Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Magic of Beer

I've discussed some of the successes and failures of my trip in prior blog posts, and one of the failures has been improving my Salsa dancing skills. I was in Buenos Aires an entire month and didn't go dancing once. Now that is pathetic.

I'm in BA again for a minimum of a couple weeks this time around and I decided I should work on the dance legs, as they have atrophied terribly. I asked my Spanish tutor about Salsa clubs and he gave me three names. I ended up going to La Salsera last night.

I looked them up on the Internet, wrote down the address, looked at my map, and decided on subte line A, which I caught less than a block from here. I got off at Rio de Janeiro station. Then I backtracked one block to a street called Yatay, hung a left and walked to Yatay 961.

While I walked, a connection between addresses and centuries occurred to me. Have you ever thought about how the 19th century is actually the 20th? That's because the first one started with numbers under 100. In the same way, I would have to walk not 9 blocks, but 10, to get to Yatay 961. That's because the first block began with a building labeled 12, not one-hundred-something. Pondering this subject kept me entertained for the lengthy ten-block walk. This paragraph is what is commonly referred to as digression. Back to the dancing, this post's raison d'être.

I left plenty of time for the trip, as I was going for the first time, didn't know exactly how long the trip would take, and didn't want to show up late for a class about which I was already nervous. When I arrived at the club, there was a guy standing in the street puffing on a cigarette. I asked him if there were Salsa classes here—again, just trying to quash my fears. He said there were.

I stepped into the lobby and had a sort of chat with the guy at the desk, partly filled out the form he gave me, and paid him ten pesos. I ended up taking the form home with me since I hadn't brought my passport and didn't remember the number. They need that number to punch my info into their computer to register each student.

I proceeded upstairs and put on my dance shoes—owning and wearing dance shoes doesn't make one a good dancer, in case you were wondering. I bought them just before I left home, simply because my knees are problematic and dancing in my tennis shoes would almost certainly bring my trip to a tragic end. Or maybe I would simply hang out in the local hospital for a few weeks. I don't really want to experiment with the durability of my knees.

The fellow who had been hanging out by the front door showed up a minute later. He proceeded out onto the balcony. I followed him and struck up a conversation. Martin has been dancing for fifteen years and helps out with the classes. After a few minutes, we headed back in, as other students had arrived and so had the teacher. Music began to play.

The teacher corralled us over onto the dance floor. It was 10:30 P.M. There were too many students to fit onto the hardwood, so we extended out onto the tiles covering the rest of the room.

The teacher talked so fast I could hardly understand a word that came out of his mouth—one of the reasons I figured I'd better start with the beginning class. He had us do some warm up steps that I was amazed he had absolute beginners doing. Not everyone was a beginner, but some were. Since I had no idea what the instructions were, I strained through the sea of legs and bodies to see what the instructor was doing. I figured if I could see it, I could mimic it.

After the warm up, we proceeded to do the basic, adding a couple cross-body leads—no idea what they're called in Spanish—and a couple variations on the ladies' outside turn. I knew all of this, so I survived the class and got a little practice in.

I ended up sitting through the intermediate class. I also shot a little video of the pattern with my point-and-shoot camera so I could work on it later on my own. I have to admit that it didn't occur to me at first to shoot a video of the class, but that I got the idea from another guy who arrived late and began to shoot some video on his own P&S. It became apparent over the course of the evening that Adrian loves taking pictures and video.

Adrian has been taking dance lessons for a year-and-a-half, is a Catholic of little faith who doesn't go to church, but does believe in God. He works at a grocery store, but is studying computer repair. He lives with his mom in the barrio of Mataderos. His dad lives elsewhere. He shot pictures and video throughout the evening, including one of me that I will cherish forever.

After the intermediate class, everyone filtered downstairs where the general dance session was beginning. It was 1 A.M. This is normal in The City That Never Sleeps.

For my entire life, I've pretended I didn't care what people think of me. Well, it wasn't really pretending. That's what I actually believed. I have come to the realization that I really do care—too much, I'm sure. Maybe acting like I didn't care was simply a convenient excuse for being a jerk.

In any event, caring what people think of me rears its ugly head more than ever when I'm sitting at a table at the edge of the dance floor. For some reason, I am terrified to ask a girl to dance with me. Maybe it's just because I currently suck, or maybe it's something else. At the moment, I know approximately three Salsa moves. Over the course of a five-minute song, that's pretty boring. Also, when trying out a move I'm working on, there's always the risk of screwing it up. Are these the root causes of my fear of asking a lady to dance? When my psychologist and I are done with the full analysis, I will let you know.

