Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dancing with Cynthia

Learning to dance salsa is hard.  It takes lots of work, lots of lessons, lots of practice.  You have to be willing to look awkward, fumbling, disjointed, autistic even, while you fumble through your beginner's baby steps.  Over time, I have found that it takes about 18 months, or or less, to gain some semblance of mastery over the intricacies of the dance.  Still, if you can stay the course, the satisfaction of dancing salsa well makes all your tribulations worthwhile.  The self-confidence engendered by looking flowing and graceful while dancing to the music is priceless.  If you are thinking about trying it, or if you have just begun, my advice is: go get it.  You'll be glad you did.  Just remember, there is no way around, only through, and practice, practice, practice. 

Legendary cellist Pablo Casals, when asked why he continued to practice at age 90, replied: "Because I think I'm making progress."

I have been privileged to watch one of my favorite dancers pass through this progression.  Cynthia, awkward as any novice,  began dancing salsa four years ago.  Gawky, hesitant, and unsure of herself,  she was an ugly-duckling dancer on her way to becoming a beautiful, graceful swan; a queen of salsa.

As her dance career progressed, she benefited from a succession of dance relationships.  She learned from very good leads, who teased out her growing abilities and made them shine.  The more she learned, and the more she practiced, the better she became, and the better leads she attracted.  One of my favorite sayings:  When the student is ready, the teacher appears.  This has certainly been true of Cynthia's career.  Every lead has certain styles and moves which he prefers, that he does better than anyone else, and he will pass them on to follows who dance with him.   Cynthia, a very quick study,  now has a vast repertoire of moves, each imparted by a careful and instructive lead.  Because she has danced with so many men, she anticipates what comes next, and carries the lead's intention out flawlessly, without the emasculating insult of back leading.  Never pushy, never impatient, always attentive, she looks beautiful while dancing her ass off.

One thing that I have noticed over the years: the better the dancer, the lighter the touch.  Novices require a heavy hand to keep them on course, or else they spin off into outer space.  As they acquire more control over their body,  the effort required of the leader to guide their movements lessens. Dancing with Cynthia resembles driving a Ferrari, rather than a dump truck.  She requires only finger-tip control, a feather-like embrace.  She has an ethereal presence, where only a hint of  direction suffices to send her on her way.  She is as light as a baby's breath.  I love dancing with her.  

Another facet of Cynthia's allure reflects her sense of style in clothing and shoes.  She knows what looks good on her, and maximizes her brand through careful selection of dresses and heels.  Her street shoes grace the picture at the top of the page.  (We were dancing while this photo was taken).  I don't know where she shops, but fashion mags should follow her around for story ideas.  The ability to accessorize is innate, not acquired, and she has it in spades.  She embodies the hard-to-beat combination  of looking beautiful, dressing well, and dancing gracefully.  Here's to Cynthia.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

L.A. Style



The first time I danced with Madelyn in a Los Angeles salsa club, she appeared about forty years old.  
I beheld a tall, slender, athletic woman, with cascading raven hair and glowing alabaster skin seemingly lit from within.  She sported mostly hidden tattoos, and her piercing blue eyes looked into and through you at the same time.  Madie barely tolerates male leads, as she prefers choreographed solos to following half-assed leaders who fail to match her skill and experience.  We have become friends over the last several months, and Madie now counts as one of my favorite salsa partners.  She has opened up her story to me, so here it is, as best as I can recount it.

Beginning at the age of eight, Madie experienced sexual abuse at the hands of the family priest.  Her parents trusted Father Alphonso.  They never suspected him of any activity but that expected of a concerned, involved Catholic priest.  He privately told Madie that just as the Virgin Mary submitted to the command of the angel Gabriel, and allowed the Holy Spirit to impregnate her with the Son of God while still an unwed teenager, likewise, as a good Catholic girl, she should submit to his demands for sexual contact.  Later on in life, as she learned of the abhorrence of such behavior in the eyes of God, and that it was not what Jesus had in mind when he said “Suffer the little children to come unto me”,  she became justifiably angry and vowed revenge on men in general, and deviates in particular.

In her twenties, Madie worked in the sex trade.  She found a job as a Dominatrix in a Dungeon in L.A.  Important note: professional dommes DO NOT have sex with miserable worms; they just dominate and humiliate them for money.   

When seeking to buy several hours of a relationship based on BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism), the client is given a list of services and they select what form of humiliation they deserve.  Madie recalled one client fondly.  Steve, a first-timer in his thirties, red-haired, over-weight, and gay, came in and filled out the questionnaire. He chose verbal humiliation alone, with no bondage or physical pain.  Since this occurred early in her career as a domme, Madie lacked confidence in her ability to inflict purely verbal abuse, so she had a talk with one of her older, more experienced co-workers for tips on how to fulfill her client’s needs.   

While Madie donned her costume,  all black leather and zippers and stiletto heels, Sady offered this sage advice: “You know how we talk about clients behind their backs here in the dressing room?”  Madie nodded in agreement.  “Well, talk like that to his face.”  

Properly armed, Mistress Madelyn stalked down the corridor, ducked into the fifth cell on the left, and went to work.


