Just Show Up
“It just too far,” I complained, sounding like a Boston person.
“Yeah, and the floor there really sucks,” said Olivier, sounding like an American person.
“Oh, they’re doing it at that Hawaii place again? Maui? You’re right: the floor is sticky. And the DJ-ing-”
“Well, it’s Jose DJ-ing,” said Olivier, trying to be polite. “And with the lindy hop scene in Madrid so small, I can’t understand why Pedro and Luz are also holding a dance on the same night.”
But their dance, Pedro and Luz’s, was just as well-attended as usual, which is to say, not very well-attended, and the DJ-ing was up to its usual quality, which is to say, not very high-quality, but it sure beat the inconvenient Maui Club with its knee-wrenching floor and where, at any moment, I might be encouraged to do the Cha Cha Slide or a join a conga line to “All The Single Ladies.”
So after paying my 5 euros at La Industria, I descended into the large square sweatbox of the dance hall. Usually I dropped my stuff, changed my shoes, and began dancing by myself in front of the mirrors. Usually Olivier was off at some 100-mile uphill ultramarathon, and usually my three or four other students were so popular that, at least at first, I lacked the will to make a dive for any of them. So far this was a usual night.
Then, during a song I kind of liked, I meandered toward the back of the hall and saw someone I didn’t recognize, someone with intricate and grounded bluesy moves, dancing with Caroline. They spoke to each other in English as they hugged at the end of the song. He was shorter than her. Then they began to dance again. Caroline’s face was beaming with a joy I had not yet seen in the seven or so months I had been working with her. She looked positively in love. My heart couldn’t help but expand a bit with happiness for her.
So Bruce was not tied to Jose and Rosa and Maui Club.
Eventually I snagged Bruce for a dance. It thrilled me to bust out all the finely-honed, deeply-trained lindy hop follower skills I hadn’t used in the better part of a year, since coming to Madrid. Bruce and I danced a slow, a fast, and then another slow, and my resulting happiness inspired me to partner, subsequently, with a series of tense-armed, stompy-footed, momentum-challenged leads while continuing to smile.
When my buzz had died and I was too sweaty for comfort, I went upstairs to buy a water from the vending machine. Soon it would be time to meet Taj. I was glad I’d brought a change of clothes.
Bruce came up the stairs as I leaned on the machine.
“I’m trying to figure out where I know you from,” he said, smiling big.
“Have you ever come to Boston? Blues Cafe?”
“Yeah, I was there once. I loved the venue. In fact, it’s where we decided to hold Blues Fusion next year.” I didn’t know who he meant by “we.”
“I used to run Blues Cafe. It’s still going on though. Anyway, I must have danced there with you.”
“So are you starting a scene in Madrid now?”
The #1 question asked by American lindy hoppers. “No. I’m over it. Too much work.”
“The thing is, you get other people to do the work for you,” Bruce said reasonably. “You must have a few students that really like taking class with you. They can bring more people.”
“That’s true,” I admitted.
“Just give them bigger discounts the more people they bring.”
A sudden realization hit me and I laughed. “Two of them are always trying to bring me students even though they’re not getting discounts. Imagine what could happen if I incentivized them.”
“So how do you like living here?” Bruce asked.
“I love it. I was working way too hard in Boston. The lifestyle here is really just what everyone says it is. Siestas, red wine, everything is cheap and no one’s in a rush.”
“Everything’s cheap, really?”
“The important things. Housing. Groceries. Transportation. Insurance. Alcohol. Stuff like electronics and hotel nights, yeah, that’s like one and a half to twice as much as in the States.”
“So what are you doing here?”
I hate that question. I always want to say, “a lot of things,” but I know that what people really mean is, “You want to know how I’m making money.”
“Teaching English. It’s not as sketchy as it sounds. I have more clients than I need. I’ve started giving them away. I highly recommend life in Madrid. But it sounds like you are not doing so bad yourself.”
“I’m going to teach at a week-long camp in Lanzarote.”
“Wow, sounds amazing.” I was envious. I would love to be able to “just show up and teach” classes, even in one town, never mind travel all over the world to do it. After the go-go 90’s, in order to get to that level as a dance instructor, it seemed that you had to have won lots of comps and somehow get other people to work your business angle. The latter, I had always believed, generally followed from the former.
But wait, what had Bruce won? I mean, he was no Clark Giordano. Not even, by this point, a Kendall Beckett. So if Bruce could criss-cross Europe and dip into the Canaries, maybe I could start a scene in Madrid. Maybe I could just show up and teach. I began to feel relaxed and light-headed with the thought of it.
“So when do you go to Lanzarote?” I asked Bruce.
“Monday. But I’m coming back through Madrid after that, and staying for a week.” he answered.
“Cool. Do you have a place to stay yet?”
“No - do you have any suggestions?”
“I’d need to check with my roommates but you could probably crash on our couch if you want. We have a nice square living room with a hardwood floor, and if you have time and wanna work on some stuff - that could be fun.”
“Sure,” said Bruce.
“I’ve been teaching my boyfriend some blues dancing, and he’s a natural, but I think it would be great for him to have a male role model.” I didn’t ask for this explicitly, but hoped Bruce would offer Taj and me a blues lesson in exchange for staying at my place. I mean, I’d be saving Bruce plenty of cash.
At the end of the dance, after I’d changed clothes and re-applied what little make-up I usually wore (concealer, thinned with moisturizer when necessary when I wanted foundation), I entered the dance hall again to find Bruce and Caroline sitting on the floor next to each other, changing their shoes. Caroline was still smiling to beat the band.
“Hey,” I said, “you guys wanna go to a great bar with Belgian beer and blues music? You can’t dance there,” I added quickly, “because there’s never enough space, but it’s still an awesome place.”
“I love Belgian beer,” said Bruce. He turned to Caroline, “What do you think - should we go?”
Now I was smiling from ear to ear. How cute.
Caroline just looked up at me from where she sat, shining, even more gorgeous than usual with that long blond ponytail and French blue eyes. She nodded quickly.
“OK!” I cried, consulting my Blackberry. 12:58. “My boyfriend’s coming, so we’ll meet you guys outside.”
A small gaggle of shoe-bag-slinging dancers were chatting on the narrow sidewalk when I exited the building. I stood a little apart from them, looking for Taj.
He emerged from the shadows of Calle Jordan, bang on time at 1 a.m., in a brown corduroy jacket, white button-down, jeans, and shiny brown shoes. “Hey baby, what’s up,” he said, and kissed me on the mouth. He was all fresh lip balm, soft curls and that cologne that always drove me crazy.
I turned to see Bruce at my right elbow, with Caroline. “This is Taj,” I said to them. “My boyfriend.”
Someone else said my name. It was a student of mine, standing in the lindy gaggle. “You want to come with us to this great Belgian beer place?” I asked her.
“Sure. The only thing is that we’re hungry!”
“Oh. You might be able to get food there. I don’t know. Anyway, we’re going, so feel free to join.”
Taj and I started off, Bruce and Caroline close behind on the narrow sidewalks. It was so nice to be free of having to take care of students and potential students, of answering their endless where is it? where are we going? where do I park? partially because you can walk everywhere that’s worth going in Madrid.
Soon Taj and I were far ahead of the pack. “It’s a full moon,” he said. We looked up and howled at it, losing only a little of our speed on the darkened side streets of Bilbao district.