Thursday, July 23, 2009
It's been a few weeks more than six years since I went to Costa Rica on a school trip, but the experience continues to effect me to this day. I'll spare you the cliché-laced description of how it shifted my world view and reordered my priorities in many ways, and stick to something a little more topical: while in Costa Rica, I first learned how to salsa. Despite the awful stereotype that Jews have no rhythm - these people obviously have never been to a Jewish dance - I consider myself well suited and quite comfortable moving my body to the beat of music, but as I please. Don't get me wrong, I'm no (fill in the blank of either Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, Usher, etc.), but neither am I like this. So when I first confronted with the intimidating dance that is salsa (and in this same trip, merengue), I mastered the rudimentary steps and could feel that clever devil known as confidence creeping down towards my sliding feet and shaking my hips from side to side. All in all I felt 100% ok about my progress, that is until I stepped aside and let my host brother show us how it's done with his sister. The music commenced and they fluidly matched each others' movements in a perfect balance. Turns, spins, more turns, more spins, and beauty followed. Good salsa dancers are a site to behold, I assure you. It all looked so natural, I envied their skills so much.
Fast forward to the Saturday evening before last, when we all came together to celebrate our friend Felipe's birthday. First, a word about Felipe: he's our Frisbee coach (not to be mistaken with our Frisbee captain, Diego), and after that fateful first day of Ultimate almost 10 months ago, I wasn't sure what to think of him. Truthfully, I was a little intimidated; I was the new guy, he was obviously more experienced and knew everyone. He was never mean to me, but this was one of our first interactions: I went in for one possession during the game, dropped an easy throw which immediately led to a score, Felipe told me to go back to the sidelines, I wholeheartedly accepted. But over time he has proven to be one of our strongest and most consistent friends. He still has that competitive fire from when we first met, but now I realize it's the on-field personae of someone who is creative, caring, and coquettish off it. And another thing about Felipe: he loves to dance salsa. He's from Colombia, where it seems exquisite salsa dancers grow like corn in the midwest, and for his birthday he wanted to find a club where we could dance salsa. So after a delicious dinner at San Telmo-famous Des Nivel, we headed out to a salsa dance school where our other friend Stephanie (not to be confused with our Fanie) was holding her despedida. We arrived around 1:45 but I don't think I started dancing until 2 or so - let's just say that while Quilmes does not necessarily give me that aforementioned confidence, it's definitely a good bait to lure it out of its hiding place. I did my fair share of salsa-ing with Julia, Paola, and even Felipe, and by no means did I embarrass myself or my family name, but I felt painfully over matched by the other gentlemen whose feet and hips so naturally swayed from side-to-side, back and forth, without even thinking.
Part of it's definitely because I dance salsa once every 2 months and each time only retain about 20% of the skill/confidence from the previous session; but more importantly, dancing is something that we as citizens of the United States who come from European descent do not learn at a young age. The same could be said for fútbol, which is why we're painfully behind the rest of the world in the only global game on the planet, but while we were busy watching Saved by the Bell, reading The Boxcar Children, many if not most Latin American children were learning to salsa, meringue, or any other dance. North American children would be embarrassed to learn how to dance from their mothers or fathers, paired with their brothers in sister; Latin American children embrace the chance. I don't intend to over generalize, and I consider what I'm saying to be a compliment because I'm intensely jealous of this aspect of Latin American upbringing. I wish dancing salsa were so natural to me, that I wasn't falling over myself trying to keep move my hips side-to-side and forward-to-back at the same time, all while leading an experienced dancer in front of me through the varying twists and turns the dance requires. To reach the point of comfort I would have to increase my salsa-ing ten fold, something I don't think will happen, but who knows. It's at these times I really wish we lived in the Matrix so Felipe could install the steps and collective memory of all salsa dancers in my brain in a matter of seconds. Also, then I could dunk.