Studying abroad often leads to life-changing experiences. Rarely, however, does it lead to a world championship.
The summer after her junior year at Berkeley High School, Natalie Golden spent a month in Oaxaca, Mexico, for a Spanish immersion program. With ballet in her blood—she started at age 3, performing in “The Nutcracker” and other shows for the San Francisco Ballet Company and later the Berkeley Ballet Theater—she needed a dancing fix.
“I took some salsa lessons and just loved the experience,” says Golden, a Berkeley Law staff member. “It was challenging, exciting, different, and really fun. I had realized I didn’t want to be a professional ballet dancer, and salsa was a great new outlet.”
As a student at UC Davis, Golden danced at the school’s salsa club. After graduating in 2013, she returned home to Berkeley and joined the law school’s Advanced Degree Programs office, where she was recently promoted to Associate Director for Admissions and Student Services.
She also joined Salsamania in Oakland, an elite dance company.
“Certain aspects of ballet training translate well to salsa dancing—turning, flexibility, learning choreography,” Golden explains. “Other aspects, not so much. You’re more grounded in salsa, and certain body movements are a big adjustment because ballet is more upright.”
Another big adjustment: trading ballet slippers for high heels.
Golden quickly climbed the ranks in Salsamania’s amateur program. In December 2016, she and seven others represented the company in the World Latin Dance Cup. Her team practiced its complicated two-minute routine for nearly a year before spending a week in Miami for the finals.
Dancing against teams from Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Sweden, and the U.S., Golden’s group emerged victorious.
“There was so much focus on every micro-detail,” she says. “To see that work pay off definitely inspired me and pushed me to go farther with salsa competitions.”
Golden trains at Salsamania two or three days during the week, and for a couple hours every Saturday and Sunday. “And this is the down time,” she says with a laugh. “But I love it. The company is like a family to me.”