I was in a cab for what seemed like an eternity. After traveling a few highways we were now on a dark road pulling into a strip mall. I immediately started to question who recommended this place to me, and nervously watched as the cab fare ticked well past my budgeted $20.
We pulled up to a storefront in a strip mall next to a barber shop blasting reggaeton. I didn’t hear any English being spoken.
I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Apparently I wasn’t in Ft. Lauderdale anymore either. The truth is I had no idea where the hell I was, and I contemplated telling the driver to take me back to the hotel. I overcame this temporary anxiety and went into the restaurant. A cha-cha lesson had just started.
The instructor explained that he was teaching cha-cha “on 2” and droned on about how superior it was to dancing “on 1.” Of course I only knew how to dance on 1. So here I was in the midst of on2 dancers with my mediocre on1 skills. This was going to be interesting, or a disaster.
For the uninitiated, these are 2 different styles of Latin dancing. Trying not to get too technical, it basically just means that you step on a different beat of the music, but the steps are the same. It would be like learning the alphabet and then someone telling you to use an A wherever you see the letter B. A little confusing, right?
During the lesson, we rotated dance partners. Suddenly I was staring at an average height male with a mustache, slicked back dark hair, and a button-down shirt that clearly only had a few functioning buttons. The ones at the top were merely accessories meant to hold his shirt open to expose his plentiful chest hair and gold chain.
I had met a stereotype.
Mr. stereotype was a decent dancer, so we danced a few times after the lesson was over, but I couldn’t help looking at him like he was a unicorn. I was saved from the scent of his cologne by a friendly woman who had been observing the action from the sidelines of the dance floor. She asked me to sit with her and inquired as to where I was from. She was so delighted to see another Black face.
“There’s not many of us around here.” she explained, as if she was in a desert and I was some sort of mirage. She told me her husband worked in the restaurant and she often watched during dance nights, but her health kept her from participating much. Something about her told me she had been through and overcome quite a bit, but her attitude was very much about living in and enjoying the moment. Soon we were chatting like old girlfriends.
Out of habit, I scanned the room for the best dancer. It’s something I started to do automatically just for the enjoyment of watching. And to make sure to have an excuse ready when they asked me to dance. I knew when I was out of my league. But the truth is, men do the same thing. If they see an unfamiliar face, they will watch the person dance first to determine if they are an acceptable dance partner. If they ask you to dance after that it’s because they’ve been watching you.
I quickly identified this one guy as the best dancer in the room. He was having fun, dancing well, and his dance partners were smiling and enjoying themselves. He wasn’t trying to put on a show but the fact that he danced with so much personality was entertaining within itself. Later while I was sitting at the table chatting it up with the other Black person, he approached me and asked me to dance. I had my excuse ready.
“I don’t know how to dance on 2.”
As time went on I realized I would need to get back to the hotel. The woman I had been talking to all night couldn’t take me back because she lived too far away, so against my better judgment I got a ride home from this Peruvian guy I had met. He actually looked Asian, and revealed that even being Latino he wasn’t such a great dancer and was ashamed to have to take lessons. This is a confession I’ve heard more than once and is more common than you may think. It’s part of the backlash of even a seemingly positive stereotype.
Mr. Peru drove me back to the hotel but he was also persistent. We talked for quite a while, and when we finally got back to the beach near the hotel he asked if he could sleep on the floor of my room because it was so late.
He then went into some story about turtles nesting on the beach. He then petitioned to come up to my room again. Shocked when I declined, he explained that the turtle story had always worked well for him in the past.
Later a friend would express his disappointment with me. “Man, you were supposed to have a fling down there. Booo!” he proclaimed.
The fling I had was with the dance floor and a flamboyant salesman that convinced me I just had to have these fabulous shoes.
I headed back home with new shoes and my virtue in tact.