By Kelsey J. Lawrence
Photo by Sam Sikes
Their passion for salsa and bachata brought two strangers together on the dance floor; Yaneth Elenes, 35, and Mikal Stevenson, 38, are now preparing for their first performance together at a world-class festival.
As an African-American born and raised in Memphis, Mikal admits he lacked skills the first time he boldly entered a club.
On the other hand, dancing played a significant role in Yaneth’s Mexican culture growing up, but she pressed the pause button when she set her sights on a graduate degree.
When they each decided to take their moves to the next level, they started in the same place: the Rumba Room.
“I went to one of the bachata beginner lessons, and that’s how I started meeting more people,” says Yaneth, who initially didn’t have any friends or colleagues interested in dancing. “That’s what prevented me from getting back into dancing when I moved back to Memphis. If you start with the beginner class, you’ll meet other people who like to dance and start making friends.”
Both showing promise in their dance lessons, Yaneth and Mikal were approached by their instructor with an invitation to join his salsa team.
“We are planning to perform for the Atlanta Salsa Bachata Festival, which is essentially a big meeting of people from across the country and around the world,” Yaneth explains. “I’m a little intimidated because it’ll be my first time performing.”
The team will also attend workshops and social dances, some of which can go on all night.
“I dance two or three marathons over the entire weekend,” Mikal recalls of past festivals he attended.
The team practices together weekly, and when they’re not dancing, Mikal and Yaneth have fitness routines that keep them moving.
“In winter, I power lift heavy weights and build muscle mass. Then, in the summertime, I try to shred with many reps,” Mikal explains.
To me, it’s more of a fun way to relieve stress.
“I go to the gym consistently,” Yaneth says. “I have a set routine where I do a lot of strength training. I don’t go to the gym on weekends, but I do dance, and that keeps me active because it’s three hours of dancing. I wouldn’t even call it a workout. To me, it’s more of a fun way to relieve stress.”
These dance partners agree that their favorite hobby is more than just a physical activity. It’s also a great way to support their mental health.
“I have a lot of friends who are stressed throughout the day. They enjoy dancing because it turns off their brain,” explains Mikal.
“It re-energizes me, which is strange because you’re doing so much movement, but sometimes I’ve noticed that if I’ve had a busy week and I’m exhausted, I’ll start dancing and get recharged somehow,” Yaneth agrees.
As if the list of benefits isn’t long enough, dancing has also become their favorite way to meet new people.
“Dancing for me has been very social,” Yaneth explains. “It’s been a way to stay fit, but it’s also a way for me to make my own little community of people who are outgoing, social, and love to dance.”
And if you’re intimidated or worried about not having a partner, Mikal says, no problem.
“When I got started, I didn’t have a dance partner. I just went and met people who had been dancing for a while. They inspire you, coach you, and teach you.”
Showing up alone to shake off stress and leave it all on the dance floor is not uncommon. After all, that’s how these two met to become a dancing duo.
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