Cha Cha Cha - A Brief, Disastrous Foray Into Latin Dancing


When the heart grows lonely, desperation can drive you to drinking. I opened another beer and sat at the kitchen table. My roommate Victor was also drinking, and the discussion of my singledom had come up.

“The kind of girl I’d like would probably be pretty bookish. Maybe I should just hang around libraries?” It sounded creepy, but ideas and options had to be entertained before being put down. “How’d you find your girlfriend?”

“Well, I went to the clubs pretty often, and I saw her one night at Tantra,” he said. “Girls like guys who dance.”

My mind was bathed in beer at this point, and mental connections were being made that would not have been in a sober mind. It seemed an epiphany: my inability to get a date was correlated to my inability to dance.

“I should do Salsa dancing! There’s alway beautiful women!”

Victor had a puzzled look on his face. “Uh, are you sure about that?”

“This’ll be great!” I was slurring words at this point. “There’s a place at Eau Claire Market. I betcha it’s open right now, too!”

I ran from the table to my room, and pulled out my laptop computer. Checking the website, I saw that Brazilian Samba lessons were at 8:30, only giving me 25 minutes to run like hell to Eau Claire Market.

I stumbled and staggered through the heart of Downtown Calgary like a wounded dog. The empty streets worked to my advantage, getting there with minutes to spare. Looking into the dance studio, I saw exactly what I had expected to find: several young women dancing in step to hot, racy Salsa music. “Jackpot,” I whispered to myself as the class dispersed.

Ambling in, I met Al. “We’re always looking for male dancers in the studio,” he said. “Within a few weeks of dancing regularly, many go into the intermediate levels.” I paid my eighteen dollars, convinced that, yes, I was made for intermediate-level dancing. Al saw it in me, and I saw it in me too.

A few other women came into the studio, but were older, and there for dancing. “Foiled,” I thought. “Run with this. You can do this.”

Nino was the dance studio’s owner, and an accomplished dancer on an international scale. Walking to the front of the room, he said “we’re just going to go through the steps first, and then we’ll expand from there.”

The Samba is a dance characterized by jumping from left foot to the right, swivelling the opposite foot in front. When done by a skilled dancer, there’s a show of nimbleness and stamina that is exciting to watch.

Looking at the mirrors on the wall, I looked like someone on stimulants trying to do the hokey-pokey: Left foot in, left foot out, flail all about. It was about a half-hour into the class that I was told that the Samba is a solitary dance. I was thankful for that as I tried not to fall.

My body betrayed me. Rhythm eluded me, and my knees locked as I tried to hop in doublestep. “Humiliation is fine,” I thought, “but my legs weren’t made to withstand this abuse.”

The hour passed, and I was soaked with sweat. Al and Nino did their best to convince me that I needed to give it another shot. “The Salsa class is a little easier,” Al said, showing me the footwork quickly. “There’s partnering up in Salsa, which might be up your alley. Really, come back Wednesday. You’ve got heart.”

It was possible Al knew my intentions all along, and thought someone doing the Samba with booze on the breath would be funny to watch. Had I been in the same position, I’d have done the same thing.

I came back to the studio a couple days later. Stone sober, I came to this class with my A-game. Al was gathering up the money for the class. “Ah, are you going to buy the pass? You know, if you come to these classes on a regular basis you’ll advance a lot faster.” I hesitated, only coming up with the weak answer that I’d get it after class.

Al walked to the front of the room, saying “today we’re going to learn the Merengue.” I had watched some Salsa videos online to prepare, but the Merengue came as a surprise.

The Merengue is a little two-step where the knees snap back and forth on every beat. However, the trickiness comes from the need to shuffle across the floor. Going forward, the shuffle is quite easy. Going backwards is a bit like doing the moonwalk, but with groovy arm motions.

The trouble starts when trying to move to the left or the right. Shuffling while coordinating the knee-snapping and arms swaying, I lose all grace. The classmates move along with Al, and with each step frustration about my lack of coordination grows. As he shows the class how to dance in circles, I feel an intense, searing pain in my knees. “Now it’s time to dance in pairs,” he calls out.

Dancing with a partner in Merengue presents new problems. The partners dance with the knees just barely touching, thrusting the knees on the same side. To keep from bone-crunching collisions, the partners sway their hips and shoulders in time. Synchronized, this is a beautiful thing to watch. However, synchronicity did not come easy, as I was paired with a short Asian woman about forty years my elder.

We danced herky-jerky, with the expected knee-slamming that one expects. She smiled, determined to have fun despite the tall man crippling her in the process. “Hold her tight,” Al said, “and really move with her.” Watching the other couples laugh and move in time, a quick glance at the mirror confirmed my thoughts: two robots were trying to dance on the floor, and I happened to be one of them.

There are large glass windows allowing a view into the studio, and peering in, one can see 12 people locked in step, dancing the Salsa in a sexy fashion. Or, they see an awkward, six-foot-two man putting a poor five-foot-four woman in terrible pain. Looking at myself through those glass windows, I thought of the possible injuries I could inflict upon others over the years if I continued. When the class was over, I made a run for the door - there would be no convincing me to stick around.

Perhaps I made a strategic error in trying Latin dancing. I was looking for something (or more accurately, someone) that would sweep away the cobwebs of loneliness that come about from single life. The problems weren’t the instructions or my lack of coordination: it was trying to do something that my heart just wasn’t into. Much like archery or roller derbies, dancing requires you be there for the right reasons, else you hurt yourself or someone else.

I continue to hang out in libraries, occasionally pulling my eyes from my book to look around for the next love. Perhaps it will be some young Asian woman, scanning the walls to find something interesting. She’s looking for books to bring to her grandmother, who’s laid up in bed with bad knees due to some unfortunate dancing accident.