Saturday, July 18, 2009

How I found Jesus Part II (Mexico City)

You might be asking yourself, "Why on earth would Barbara spend an entire hour of her 6-week vacation searching for a guy who gave her the wrong telephone number?" Or you might not. But I'm going to tell you why, anyway.

In order to do so, however, I've got to take you back, to when a little girl (about 5 years old and knee high to a grasshopper's knee-hi's), donned leotards and tights for the first time, in the belief that being a ballerina was to be her calling.

Move quickly to view that same girl, 4 years later and only slightly taller, arriving at the realization that she lacked rhythm, grace, and any possibility of living life as a dancer -- something her instructor no doubt realized the first time she set toe on the dance floor.

Fast forward to Mexico City in 2006, where this girl -- now a woman of a certain age (if she were a large dog, she might be dead by now) -- spends hours each day for nearly a week, waiting for her teenage son. As said son plays chess inside a large tent, the woman wanders about the park where the tent is situated. She watches children play soccer. Reads everything in and out of sight. Tries not to watch the young couples sprawled on benches or in the grass as they smooch. And finally, discovers that people are offering dance lessons to other people in the park.

For nearly a week, I watch the lessons, thinking, "Should I or shouldn´t I? Do I dare?" Finally, on our last day in Mexico, I do.

The students -- all older than me --are dancing salsa. What fun! I ask the teacher if I can join in. She says that the lesson is half over and that it will cost me the same $2.50 (yikes!) that it would have had I taken the full session. I tell her that´s fine, pay my fee, and line up. Just in time to change to the next dance, NOT salsa. For an hour we do cumbia and other dances with which I am not familiar. At one point, the teacher tells me, "It´s like riding a horse!"

"My horse is tired!" I respond.

My fellow students, not yet breaking a sweat, end the session with American line dancing, which I don´t even want to do in the US. I am trying to recuperate on a nearby bench and am panting like a horse.

Despite my fatigue, my two left feet, and my inability to follow simple instructions, I take at least one lesson from the same instructor each time I return to Mexico City in subsequent years. She recognizes me, as do some of the members of her class, because I am the only foreigner or, perhaps, because I am the worst dancer who has ever joined them.

The last Monday of my stay, in the summer of 2008, I take a dance class and, for the first time, am able to endure the entire two hours without feeling as if I were about to collapse. In addition, I am actually able to reproduce most of the steps that the teacher models. When I am paired with partners, I don't cause them excessive pain.

After the lesson, I retire for about an hour to an Internet cafe. I send off my emails and walk back towards the subway, passing through the park once more. It´s then that I notice that there are more teachers and more dancers, and that some of the classes are pure salsa. I stop to watch one group, and the assistant instructor beckons me to join them. I shake my head no; I'm already wiped. But I ask the instructor if he´ll be teaching the next day. "No," he says, "but you can learn now." I figure what the heck, and I jump in.

I´m immediately partnered with a young man who knows less than I do. Every couple of minutes, the assistant grabs me, shows the youngster what he´s supposed to do, and hands me back. The boy doesn´t get it, so I´m assigned to someone else. Jesus is my new partner.

You´ve got to understand that, even when I am at my dancing best, I´m not very good. I possess a complete lack of kinesthetic memory, which means that I have to relearn the basics every time I dance and cannot repeat what I´ve been doing for an hour, two hours later. I´ve taken lessons in Richmond, on and off for the last year or so, and I have improved a bit, but that's not saying much.

If I were any good, a lot younger or beautiful, men would be patient, would try to teach me a step or two, would keep me on the dance floor for more than one song. "That´s why I leave Richmond each year," I tell people, half jokingly. "Because the men who´ve danced with me once, realize how bad I am. When I return a month or two later, they´ve forgotten who I am and they make the mistake of asking me to dance once again."

So, when I danced with Jesus, was able to follow him, and things seemed to click, it was absolutely amazing! I really wanted to dance and dance well again and I was willing to go to some lengths to reunite with the perfect partner.

When I see Jesus, he explains that he´d lost his cell phone about a month after we met. I´ve arrived just in time to accompany him to a better dance lesson, and we spend an hour or so learning steps. Either I´ve improved or he hasn´t been practicing or something. Jesus is a mere mortal in my eyes....

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