Francisco Fernandez, Hyde Park

He’d always done a little dancing here and there, in the moments he felt the music. But the salsa team? When someone at Hyde Square Task Force suggested it, Francisco Fernandez, a high school basketball player, was a little worried.

He took a chance anyway.

Here, in his own words, is what happened:

“I was a very shy person freshman year. I didn’t like to talk or anything. I didn’t like to socialize with anybody or my family either.

Salsa really helped me break out of my shell, dancing-wise.

The first time I danced, I think it was in front of the Blessed Sacrament church in JP for “Summer Nights Out” and the song was called “Vamo rai Inglés, la frita tan grande.” I was very stiff with the moves. I couldn’t move my shoulders or get very loose. It made me feel stupid for a while, like: “I really can’t move, ehhh!”

I was nervous because it was my first performance ever. There were three guys and four girls. I never really got into a crowd like that. In a basketball (game), I am obviously going to be in a crowd, but I wouldn’t be nervous. In salsa, it was a different atmosphere like I never felt before. The atmosphere is like, me moving in slow motion—I can actually see their faces, if they are smiling or not.

Salsa looks easy when you see someone doing it, but it is really hard when you are trying to learn it. It consists of 8 counts, where 4 and 8 are pauses in the music, and your feet are not moving. You put your hands at a 90 degree angle and my hand by your waist and you go with the steps 1 2 3…5 6 7. And you have to be loose. Your feet are gonna be moving like a bike–like you are rolling. Like you are pushing out on a bike to support me.

It’s so beautiful in a way.

From freshman year to right now, senior year, I actually improved a lot because I’ve actually been doing more and having more opportunities to show a dance I am really passionate about. Also it made more bonds to me and my family. When people see me around the streets or anything, they notice me and go, “Oh, you do that Dance at Mozart Park or Salsa in the Park!” Or “I’ve seen your videos on the internet!” It got me more recognition. It made me feel like,” Wow, am I really that good?”

It made me feel like I can do way more than what I could.

It helped me get out of my comfort zone by having more rhythm in me. Taking me into another way I see things. Dancing is not just dancing. You actually become more passionate about it. You actually want to pursue a career in it. It took me out of my comfort zone by making me be more positive and being more motivated to do stuff and to learn more about a culture by dancing salsa. What is the background? Where did it come from? How did it begin?

It took me to whole new universe after that. A universe I didn’t even know of.”

Below, Francisco performs with Lucera Cabral, of Ritmo En Acción, his salsa dance team. He was interviewed at Hyde Square Task Force by his mentor, story ambassador Gabbie Follett, who is helping him to apply for college.