Sunday, February 8, 2009

Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner

I'm normally the kind of person who researches a trip semi-obsessively before my departure. By the time I boarded to the plane for my semester of "study" in New Zealand, for example, I had highlighted my Let's Go Travel Guide and already begun planning what food to pack for the hike to Milford Sound. For this Colombia expedition I decided to cultivate a bit more spontaneity, and about the only preparatory action that I took was to watch Dirty Dancing 2: Havanna Nights for salsa tips. The dancing was pretty cool, but the cheesiness was predictably quite high.

Havanna Nights must have had a subliminal effect on me, however, as once I arrived in Medellin, I set to work looking for a dance school. With Luz Helena's help, I found one--El Ultimo Cafe--not too far from my language university, and I was soon signed up for private lessons in any and all forms of latin dance. My teacher promised me 18 hours of class at a ridiculously low price, and I figured that with my gringa background, I needed all of the hours of practice that I could afford.

I began with salsa, which everyone had told me was one of the easiest dances. That may be true for Latin people, born with hips that move in perfect rhythm without either thought or effort, but my WASPy genes did not endow me with such gifts. I could do the basic steps, but the feel of the dance was totally lost on me. I tried not to lose hope, and when my teacher informed me that there would be a milonga Saturday night at my school, I decided to watch in hopes that I might learn grace by osmosis. A milonga, I learned, is a sort of tango salon, a place where couples can dance but where, during breaks in the dancing, professional dancers or singers give brief performances. I sat (happily) in the corner and watched the intricate footwork and graceful movements of the couples. Forget salsa, I thought to myself, I want to tango!

I had my first lesson the following Monday and--much to my surprise--I was actually kind of decent (at least for a total newbie gringa). The steps which had seemed incomprehensible and totally improvised, began to make sense to me. The underlying beat pulsed behind the accordion and piano flourishes and guided me around the dancefloor on tiptoes. I began to recognize the subtle shifts in pressure and footwork that my teacher used to direct me: sometimes holding back and hesitating, sometimes matching our paces to the sweet, tripping notes. I became so enraptured with this dance that I stopped feeling self-conscious, stopped trying to watch my feet or catch my reflection in the mirror. The discovered that the romance of tango can be bold and red: women in tight dresses with a rose between their teeth. Or it can be simple and timeless: the happy feeling of moving in well-paired synchronicity with another person. Unlike Dirty Dancing's Baby, I'm not in love with my teacher, but I am in love with the dance.


Robby said...

latin dance certainly does have its magic

Alexandra said...

I think I was with you when we watched Diego Luna heat up the screen with Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Looks like we'll need to have a Loca Luna reunion when you're back in the States!