I already have a spot where I go the minute I enter the club: to the right, halfway around the huge U-shaped bar. “Mama vuela mama vuela!!” the music blasts, over and over, ringing fast piano over rippling percussion. The soles of my Mary Janes are soft against the stone floor, which gives way to hardwood as I round the corner near the coat check. Over my right shoulder a few people smoke while sitting on plushy cubes or standing nearby. The thick of the action is in front of me, though, and I pilot through the shouting sweating dancing crowd. Yes, people dance in the aisle next to the bar.
Instead of sacrificing two more Euros to put my stuff in safekeeping (cover is 8, and includes a drink, but I know the voucher will stay unused in the pocket of my jeans) I take a risk and plop my bag in plain sight on a cushioned bench. A guy is sitting there, maybe 15-20 years older than me, red plaid shortsleeve shirt, nice smile. He’s looking at me. He asks me to dance, I think. I don’t even have my jacket off.
“Tengo que cambiar mis zapatos,” I apologize. “Estoy muy lenta. Muy muy lenta.” I have to change my shoes, I’ve told him. I’m slow.
First I check my phone, and there’s a text from Luis, the guy with whom I dance in the Friday night classes near my house. He’s not coming tonight. His car is broken. I’m a little disappointed. We rocked the bachata sequence last Friday. We have good dance chemistry and he’s a total sweetheart.
I sit down, change my shoes, then plunge my valuables into the bottom of my green backpack (actually it belongs to Robert, and I’ve now commandeered it), and pile my leather jacket and turquoise scarf and black longsleeve shirt on top of it. The guy is still sitting there so we go down to the floor and dance a merengue.
Immediately he begins talking to me so I tell him that my Spanish is not good. Then he wants to know where I’m from, and what I’m doing, how long I’ve been here, and how many years I’ve been dancing. He’s really shouting in my ear and I almost can’t stand it. I pray for the questions to stop but they don’t. I try to convert my irritation into fresh motivation to learn Spanish fast.
Then I dance with another guy, who is obviously pretty good, but then he also starts talking to me, and stops leading interesting stuff like he was doing at the beginning of the song.
Fortunately as we finish up a tall, cute, very familiar-looking Spaniard, probably around my age, catches my eye from the lounge area here on this side of the bar. He’s grinning to beat the band and I have to admit it makes me feel much happier. Except: crap! What is his name again? I feel I should know it, should remember where we’ve met. Was it just by randomly dancing together, or did Luis introduce me to him?
Another guy says hello to me. This one I remember is a friend of Luis’s but I’ve also forgotten his name. He’s forgotten mine too so we’re even. Immediately he begins speaking English with me, and I start to relax. Then we dance a salsa. His moves border on thrilling in their complexity but his lack of rhythm considerably dampens the excitement. Still, his warm and laid- back personality more than make up for this slight flaw and now I’m beginning to have fun. After the dance we stand on the side and I ask him to point out his favorite dance partners. I respond, “Oh yeah, she’s great… ok, I will watch her too …. and that one, she’s my teacher!”
Suddenly my tall friend comes up and catches both my hands. “Hola, bonita! Guapa!” Scores a million points for his adorable attitude and for calling me pretty, even though most Spanish men do that. He has dark skin and a goatee and close-cropped, brillo-y hair. Did I mention that he’s cute?
We dance twice, first a bachata and then a cha-cha. The whole thing is completely goofy. His lead is sort of nowhere and everywhere, but I am having the time of my life. When he does intricate things with his arms or extra spins I hoot and scream and holler. Near the end he tips me backward and I feel he’s really got me, right around the middle of my back. Then he gives me something else that most leaders don’t think of. Time. Teachers teach guys to rush or they will be late. But my friend here is not worried. I stretch, I arch my back almost as far as it will go, I can touch the floor with my left hand and my toes are pointed. He has almost all my weight.
Finally he picks me back up and we hug each other, kiss on the cheeks. He digs out his silver camera, stretches out a long arm and takes a photo of us. He says he will post it on Facebook with our salsa teachers page. I realize, finally, that I know him from class.
