Tuesday, December 5, 2006

British Salsa

Our first attempt to get The Brit acquainted with latin dancing was humorous, to say the least. One particularly inspired Sunday night, we headed down to a club that I’ve been to several times before. On the drive, I gave him a briefing on what to expect: an offensive excess of make-up, spandex, and cologne…tacky decor that more or less distracts the patrons from the fact that they’re in a warehouse…cramped, sweaty dance floors that threaten one’s safety…and above all, very good live latin music and some very, very talented salsa dancers. The latter was an understatement, The Brit quickly discovered. Upon arrival, he took one look at the dance floor, already a complex tangle of furiously spinning torsos, arms and legs, took a second look at me and…gulp. Wide eyed, he stared, eyes darting from one spinning couple to another...

“WOW! Did you SEE what they just..."

“HOLY CRAP!! Look at THEM…"

“OH DEAR. I’ll NEVER be able to do…"

“Well, I can’t exactly be bothered to try THAT, now can I?"

Shock. Disheartenment. I think I actually saw him look along the edge of the dance floor for the track lighting that supposedly illuminates in an emergency to guide one to the nearest exit. (He travels a lot for work, so he gets the schpeal from the flight attendants a lot.)

So, I made the administrative decision to hit the bar first. He needed beer. STAT. We each had one. And then he had another. He’d attempted, once before, to overcome his British brand of rhythmlessness*, by taking a series of hip hop classes…from what I hear, it didn’t go too well. (These said classes occurred in the pre-me years…not to be confused with the post-meeting-me years, aka “the best years of his life.”) The Brit savored his second beer a little bit more slowly, perhaps while still looking for the track lighting…still planning his exit strategy. I smiled at him, reassured him, pried the empty beer bottle from his hands, and guided him slowly to a corner of the dance floor. That night, a couple beers later, he learned the basic step and one basic turn. It went well. I thought. Turns out we didn’t go back for months. (Perhaps the heavy cologne and the offensive spandex turned him off.) (I don’t know about that though…he tends to not mind when I wear offensive spandex.)

It wasn’t until our trip to Cuba, that he really decided it was important for him to get to know this part of my culture. My Cuban immigrant parents taught us first-generation American kids what was important growing up: la familia, iglesia, cafĂ© con leche, musica, and bailando. Dancing. We danced in the kitchen while we cooked. While we did the housework. While we washed the car. I danced right through my adolescence and into college where I actually minored in dance.

Despite the gaping difference in our levels of experience, The Brit was willing to take the challenge. And he has. We’ve been to several classes over the last few months; we went last night, in fact. And I must say, for a person who is so clearly not a natural, his persistence and enthusiasm have kept him coming back. (Well, either that or the beer.) (But we have beer at home, so, assuming it’s the enthusiasm.) (Or maybe it’s the offensive spandex afterall.)

It’s been an interesting exercise, for me, watching him learn. Movement is, we hope(!), something that can be taught and learned. In my profession, we bank on that. When I was interviewing for my surgery residency position, not once did someone ask me how good I am with my hands…not once did they ask me to demonstrate how I handle a needle driver or a forceps or how I tie knots. It was assumed that if I didn’t know already, I could be taught these movements. It seems like a nutty assumption…what of those people who are just plain clumsy? …those who can’t make the connection between a verbal instruction and a physical movement?…what of those poor pre-pubescent boys out there who just don’t know how to make their first move on a girl? The answer is simple. Any ballerina or surgeon (or teen male) knows it. Diligent practice. It’s what surgery residency directors the whole world across bet on. This, I kept in mind when The Brit bludgeoned my right toe in salsa lesson #2. [Only slight hemorrhage.] He just needs practice! (But really, OUCH!)

So we practice. And we count out loud. He gets this furrowed brow when he’s trying to anticipate the next step in a sequence…his eyes shift up and to the left, like he’s thinking really hard, his lips part slightly and he counts under his breath. (If he were a baby and his face were turning red, I’d think he was taking a poo in his diapers…that’s the level of concentration we’re talkin’ about here, folks!) If he gets the movement right…this slow smile erupts, eventually his dimples follow, and his surprised eyes shift to mine as he happily continues on with the basic step. It’s a funny look because it reads: “Hey, look what MY body just did!!”…as if he had no choice in the matter, and his limbs just magically did what they were instructed to do! If he gets the movement wrong, he comes to a complete halt, groans, and usually gives whichever body part deceived him a disciplinary slap. Then he carries on. He always carries on.

The toenail has since healed. The bludgeonings are diminishingly life and limb threatening. And The Brit’s evolving from the complete novice dancer to a seasoned beginner! Bravo, mi salsero gringo!!

We’re still working on his ability to hear the timing in the music…but, alas, this is what practice is for!

All in all, one of the many reasons I adore my Brit.

*Disclaimer: The phrase “British brand of rhythmlessness” does not imply that all British are without rhythm. (For instance, Benny Hill had impeccable timing. Sporty Spice as well.) This brand gets filed in a category along with the American, Canadian, and Scottish brands, for example. The Cuban, Brazilian, and African brands of rhythmlessness, though documented, are extremely rare, and usually due to genetic mutations that occur either because of random chance or cross-breeding with, say, British, American or Scottish genes.

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