Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Last Dance I (Mexico City)

Monday. I walk through my park, a goodbye stroll. I wave to teachers from whom I've taken a lesson or two and to people I've taken lessons with. I find my steady dancing partners: Jose, a narrow curl of a man, bent like elbow macaroni, in his 60's? 70's?, has been a sweet and patient teacher. Alvaro, with his high cheekbones and bulging eyes, is in his 50's or 60's. I think he told me that he makes car loans. He's also a wine connoisseur and, unbelievably, he only started dancing 5 months ago; he's got rhythm and groove in his bones and in his blood. They take turns dancing me to the music of a nearby class. Then we walk over to a union hall, the place to go if it rains or if you just want to dance inside for free.

Along the way I spy a vendor roasting giant camotes (sweet potatoes). Although my stomach is still satisfied with the fish ceviche I'd lunched on three hours ago, my nasal passageways are telegraphing my brain: THERE'S ALWAYS ROOM FOR A CAMOTE!

My friends don't get the telegraph. They escort me quickly past the enticing smell and into the dance space.

I salsa with Alvaro, then with Jose. A friend of theirs, now mine, churns me as if I were Dorothy's house in a Kansas tornado. "You have style," he says.

A dark-skinned man with a scar on his cheek swoops me through turn after turn. He's a strong lead with some original moves, a pleasure to follow. "You dance like a Puerto Rican," he tells me. I take that as a compliment.

Another gent takes my hand and leads me into a salsa. "How have you been?" he asks. "Where is your son?" We took a lesson or two, two years ago in the park, and we've both improved.

I dance, nonstop, until they dim the lights. Then Alvaro and Jose walk me back to the park, where we watch a class kick and slide in the semi-darkness. I mimic the moves a little ways away. A drunk grabs me and slingshots me about. "Gracias," I tell him, backing towards the safety of my guardian-friends, who close ranks to protect me.

Alvaro spins me through a cumbia. Ismael, a 40ish cabbie who stinks of cigarettes but dances devine, catches me up and we twirl. I am a feather in the wind.

"You will teach them something new in Richmond," says Alvaro.

"You can start leading classes in parks in Richmond," says Jose.

"Don't go," says Ismael.

They walk me to my train, but I won't let them go out of their ways to take me to my stop. "We'll miss you. We'll wait for you. We love you," they chime.

"Don't make me cry," I tell them.

My feet hurt and my knee throbs all night long, but I keep dancing in my dreams.

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