Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dancing Fool (Cuernavaca, Mexico)

My salsa and cumbia teacher (I'll call him "Rubber Legs" because that's what I call him)in Cuernavaca is nowhere to be found. The studio where he used to teach has been taken over by others, none of whom can tell me his whereabouts.

Okay, I tell myself. I'll take classes at this new school. After all, they offer not only salsa and cumbia, but a whole line-up of different types of dance instruction, so I can try even belly dancing, should I be so inclined.

The problem is that the schedule hanging on the door is wrong. And nobody seems to know when which classes will take place. I stop in for salsa and they're doing jazz. I try for cumbia, and it's capoeira. I show up for belly dancing and wait for an hour and a half, along with three students and the teacher, for the studio door to be unlocked. We wait in vain.

I end up taking not one, but two belly dancing lessons. Another name for this artform might be "looking like a fool, while sweating like a pig." Whatever you want to call it, I enjoy myself. I love the music, and when I can mimic the hip, belly, shoulder, chest, and whole-body rolls, I feel pleased. It's only later that every part of me hurts.

After the second belly dancing session, I stay to watch the jazz class. The music is fabulous, bluesy and driving. The teacher is adorable and charismatic and, from the looks of things, has trained in classical ballet. He leads his students through an hour and a half of torturous stretches that cause the floor to be slick with the the sweat streaming off their noses and other parts of their anatomy. They moan and groan as they attempt the body twisting movements that the teacher executes with a smile, with ease, with aplomb, and without any apparent discomfort. The routine that they practice for the next half hour challenges and delights the dancers. I am happy to be their audience.

I can't say no to the invitation to join the salsa class that follows. The main teacher leads us, a group of about 50, through a short routine which I am able to follow without much difficulty. Then we divide ourselves into three groups -- beginners, intermediates, and advanced -- for the remaining hour of instruction.

Confident that I already know the basics, I join the intermediate group. We couple up, switching partners every few minutes. By the end of the session, I almost understand how I am supposed to move. I am grateful that I didn't have the nerve to choose the more advanced group, as I watch the women do multiple spins that would have landed me on a chiropractor's or a mortician's table. Even minus such spins, I am tired and achy and happy to be able to walk home without keeling over.

Eventually, because I run into a former student of Rubber Legs, I find out where the missing instructor has set up shop. His new studio is a quarter the size of and about 10 feet away from the old location. I attend a dance there, partnering several times with a young man who knows his way around the dance floor. Big and tall, he whisks me around as if I were a rag doll. A very wet and exhausted rag doll. I actually am panting by the time I sit down. I have to rest through at least two numbers before I can work up the energy to dance again. This is what I call a good time.

I take a two hour class later in the week and dance several times with a talented young dancer (whom I've tried to imitate, without much success, over the years). This 20-something reminds me of a Mexican version of Michael Jackson, only cuter and alive.

Now I am looking forward to dancing more in Mexico City.

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