Squeezing my Fuego sneakers and fifteenth dance outfit into my suitcase, I barely managed to zip everything shut. I sat on top of my luggage, panting, and began to daydream again about how exhilarating it would feel to take classes from the most famous bachata instructors in the world. Leading up to my study abroad semester in Spain, I spent hours online researching the best studios and socials in Madrid and creating a bucket list of all the places I was dying to visit.

About one year ago, I discovered this style of social partner dance which completely changed my life. Bachata introduced me to an accepting and uplifting community of dancers who inspired me and helped me gain confidence in myself. Social dancing has played an important role in shaping my identity through college, and I wanted to continue that journey all the way across the world. During my study abroad semester, I created my own unique experience outside of the classroom that enabled me to connect with the culture and people of Madrid in a way that aligned with my personal values and identity. 

I showed up to my very first dance class at Esencia Studios, elated to take a partnerwork technique class from world masters Marco and Sara. However, as they began teaching the choreography, I started to feel like I was in over my head. I have been studying Spanish for about nine years now, but this was my first time being immersed in a foreign country where everyone around me was speaking fluently and quickly. I pushed through the class, regardless of feeling nervous and confused, because I knew how badly I wanted to be there. It was intimidating to rotate through different partners in the room and talk to native speakers while trying to keep up with the challenging combination, but by the end of the class I was fulfilled and proud of myself for sticking with it.

As the semester progressed, I continued taking three to seven bachata classes a week and went social dancing four nights a week. Little by little, I began to understand more of what the instructors were saying and met more people. Dance, as a language itself, helped me connect with the native speakers first on a nonverbal level, which then made it easier and more comfortable for me to talk to them and develop friendships. I came to Madrid not knowing anybody and by the second month, I felt like I already had a community of hundreds of friends.


"The Magics" Performance Team

In March I joined a performance team led by professional dancers, Sunsire and Miguel, who gave me the opportunity I’ve been dreaming of—to perform in a group dance in front of hundreds of people. My teammates were all very sweet and encouraging, and introduced me to more of their friends and favorite things to do in Madrid. Every day I felt challenged at school and at dance to improve my Spanish, and it really helped to be surrounded with support from my dance friends and instructors who always encouraged me to keep trying.

I not only danced all over Madrid, but I also traveled to Barcelona, Málaga, and Andalucía for three huge bachata congresses. Through those events, I felt inspired to learn from dozens of internationally famous instructors and meet thousands of dancers from around the world that shared the same passion as me. I am extremely grateful that studying abroad enabled me to chase after my dreams and connect with people of different cultures through the languages of dance and Spanish.



My advice to future students who are also interested in studying abroad is to follow your passions and create your own experiences that align with your personal goals and values. Before coming to Spain I wasn’t sure if I could successfully pursue my academic and dance aspirations, but by putting myself out there, challenging my language skills, and following my own path, I came home with a fulfilling experience and memories to last a lifetime.


Questions for Leah about her Advanced Language & Culture in Madrid experiences from Winter 2023? Contact her at ldgleah@umich.edu.

Identity tags: Dancer