It’s now officially a good night. I greet guys I’ve danced with on previous Sundays and dance with them again. Then there’s a show on the stage at the back of the dance floor. The show includes a lot of break dancing as well as salsa, and one really impressive air step, plus just good dancing all around. A big TV station is in the club tonight, so after the show many of the local professionals (they’re called “proffies”) get up on the stage and do their equivalent of a jam. I realize that there are some serious salsa dance heavyweights in Madrid. These are the people from whom I should be taking classes.
However, when one of my current teachers finds me near the stage (at the very back of the club), of course I accept his invitation to dance. He’s pretty freaking awesome: body movement that’s grounded and gorgeous, a lead with power and stretch and clarity. Each time we social dance, I figure out his style a little more, and I can match him better. Also, I’m continuing my experiment of totally clearing my mind the way I practice in my meditation, and it helps. Technique I’ve practiced in class seems to burst out of me even when I don’t specifically tell myself to do it. Also, the relative calm of my mind keeps me from berating myself if there’s been a screw-up, and I can continue to follow reasonably well without distracting myself with negative thoughts that would only make me dance worse!
After dancing with my teacher I get grabbed for a salsa by another guy on the floor, but I don’t want to stay here. The better dancers hang out at the aisles on either side of the bar even though those places are not officially dance floors. Tonight I will learn that the place where I belong, more or less, with Luis and Tony (dance partner with the broken car and my tall friend, respectively) and some of the other guys I know, is on the right side of the bar. The left side of the bar is home base to the whip fast undulating powerful spinny spinny stretchy boom boom crack seriously good dancers, many of them “proffies.” It’s where I will stand and gape for a while.
For now I walk around the dance floor, past the stage, and I spot the sexy Italian.
OK, this is a guy I met in class one afternoon, and afterwards we exchanged digits. Don’t ask me anything about him; I just know his name and his nationality, and I can understand his Spanish pretty well because he speaks it slowly, as it is not his first language either. Sometimes he texts me to know if I’m going out dancing. When he kisses me hello and goodbye it’s not so much my cheeks as the corners of my mouth. That’s fine with me.
Right now he’s halfway across the floor and moving away from me so I don’t bother to try to catch up. I see him a little later dancing on the professional side of the bar, with this gal in a black backless top. She tosses her perfectly straight shiny black hair around her shoulders and ivory-white face, out of which sticks a tiny pointed nose and perfect pout. She looks more digitally generated than any other live person I’ve ever seen.
Ms. Digital doesn’t seem happy with my sexy Italian. I don’t know why, since he has a lead that’s centered and perfect, and his footwork is enough to send my heart into my throat. After they dance I mean to go hit him up but the two of them are talking, probably discussing a move or some technique. I’m jealous. Not only do I want to dance, I want to get in on the technique discussion, but I allow my miserable level of Spanish to stop me.
So I dance with another guy, who shows me a good time, and then the Italian has disappeared. He’s kind of a little guy, but extremely cute, extremely fit, cafe-con-leche complexion, slightly pointy hair (similar to the way all the boys wear these days).
I see him again at the secondary bar, alongside the dance floor. He kisses me hello (see above) and introduces me to his friend Fernando. Fern and I dance a bachata, at the beginning of which he asks me to teach him something, which is total bullshit because he rocks. Of course I realize he was joking. I mean he is really good: flowing with relaxation, energy, creativity and synchrony, the way all things should.
I guess I am not fated to dance with my Italian tonight because by the time I see him again he is working on some dance moves three other people and I don’t want to interrupt, and then immediately a gal snatches him up for a salsa. I watch the proffies some more and then I’m tired so I decide to go home. It’s 12:35 and I have to be up in 5.5 hours. As I’m changing my shoes I watch Fern dance a salsa with some lucky gal. I should snatch him up before I go; he’d be happy to dance with me (or at least he’d pretend); but it’s clear to me I need to head out.
I go up to the bench where I’ve put my things. Thankfully the pile has remained unmolested. I reorganize: shoes, metro pass, phone, iPod, keys.
On the way to the metro I blast Muse through my headphones. The lyrics in “Time is Running Out” make my mind play a video montage of memories from last year and I feel my broken heart but in a mild way, a creative way. I get the idea to listen to this song the next time I write about that. Tonight, though, I need to write about tonight.