A Tale of Two Weekends – Part One
Salsa Dancing for Giraffes and Other Dumb Ideas
By Dave Fox
Saturday is going well – until Juliet suggests we go salsa dancing.
I have nothing against salsa dancing. I just don’t like it when salsa dancers flaunt their perverted lifestyle and try to recruit me.
I think some kinds of dancing are okay, but only the normal kinds. You know, like where everyone just bounces and flails and does their own thing. Coordinated dance steps should not be forced upon those of us who are not genetically oriented toward such behaviors. I was born with the coordination of a giraffe and I intend to stay this way. I would appreciate it if you salsa dancers would respect that about me and stop trying to lure me into your clubs.
“But Dave,” you might be thinking, “giraffes can be very coordinated.”
Yeah, but I’m not talking about adult giraffes here. I’m talking about the kind of giraffe that was just born two hours ago – fresh from the womb, still wobbly, not quite able to walk yet. If you have ever seen one of those giraffes attempt to salsa dance, you know how wrong it is.
Kattina, my wife, is aware of my giraffeishness, yet she pretends it doesn’t exist. Our friend Juliet, on the other hand, is oblivious to my condition. She also does not know Kattina has been attempting to haul me off to salsa lessons, tango lessons, and all kinds of other lessons for six-plus years. I have become rather nimble at side-stepping such propositions, yet they keep surfacing.
“I don’t know how to salsa,” I say to Juliet, knowing I am being a disappointment.
“They start out with a lesson,” Juliet says.
“A lesson!” Kattina says. “This is an excellent idea!”
This is not an excellent idea. This is seriously not an excellent idea. But this topic is unfortunately not going away. The longer I avoid salsa lessons, the longer they will simmer, unresolved, in the background of our relationship. There are certain things in life – tetanus shots, for example – that you just have to suffer through and be done with. So in spite of my moral opposition, I agree to go. I urge myself to keep an open mind.
A few hours later, the three of us are at a bar on Clarke Quay, a focal point of Singapore nightlife. There are ten other salsa students in our class. Eddie, our enthusiastic instructor, tells me not to be nervous.
He shows us a basic step: Forward, forward, return. Back, back, return. Eddie reassures me this step is very easy. Obviously, Eddie has never attempted to teach this step to a two-hour-old giraffe before.
The music starts. I feel dreadfully awkward.
Forward, forward, return. Back, back, return.
I am crashing into people. I am knocking over tables.
Forward, forward, return. Back, back, return.
“Dave, you’re doing amazing!” Eddie says, because Eddie is one of those annoying teachers who believes in encouragement and positive reinforcement. “Just take smaller steps. And loosen up your arms. And try not to break stuff. Okay, let’s mix things up now.”
I do not want to mix things up now. I’m plenty mixed up already. But Eddie launches into a side-steppy thing that requires the ability to distinguish left from right. Seriously, how many newborn giraffes can do that?!
More people are arriving – experienced salsa dancers who don’t need lessons. They’re ordering drinks and watching our class from the bar, which is what I want to be doing. I do not like them looking at me.
“Now we’re going to try something a little more complicated,” Eddie announces. “Have you all heard of the Suzie Q?”
The “Suzie Q” is a move that requires stepping forward while swiveling one’s hip, and crossing one’s left leg in front of one’s right leg, as if one desperately needs to urinate. I do not desperately need to urinate. I am feeling panicky, however. I am feeling like everybody in the room is staring at me. I am feeling a desperate need to vomit. I improvise a shuffle to a dimly-lit table, hoping no one will notice I’ve slithered away.
Eddie notices. So does Kattina. But they can tell by the fact that I am now sobbing uncontrollably that it’s best to just let me be.
The evening does not end well. On the way out of the bar, Eddie again lies to me: “Dave, you were amazing.” That’s what the salsa dancers will tell you to build up your confidence and lure you into their lifestyle. “You just need to keep practicing,” Eddie says.
“You just need to keep practicing,” Kattina echos in the taxi on our way home. I have trouble responding. I am curled in the fetal position, hyperventilating. But then I come up with an escape route from this discussion.
“I will learn to salsa dance after you learn to play the uilleann pipes.”
The uilleann pipes are a small, high-pitched cousin of the bagpipes. I find them delightful and stirring, though I will concede they can be a bit shrill. Kattina does not love Celtic folk music with the same rabid shrillness I do. When I’ve dragged her to concerts, she has been known to cover her ears during uilleann pipe solos. I’m pretty sure this is a safe condition upon which I can commit to another salsa lesson.