The end result of my nerves was that I sat at the table for maybe an hour trying to build up my courage—or maybe it was two hours. Adrian had left the table and returned with a beer. He offered me some. I declined, of course, not really liking alcohol too much, an acquired taste, possibly. It occurred to me, however, that a beer might be just what I needed—something to take the edge off my irrational fear. I walked over to the bar and, for six pesos, got me one.

Back at the table, a guy walked up and said something. Adrian notified me that this table had been reserved—probably the reason for the piece of paper in the middle of it that read reservado—and its rightful owner was now claiming it. We grabbed our bags and he led me over to a table on the other side of the club. Interestingly, he sat me down next to one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. I had noticed her dancing earlier—shocking, I know. Fortunately, I had gotten my amazement out of the way then and was able to say hi and kiss her on the cheek without slobbering too much.

I figured the best way to make use of the beer was to get it in my system, so I basically chugged it. Over the next several songs, I continued to try to decide whom I would ask to dance. My basic criterion was to choose the girl who terrified me the least. None of them really fit the bill too well. As each song came to an end, I swore I'd ask someone to dance when the next song started. More songs came and went. This time, my excuse was simply that the beer needed more time to take effect.

Ultra-super-duper-freaking-hot chick looked at her watch. My heart rate increased. Was she about to leave? She reached for her sweater. Maybe she's just cold. I don't know if the beer had had any effect yet, and I'm certain that I hadn't solved my underlying issue of insecurity, but the fear of missing out on a dance with ultra-super-duper-freaking-hot chick trumped all else. I held out my hand and asked her if she wanted to dance.

As usually seems to be the case, my dance partner was tolerant of my mere three moves and patient with my screw ups. I tried a few of the basics, the stuff we had gone over in class. Piece o' cake. I tried a few of the things I had worked on earlier in the day with my "Learn to Dance Salsa" DVD. Not bad. Then I decided to try a really cool move that I used to know—operative words used to. I almost choked her. I can't really say she had a big smile on her face when we were done, but I had survived. I was under the clear realization that I should keep practicing.

I figured that was enough torture for one night and swapped out my dance footware for my very old and worn New Balance 973s. Adrian walked me out to help me find the proper bus stop. Long story short, it was 4 A.M. and the buses were thin. I ended up taking a cab.

As has been a consistent happening on this trip, I made some new friends, a fine one in particular. I made it over a small hurdle and am now going to commit to keeping up with the Salsa. And, if I didn't realize it before, I now know that I have serious issues with insecurity. Last, but not least, as a Baptist, for drinking alcohol and dancing, I will go directly to Hell—I will not pass go and I will not collect two-hundred dollars. All in all, a good night.


Anonymous said...

If there are no pictures it didn't happen!

Love your blog and am happy to see you are still enjoying your trip!

Computer Repair said...

Great Story

Anonymous said...

Well, that all depends on what SORT of Baptist you are. After all, there's American Baptists that act like Catholics (they Do smoke, they Do chew, they definitely go with girls that do) and then there's ultra-right-wing John Birchers that won't drink Coke because caffiene is a mortal sin.

What I found interesting was the idea of the proximate effect re: Dancing Shoes and daemon liqueur. You know, "one thing leads to another." "Put on yer Sailin' Shoes," and the all-time classic, "...Guilty Feet Ain't Got No Rythym..."

As an aside, they must have fairly good-tasting beer down there, because if (as you seemed to indicate) you're generally of the non-consumptive persuasion, it's more likely that you would have found yer typical brew to smell like a brackish backwater of the mighty Columbia, just south of Tomohawk Island.

But is this really the first time you've gunned one down and thrown caution to the four winds? I guess one could speculate about how much further in the right-or-wrong direction it might take you, but then we would have a real furball of a discussion regarding what-true-and-faithful-baptists-can-and-can't-do.

Nah, can't go there w/o getting very un-PC, since we seem to be in an era that invokes the second coming of the sixties "'s yer thing, do wha you wanna do..." ideal. You know, the "sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll lifestyle that every good baptist points to as the downfall of society.

Still I guess I could be a stick-in-the-mud by pointing out that life lived in balance rather than seeking the extremes is boring, but may be longer and might increase wisdom rather than carbohydrate-fueled-waist-expansion.

Well, check your soles for excessive wear and remember the famous quote about "have fun, but remember that it all comes back in yer face sooner or later." This a very fast-and-loose quote from The Preacher. Anyway, beware of beautiful senioritas with suspicious padres!

Bon Chance,


Anonymous said...

I think a better title for this post is "Liquid Courage".