all over the city – until I got bored of the subtle and solitary movement of this dance.

Strangerless dancing

Yet, during the year I spent in Finland before coming on this trip, I found great joy in couple dancing again. I’ve always loved ballroom dances (so much so, that during my senior high school year me and my dance partner Aku used to skip psychology classes in order to attend extra dance classes… the only time I’ve ever skipped classes in school). Yet, in 2015 I started going to blues dances, lavatanssit (traditional Finnish “ballroom” events), katulavatanssit (dancing events organized by my flatmate, Lauri), Sunday salsas, Monday kizombas, Wednesday milongas, Saturday tropical parties, Friday forros and whatnot. I found out that Helsinki has a great variety of dance events – if you just know where to look for them.

Anything is possible… if you believe it.

For a long time during my life, I always used to quit everything I wasn’t immediately good at. I used to get frustrated and think that I’m either a natural talent in whatever it is, or I’m not. But let’s face it, how many of us are truly natural talents in anything without practice? Nowadays I believe that some just have a) better self discipline than others, b) a lot more patience then others and c) a higher self esteem than others. And the people who have all these features are the ones who succeed and can learn basically anything. I’m still working on the patience and self discipline part, but at present I know I can learn and do almost anything I put my mind to (thanks Vipassana!).

As you can probably guess, I’ve never been able to dance as well as I wanted to. During my childhood and teenage years I simply didn’t have the time or the means to take classes, and during my adult years, I’ve never had the money. So, although I’ve loved dancing for as long as I can remember, I’ve never truly had to chance to dedicate myself to it. I’ve dreamed about being able to move like the world’s best dancers of cha-cha-cha, with the same grace and elegance. I’ve dreamed about competing in shows and wearing those glittery and flashy outfits. Yet, that’s all been just a dormant dream… Until now. Because something unexpected has come up: Santiago de Cali.

Answer to my prayers: Cali!

I arrived in the Columbian capital of salsa on my bicycle two months ago, expecting to stay here “a bit longer” than in other places. I knew Cali was the place to be for salsa, but I had no idea that the city breathes dance just as much as Havanna does. People who have visited Cuba and now live here, say that there are only two places in the world where you can find salsa from morning to evening: Havanna and Cali. And I believe it, as the dance scene here is no less than vibrant and amazing. There’s literally dance everywhere – the clubs are full of people from Monday to Sunday, and you can find a packed salsa club basically any night of the week. Also, there are around 200 salsa schools and the many world famous salsa dancers come from Swing Latino in Cali.

What Cali has given me until now is not only great dancing, but the opportunity to realize yet another dream of mine – dancing day in and out. I’ve become a regular of La Topa Tolondra, which is where I go nearly every evening to dance all my energy away. Although I’ve been more than happy crossing all this beautiful continent by bicycle, I’m overjoyed about finally finding a place I feel is my mental home and which I’ve fallen in love with. So, although the plan to cycle all the way to Mexico is still very much valid, for now I’ll be staying in Cali until January (except for a quick stop in Asunción, which is very much competing with Cali in places to live in). In December there is the Feria de Cali with its salsódromo – the biggest salsa parade in the world – and I’ll most definitely participate, hopefully in glitter and an outrageously flashy outfit!

Strangerless dancing on vappu

Photography by: ©Tuomas Aro

These pics were taken by a friend and great photographer Tuomas Aro at We Love Helsinki Vapputanssit 2015, a dance event organized on the 31st of April in Helsinki. This day is one of the most important festivities in Finland, on the Eve of which was earlier known as Labour day and is nowadays celebrated in Finland also as the day of students and academia.


P.S. As you can guess, I’ll be posting more about Cali and salsa than cycling during the months to come. I’ve also just applied for a three month voluntary work period at a salsa school in Cali, so keep your fingers crossed I’ll get the job. It would mean countless hours of dancing and the opportunity to explore and exhibit the still somewhat unknown culture of the salsa caleña.

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Exploring, interpreting and understanding cultures through local languages and people. An advocate for intercultural communication as a basis for diversity acceptance and human equality.