I attended Mario's practice social for the second time last week. I felt nervous because my dance skills are not up to par or anywhere close to par, compared to the experienced dancers.
I tried at first to sit down and observe what was going on around me. A distinct man, who stood alone in the middle of the dance floor staring at the mirror and shifting his shoulders up and down, up and down, caught my attention immediately. I instantly thought about what we do before class every week and how important it is to stretch our muscles in an effort to prevent cramps and increase flexibility. No one else was dancing so I continued to observe him- let’s call him Flamingo Legs- a Hispanic guy, tall, skinny and a head full of hair. Flamingo Legs began to use his legs to create an invisible diagonal form one end of the floor to another. Every time the beat played his long legs would tap the floor accordingly. His upper body followed this motion by being congruent with his lower half. So his hips swayed and his arms poised themselves in an eloquent manner as he danced from side to side. This however was not the regular diagonal step we learned in class. It was a lot fancier and when I tried to count the steps that he took- I always ended up missing a few. I was confused but fascinated.
Another gentleman, a middle aged Puerto Rican who said he never knew how to dance salsa until he joined Mario’s classes admitted to being fairly unfamiliar with what Flamingo Legs was doing. We’ll call him Blue Eyes. So we both sat gawking at Flamingo Legs. I built up the courage to ask Blue Eyes because I was really trying to grasp the beat myself and see if maybe there was a transition somewhere that was throwing me off. Blue Eyes told me that he himself was having major problems realizing when the beat stops and changes so he decided he would take one of Mario’s classes that teach the student about transitions and beat patterns. He laughed in a non humorous way and sorrowfully confessed to taking the class not twice- which is the typical amount- but five times and still doesn’t fully understand it! I must admit my self confidence was bolstered after hearing this and I asked him for a dance. When we got up on the dance floor that bolstered confidence of mine gave out as I soon noted that he was a very fine dancer- not perfect or as talented as the others who ran circles around their partners but he was mighty good. He asked where I was from and I replied Colombia. Afterward I received the all too typical, “But you should know how to dance” respond. I don’t- and I think this is a very common misconception that people think all Hispanics can dance and groove to bachata, meringue and salsa.
We had ourselves a very good dance afterward and then little by little as the night progressed more gentlemen starting asking me to dance. I wondered if it would be decent or acceptable in a real ball or festivity to have the female ask for the man’s hand. I am particularly interested in the woman’s role when she is dancing because as we have stating in class- Salsa is a very masculine dominated dance.
But going back to the gentlemen who asked me to dance; I must admit I was very surprised that one man- wearing a black turtleneck which we should call Black Turtleneck was amazingly, staggeringly, “Dancing with the Stars” good! Black Turtleneck was dancing the whole night with a female; let’s call her The Shaker. This dynamic duo was not dancing- they were connecting. She could read him and he could read her- I could tell because there was no pause between a left hand turn and a cross body and a cockroach stopping move and whatever other moves they had going on. It’s like they have practiced that routine since they were young- but I know that’s highly unlikely yet I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them. And she, The Shaker, with her 4 inch heels and her tight calves knew no word that came close to “stop.” I know this because an even more fascinating phenomenon occurred while I was observing the two. She missed a step, or perhaps he skipped one, but either way this information is irrelevant because she kept it going! She finished the three.five.six.seven by shaking her body and putting her hands up but as soon as the three.five.six.seven was over she resumed the continued role of following her partner. Now I must be describing it in a very odd fashion but it wasn’t odd at all- she looked like she was purposely taking the time to shake- although that wasn’t the case and she had missed a step or two. I remember Dr.Trillo stating that it’s very important to keep going with the music and not to stop- to pick it and not pause because you made a mistake. Well she was the perfect example of this and she did it in a very eloquent manner.
So when Black Turtleneck asked me to dance, I felt like I should warn him that I am no where as talented as his partner The Shaker. He smiled very politely and said he understood. I very much enjoyed dancing with Black Turtleneck because he took his time to count out the steps and position his body in a way that would give him ultimate control in the steps I took. He stood very sternly and led the way with his arms. I genuinely appreciated it.
Not long after I sat back down another gentleman, one with alleged fancy shoes asked me to dance but not before I agreed to not step on his shoes. Fancy Shoes said, “I have no problem with you doing anything as long as you DON’T step on my shoes.” I agreed. We danced and one of the first things he warned was to look up and not down, to trust my feel and to trust my partner. Fancy Shoes then proceeded to turn me in a way which confused me. In other word, I turn the opposite way. I felt nervous and perhaps intimidated but he told me to relax and I asked “How do I know which way you want me to turn?” He then told me one very useful tidbit: follow your elbow. Three words helped solve this problem. Wherever he guided my hand I followed my elbow and I didn’t miss a turn since.
I danced with about three others during the night but none as fascinating as the ones ‘m currently recalling. I also wanted to recount what happened during the middle of the night when the social was interrupted and the birthday girl- who happened to be The Shaker- began to have her first birthday salsa circle dance. She stood in the middle of a large circle of men (and two women) and when the music began one man stepped in and began to dance with her. This continued until the next prospective dancer felt like he wanted to give it a shot and swoop her away from the incumbent dancer. The manner in which the dancers were “taking turn” was awe-inspiring. They teased her and they teased one another whilst dancing with her. They held on to the spotlight and shone for as long as the others would allow him and then reluctantly give her away. That night was a great night. I certainly learned a lot.