The Medicine of Salsa

A reflection from the last issue of the Journal of Music and Medicine caught my attention and I knew I had to share it! It is a poem and song written by Marjorie Jacobs.



Marjorie Jacobs is a psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner at the Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation where she designs and teaches promising group interventions to adults and young adults diagnosed with a serious mental illness.


Psychiatric rehabilitation aims to promote health recovery from significant losses, both physical and psychological. This population is at high risk for more psychological and physiological issues. When participants join any of the BU Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation programs, they take on the role of student, increasing their knowledge, skills, and supports to further their personal goals and recovery journeys.


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Several of the mind-body, rehabilitation interventions Marjorie designs utilize music, singing, and dance. They boost mood and motivation, facilitate social connection, increase concentration, improve memory, create new positive memories, deepen respiration, promote movement, and elicit the relaxation response. In addition, she uses seated and walking meditation (often combined with nature sounds, music, chanting, and/or singing) to cultivate attention, curiosity, awareness, acceptance, an expanded perspective, accurate perceptions, compassion, and optimism.


The Medicine of Salsa

The poem The Medicine of Salsa was inspired primarily by her 13-week intervention entitled Mindful Music, Dance, and Meditation. The students learned to dance a variety of upbeat West Indian and Latin dances, starting with the English language lyrics of reggae, calypso, soca and advancing into the unfamiliar rhythms of cumbia, merengue, cha-cha-cha, and salsa, all sung in Spanish lyrics. Her intention was to introduce new songs with wholesome and optimistic lyrics so that they would not trigger negative or distressing memories.


At the end of each class, students reported feeling happier, energized yet calm, present, focused, hopeful as well as more positive, confident, and connected to each other.



The Medicine of Salsa:


Inside the classroom, sitting

we listen mindfully,

lyrics in Spanish and English,

when feet start tapping, heads nodding.

Celia Cruz’s full-bodied

rhapsodic voice

wakes us.

We rise smiling to syncopated Spanish

her singing Ritmo Tambo y Flores

Rhythm of Drum and Flowers lifting us

To the mountain top

high above verdant valleys.

The view here is electrifying –

clouds of depression, stress,

anxiety dissolving

blue sky expanding.


Under her spell

we are singing the chorus

in foreign tongue

La Vida Es Un Carnaval

swinging our hips

our feet now stepping to the beat

dancing Salsa for the first time

in a group and with partners

holding a hand

her lyrics leading us —

Anyone thinking there’re just bad times

needs to know that’s not the case.

Anyone thinking things’ll never change

needs to know that’s not the case.

Smile to the hard times, they’ll pass.


We are turning and being turned, our minds opening

Ay, there’s no need to cry.

It’s more beautiful to live singing.


Everything seems pleasingly possible.


Thank you Marjorie for this beautiful poem!

L. Samuel Gracida

L. Samuel Gracida

Samuel is Sam's Fans Operating Director and our primary blogger!

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