Follow the adventure from the beginning

Friday, May 21, 2010

Learning the Steps by Heart

Mexico City

Across the street from Bellas Artes Museum in the heart of downtown Mexico City, there’s a nylon banner hanging from iron bars on the outside of a third-story window front. The sign says “Clases de Baile.” Dance Classes. Through the windows, I see men twirling other men. Women twirling women. And full smiles flashing between every turn.

At the bottom of the sign there’s a giant arrow pointing to a dark alleyway. Baile aqui. Dance here. No one in their right mind should enter dark alleyways in any city, but it’s early, lots of people are around, police officers surround Bellas Artes – one of Mexico City’s most iconic symbols of culture and fine arts – and frankly, I’ve had a bad day. I need to make some friends, feel one of those smiles that only la salsa can spin, and find a bit of balance amidst all of the work.


Completing a self-designed anything is tough. Start a business. Create a vision. Paint a picture. Succeed in a relationship. It all requires some effort to build something from nothing. And it’s what I was born to do. My passion, my OCD, is finding invisible patterns. And so, this summer I’m trying to build relationships between media organizations in three different countries. I’m trying to write reports and record stories from la calle. From the street. And I have no idea where to start.

My first week in Mexico City was spent largely walking in circles around el Angel. I tried calling the professional contacts I came here to meet, and quickly learned that they are no longer employed by the radio station I'm supposed to report for.  I looked at the streets and the people around the apartment where I’m staying and got all gargoyled up. Frozen atop a skyscraper apartment buttress.

I caught up with a number of friends here in D.F. but couldn’t quite get comfortable. Almost immediately, I started to breath heavy with anxiety (the pollution hasn’t helped) as I looked for some semblance of stability. When I couldn’t find it, I got frustrated and fiery. I wasn’t sure who to contact to get my project rolling, or where to find an open door within Mexico City’s immense media network. I even burned the person I care about most in this world by trying to force him to find the patterns for me, just as he was pushing to succeed in his own incredible journey to South Africa.

I was in the middle of some weird vortex, and it was taking me down fast. C’mon Christine! Levantate. Get up.


I drag my hand along the cold concrete wall in the dark alley to make sure I don’t fall if there’s a step or a puddle that I can’t see. To my left, I find a winding staircase. Baile aqui. I start climbing. At the top, I peek my head around the corner into a room full of ballet mirrors and bright sunlight.

“Ay, mi vida, you want to dance?” a tall, lanky teenage boy says. His name is Angel, and his teeth fold over one another in front. He pulls out a notebook and shows me how these Clases de Baile work. I can come whenever I want, from 10am to 8pm, and demand that an instructor spend one hour with me for $7.

“What do you want to learn?” Angel says. His hands flit like fairies as he speaks.

“Well,” I say, “I dance a lot of salsa with my boyfriend.” I’ve got the basics. “But I could use a little help with my styling. I’d like to be a princess instead of a block of mud when I dance,” I say.

And then Angel laughs like a little girl. It’s incredible. He’s straight out of the Zona Rosa, Mexico City’s thriving LGBT neighborhood, and I love him for it. He prances across the room and brings Octavio. The two are holding hands, and then they take my hands and say together, “Come over here, let’s get started right away.”

We begin with some intermediate steps. The hook. The cross-over. The susy-q. Right-turn, left-turn. After 20 minutes, I take a break and sit on the large concrete windowsill and drink from a 2-liter bottle of water. Across the street I see the orange-yellow roof of the Bellas Artes Museum on fire with color.

While I rest, Angel is playing the female part with a large-bellied man across the room. They’re dancing line salsa together and it’s sexy and smooth, even graceful. More people have come up from the street to watch them.

The room is full of obreros and muchachas. Mexico’s working poor. A new song comes on – like a kind of fox trot from the 1940’s, and a 60-something-year-old man appears. He’s small, dressed in brown, and missing at least two incisors, which only makes his smile look bigger. He’s jolting around all by himself, almost convulsing, with feet that move faster than Michael Johnson’s. This song is his, and he lives it as he practices. He spins and winks and yells across the room, “I’m practicing for my wife!” I notice at least three more teeth missing.

By the time my hour is up, the same vortex that was pulling me down in the morning is now pushing me through the roof. If you’re ever in a funk, I recommend spinning circles. If you just dance yourself senseless, or wait it out a bit, most consuming spirals will eventually change directions. My abs hurt from the suzy-q’s, I’m drenched with sweat, and when Angel asks if I’ll be back, the answer is simple.

“See you tomorrow!” I say, salsa steps closer to independence in Mexico City. 

No comments:

Post a Comment