Monday, May 19, 2014

One step

Ran into one of my salsa brothers, Paulito, at the club last week.  When I recognized him, I realized I hadn’t seen him in a while, probably since the first of the year.  He looked paler and thinner than I remembered.  He smiled and waved, and came over to chat.  I asked how he was, and where had he been.  With slightly stumbling speech, he told me he had fractured his skull in an accident back in January.  Taken aback, I asked what happened.  Come to find out, he had been drinking after work with some co-workers on a Friday night, as they usually did.  When it came time to go, he walked down a grassy hill, half-gassed, and as he approached the bottom, he slipped on wet grass.  He fell backwards and his head bounced off the concrete sidewalk like a ripe cantaloupe.  He got back to his feet, and walked about a half a mile before collapsing.  He woke up several days later in Intensive Care, with a neck brace, a splitting headache, and no memory of how he got there.  After two weeks laying on his back immobilized in the hospital, they released him.  He said he had lost his sense of smell.  Apparently, the impact to the rear of his head damaged, if not severed, the olfactory nerve.  The doctors were non-committal as to whether it would ever return.  He also had difficulty with word finding,  typical for head injuries.  I hope he'll be ok.  He told me he quit drinking for two months after the accident, but when I saw him later that night, I couldn’t help noticing he was getting his drank on.   Makes you wonder about the value of drinking.  

As Robin Williams famously said, describing his life as an alcoholic, "You would do things where even the Devil would say:  'Dude...' ".

Saturday, May 10, 2014

O.C. / D.C.

                                52 Clubs in 52 Days.

I finally stopped my salsa binge at fifty-two clubs in fifty-two days.  Day fifty three offered up a cold and rainy Saturday night, with only Gloria's Downtown open.  I just did not want to park and walk in the rain. I said  "Waaah, I don't wanna go.  Do I have to?"  The Voices told me, no, 52 was enough, so I stayed home.  The fever broke, and since then I've gone back to my regular routine of dancing four nights a week.

Going out seven nights a week for more than seven weeks in a row turned out to be very difficult at first.  I initially committed to 30 clubs in 30 days, just to put pressure on myself in order to make sure I kept as my word.  At the end of the month, with the pressure off, I just continued on, raising the bar for the next fool.  At one point, I told Mario about my binge. He said he could never do that. He looked puzzled, and then the light came on. 

"Do you have a girlfriend?" he asked. 

 "No" I said. 

"Well, no wonder why, you can have all the fun you want."

Going out night after night provided me with time to observe the goings-on around me.  It also allowed me go to venues I might not have attended otherwise, as most clubs only have salsa on certain nights, and if one doesn't go on those nights, you miss out on their scene.

On Monday nights, Gustavo Simplis presents Tango Night at Opa's, an intimate coffee and wine bar on South Lamar.  Gustavo, passionately devoted to tango, uses free classes around town, called practicas, to drum up business for his school at Esquina Tango in East Austin.  Tango, more than 150 years old, has evolved a lot of tradition around the dance.   A milonga, or tango dance, denotes a social event encompassing codigos, or specific traditions.  These codigos include dancing a tanda with one partner.  A tanda is a group of four tango songs, usually by the same orchestra.  Tandas are separated by a cortina, a 60 second snippet of a song not of the tango genre, during which the dancers should change partners.    Another codigo dictates one should practice only at a practica, never at a milonga. 

At any rate, one Monday night that I have since dubbed "Last Tango in Austin",  I danced with Dora at the milonga.  As we talked, unbeknownst to us, the tanda ended, and a cortina began.  We continued to dance while we chatted.  A man came over to us, apparently with the Tango Police, and told us to stop dancing, and to change partners.  Not wanting to cause a scene, we complied.  Still, we found this disconcerting.  I'm not sure I want that much tradition interfering with my dance.  Tango is an acquired taste, and I don't seem to have the discerning palate necessary to enjoy it fully.  Maybe when I'm older.

Tuesday nights found me at Bachata Night with Favian and Cynthia at the Loft on Congress. They are as passionate about bachata as Gustavo is about tango. They too hold classes in the hours before the social dancing begins.  Aptly named, the Loft describes a converted apartment in a second story walk-up.  Small and crowded also describe it well.  I tell newcomers to be careful, because Bachata is a sensual dance,  and dancing bachata can lead to pregnancy.

Pedro's Place on Guadalupe hosts salsa on Wednesday nights.  An old building, the second story ballroom has a well-used wooden floor.  A funky, long, narrow room, with the band at one end, and the bar at the other, Pedro's Place gets unbearably hot in the summertime.

La Mona Loca plays salsa, merengue, cumbia, and the occasional bachata and cha cha cha.  The band has one speed: Fast.  If you are not ready to pull out all the stops, and dance as fast as you can for as long as you can, don't go.  Come ready to sweat if you do go.  La Mona Loca is not beginner friendly, and Wednesday night at Pedro's Place seems to attract every professional dancer in Austin.  Jose Santoyo teaches a progressive salsa class at Pedro's Place on Wednesday night.  Jose is, in my opinion, the finest male lead in Austin, and he has extensive teaching experience as well.  If you have been dancing for a while, and are ready to lift your dance to your next level, take his class.

