Tuesday, August 23, 2011
On Thursday night, Dallas Night Club rocks with the best night of salsa in Austin. I notice Layla, the Brazilian sex therapist, back in town, and ready to dance. Seeing her again made me think about how a seasoned salsera looks and acts. She’s wearing a brilliant orange sleeveless dress, with bare shoulders and cleavage. A short dress , well above her knees, with rows of two inch fringe that stand out and seemingly shimmer of their own volition when she spins. Her smooth, tan legs look yummy against the fluorescent orange. Her light orange, satin dance shoes have two inch heels. Layla, a strong-willed, exuberant dancer, will trample a weak lead. I love dancing with her.
The mental conversation inherent in salsa appeals to me. I love the anticipation and the move, the call and response aspects of just two people, making dance. Some salseras feel as light as a feather. Simply hit the turn signal, and they spin of their own accord. You merely invite a move, and they know what to do; they flow gently into and beautifully out of it.
You know you have a live one on your hands, if when asked if they can salsa, reply: "You lead, I'll follow".
Other, less experienced dancers need a firmer hand to know where to go. Dancers with less than a year in the clubs require that you give them no option but to do the move you expect of them. Dancing with beginners I call "Tipping Cows". If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of their hooves clattering across the dance floor.
"Want a beer?" I asked Layla.
"No," she said, "I don't drink anymore."
"Oh," I replied, "Why not?"
"The last time I drank, I ended up in handcuffs."
"Wow," I said, "you mean when you woke up you were handcuffed to a bed?"
Layla replied archly, "No. I ended up handcuffed in the back of a squad car."
"Oh, well, never mind," I said with a dismissive wave of my hand.
Just then, Raoul walked up, looked at Layla, and said "You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. Let me marry you, and I'll take care of you forever."
Layla looked at him skeptically, and said "I don't trust you."
"Why not?" whined a crestfallen Raoul, with love and hurt in his voice.
Stone-faced, Layla retorted: "You're Latin".
I met Michelle, a new girl I saw at Dallas for the first time the previous week.
I asked her to dance, and she said "Sure, but go easy on me, I have a phobia about salsa."
"Phobia?" I responded, slightly cross-eyed.
"Yeah, five years ago my old boyfriend told me I would never be a good salsa dancer. I recently broke up with him, and I'm trying to get back into salsa."
"Well" I replied, "Let's prove that sonofabitch wrong. I'll tell you what I tell all the new girls I meet: I need you to help me make you look good. You're the picture, and I'm the frame. You only have to do two things to dance with me. One, keep your feet moving, and two, look pretty. Can you do those two things?"
"Sure, I can do that" she said with a smile.
"OK, let's see if you know the basics."
I began the basic step. "Check".
Then I performed a cross-body lead. "Check".
Then a ladies right turn. "Check".
Then a cross-body lead to her right with a left-hand turn. She stumbled and grabbed my arms in a panic.
"See", she said in a plaintive, little-girl voice, "I can't do it!"
I gave her a hug, and said "Don't worry honey, it'll be ok. We'll work on it until you have all the tools you need," and I led it again. And then again.
I have done the same thing with more than ten beginners, and now that they are accomplished dancers, they still remember me as the nice guy who gave them a break when they were just starting out. Time and patience yields excellent dance partners. The following week, I asked her to dance again.
"OK," she scolded me with a finger, "but no scary moves."
After dancing for a minute or so, she leaned closer, and said "I feel so safe and calm when I dance with you. You're like my salsa therapist!" I just laughed.
Later, I danced with a talented, experienced salsera with whom I had not danced before. I did my usual thing, and our backs collided four times in a row. After the fifth time, I stopped and turned with a WTF? look in my eyes.
Unapologetic, she shrugged her shoulders, and said "I don't know what to do. Every time I turn around, you're not there. It's like a magic show!"
She looked down at her satin dance heels for a moment, and then back up at my face. "I know what it is. You dance in a circle, and I dance in a slot."
She had nailed the problem. I came up through the Cuban-style rueda, and she began with the dance school slot routines. After 18 months of non-stop salsa, I took Swing lessons for a while, so I now do swing salsa in a circle. We mutually agreed to take a break.
When I saw Layla the next week, she told me about what happened after she left the club that night. She had stopped at a convenience store in the early morning hours to buy gas. While she was standing at the counter to pay, a young woman, obviously flying, entered the store, and took Layla in with a glance.
"Oh", the girl exclaimed in an overly loud voice, "you must be one of those salsa bitches!"
She wanted to dance right then and there.
Alarmed, the store clerk, in a voice inflected with a strong Bengali accent, asked "Should I call the police?"
"No", Layla laughed, "she's right", and they danced in the aisle together.
Layla left the store with a shake of her head and a smile.