If you go to a party here in Peru, it is almost certain that there will be dancing. Usually everyone joins in, from Grandma to the five year- old. A good time is had by all.
That is not the case where I come from. In fact, dancing was associated with the most horrendous form of torture. Painful memories abound. For example, in elementary school we had a sixth- grade graduation party where the girls were on one side of the hall and the boys (me included) were clustered as far as possible on the opposite wall. The teacher would then drag the boys (me included) across the floor and get us to take a partner to dance. It didn’t get any better in high school either.
In college I did develop a marginal, rigid body, approach to dancing so that I could get out on the dance floor and not totally embarrass myself or my partner. Or so I thought.
Despite all this negative programming, in a moment of weakness, I have thought to myself that it would be nice to dance with the rhythm and spirit I see on the part of many Peruvians. I realize that dancing is an important part of the culture. More than that, it is a way to experience the music that is so loved in this country.
I also began thinking that I had to let go of my negative past and let myself open up to dancing as a means of personal growth. Foolishly, I even said this to my wife. But I confess this was more on the intellectual, theoretical level, and I never thought of it as a real possibility for action.
They say that the problem with making a wish is the possibility that it might come true. Out of the blue, my wife said to me one day that she had come across a marvelous lady in the market who would be willing to teach me to dance salsa. I swallowed hard, flashing back to my painful past, and said “Ok, bring her on.”
Dona Augusta is my salsa teacher. That first lesson was difficult for both of us. I am sure that she assumed that she was dealing with a normal human being, but didn’t understand that some of us gringos are not normal.
She put on the music and started moving in a dance step. I responded by moving my feet in my stiff-legged style. She looked at me in a strange way and said: “ FEEL THE MUSIC”. She could have been talking in Chinese; I really did not know what she meant.
Then she said: “LISTEN TO THE BEAT”. I really couldn’t hear any beat. It was hard enough just to move my feet. Listening to the music, hearing the beat, AND moving my feet, was just too much for me. It was then that she realized that she had an extremely tough assignment.
She took a deep breath, grabbed me, and said: “MOVE LIKE I DO”. Then I started moving my feet somewhat like she was doing. It was hard enough to just to keep moving my feet, but she also kept saying “feel the music” and “listen to the beat”. Both of us began sweating profusely. We were exhausted at the end of the first lesson and I didn’t expect to see her again.
Augusta, however, is a patient, determined woman. Weeks went by. After many lessons, to my surprise, my feet started moving more like Augusta. I even began to HEAR THE BEAT.
Then Augusta got more ambitious and tried to get me to move my whole body and not just my feet. That is not easy for a stiff-backed gringo, but when I started to move my body, I began to FEEL THE MUSIC. Truly a miracle!
Now when we go to a party, people look at me in surprise when we dance. I can almost hear them think: “Wow! That gringo, he hears the beat and feels the music”.