Thursday nights belongs to Latin Night at Dallas Nite Club on Burnet Road.  Bill, the owner, reserves a front row, ringside table for me every Latin Night.  Friends quickly fill the open seats, with eight or ten pairs of street shoes under the table by eleven o'clock.  Dallas has a large, polished, wooden dance floor, perfect for dancing salsa.  Combine that with hundreds of accomplished salsa partners, and you have salsa heaven every week in Austin.  If you go early, Robbie Sky teaches an intermediate salsa class.  Be sure and watch for her patented booty roll (it's like a tootsie roll, only sweeter).

Friday nights has two venues from which to choose.  The two Glorias, Downtown and at the Domain, are plush, fancy spots, perfect for the beautiful people to see and be seen.  However, the non-slip, safety concrete dance floors do not lend themselves to dancing.  The Glorias are more for meet and greet and eat than dancing. 

Saturday nights are similar to Friday nights, in that Glorias Downtown has a live band and a difficult floor.  Once a month, you have The Austin Allstars Latin Social at Go Dance South in Westgate Mall.  They have veteran DJ's playing perfect music, perfect dance floors, and feature multiple dance genres to keep you interested.  One room spins salsa and cha cha cha.  A second room spins bachata and kizumba.  When I venture into the bachata/kizumba room, I'm always greeted with the feeling I caught the lot of them masturbating, especially the Ki Zombies.  Kizumba, born in Angola back in the '80s, is the word used in the Kimbundu language for the yoga pose "Two Dogs Fucking".   

Sunday nights find me back at Dallas Nite Club for more salsa.  Fewer people come out on a Sunday night,  leaving more room to dance.  There is no shortage of good dancers, though.  One Sunday night at DNC, I sat at one table, and Unica sat at the next table with three of her admirers. A bachata came on, and I asked her to dance. We had fun, doing our usual thing. With the song over, we returned to our tables, hand in hand. A short while later, two forty-something ladies were leaving when they stopped by Unica’s table to tell her how beautiful she looked during our recent dance. 

She pointed at me, and said “Well, Robert was leading,” but they waved that off and said she looked great. 

After they left, I went over to Unica and said “See, I told you. We keep dancing together like that, and people will think we’re married.” 

She threw her head back and laughed, and said   “If we keep sitting at separate tables, they’ll know we’re married”.

See you on the dance floor.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Salsa Binge

                                                       Death comes to the salsa world.

Sunday night, January 12, Becky Bishop, 65, died when she drove her SUV under the bed of semi-trailer on Burnet Road.  She had just left the Go Dance studio after a fine evening of dancing. 

Becky was one of my favorite cha cha partners.  She was always smiling and laughing, even after teaching the beginner’s class at DNC on Thursday night.  Her horrifying death snapped into focus for me the reality that we do not know how much time we have left in our lives.  I also realized that I want to be like Becky, and dance in the last hour of my life.

I had planned on going to thirty clubs in thirty days for my birthday month of Aquarius, from January 20 to February 18.  Becky’s death prompted me to move my start date up to January 15. 

I asked myself “Why wait?”   

So, during the last thirty days, I have gone to 33 clubs.  They were mostly salsa or bachata events, although when there were none to be had, I went to see and hear bands of friends of mine who were playing around town.

One day, just to make sure, I threw the red flag, and asked several salseras for a booth review. My question to them: If I'm in a club at say 11:00 pm, and I'm in the same club at 1:00 am, does that constitute two clubs in two days, or just one. 

They all said "No, that's one club in one day" and charged me my last time out.

It has been interesting to witness the reactions of people when I tell them what I’m doing.  Some people, very supportive, encouraged me to keep on keeping on. 

 “That’s great.  You are not just sad about Becky’s death; you are actually doing something positive about it”.  

 One person heartily approved: “Everyone needs to do that.”   

Others were non-committal, but they rolled their eyes as if to say I was obviously crazy.  Still others showed their concern by looking at me sideways and asking about my mental health and general well-being.  

 Them I asked: “How do you stop a binge?”   

One replied: “By definition, you don’t.  If you can stop, it’s not a binge.”   

Another person said: “The last time I binged, I landed in the hospital.  I haven’t had a drink since.”    

Experience has taught me one cannot both drink alcohol and salsa effectively, so I have not been drinking at the dance clubs.   

One friend said:  “Oh, good.  Phil and I don’t drink and party during the month of January every year, so I’m sitting at home drinking tea and watching TV, and you’re going to 30 clubs in 30 days.  Totally not fair.”  

Personally, I feel a binge resembles a forest fire.  You can’t stop it, you just have to let it burn out.

Because of the dance lessons I have been taking over the last month, combined with practically non-stop social dancing, my dance skills have improved, or at least so I’m told. I have expanded my horizons by visiting several venues I haven’t frequented before, and met many new, amazing dance aficionados.  Propelled by a friend’s untimely death,  I have found new friends through dance.  Becky would be proud.