It’s summer in the city. It’s sunny. It’s seriously humid. And the fact that I’m in Cataluña rather than Cuba is apparently incidental. Señores, it’s time to salsa.
Let me start by saying that I know what you’re thinking. On learning of my salsa-esque leanings, friends back home have pretty much reacted uniformly over the years. “You?!” they splutter. “Salsa?! But you’re so……”. Inevitably, this sentence would end in one of two ways. The more tactful among them would eventually collect themselves, and complete with something along the lines of “sophisticated” or “in control”. Others, more wanton, didn’t hold back. “You?! Salsa?! Ha ha ha ha ha ha!”
It’s fair to say that my UK-based salsa experiences left a lot to be desired. First there was the Brighton nightclub I visited with my sister (back in the day).
Think sleaze, slime, and other slithery words. Think things you might put in cauldrons. That’s a fairly apt description of the men in that place. One particularly memorable specimen approached us with the immortal line “I like sisters, I do”, shortly before we dispatched him down some nearby stairs.
Then came group classes in Edinburgh. I actually had high hopes for this. The female teacher was Scottish, we could identify, she was a kindred Celt but at the same time could summon up Suzy Qs like nobody’s business. But sadly, it wasn’t to be. One two three back two three one two three back two three, she said, and kept saying for the next ten weeks. Not to mention the most excruciating indignity – thanks to my height (I’m 5’ 9’’) and lack of male subscribers, every week they made me be the man. Doing everything backwards and in the opposite direction didn’t exactly stand me in great stead for the future.
Which brings us to Barcelona and 2011.
The Mojito Club is an “international Latin club that creates a space which encourages creativity”. They may be pausing on every fourth beat but alarm bells are still sounding, and I’m really glad I didn’t see this bit of branding before I signed up for an intensive summer course.
Above the basement nightclub is the salsateca school. As usual with these things, I am the only non-native in the class of around 20. (Thankfully I had remembered to check beforehand if the lessons would be in Catalan or Spanish. A lesson harshly learned after three hours spent in a Zen meditation class conducted in Catalan some weeks back. I emerged having understood “Ommmmm”.)
Much to my relief, there’s a good mix of men and women this time. I don’t quite manage to escape embarrassment, though – on the first night the teacher goes round the room getting everyone to say their name, and all is going well until it’s my turn. “Yuli? Huley? Shula?” and so it goes on, till virtually everyone in the room has chimed in with their particular variation. (Thanks again parents for giving me a name that 99% of the Spanish population has no hope of pronouncing.)
Andrés, the Uruguayan teacher, and Trini, his female Spanish counterpart, kick off proceedings with a brief display of how terrifyingly good they are, and then it’s our turn. Most folk catch on to the old one two three back two three pretty quickly, and Andrés tells everyone to get into pairs so we can practise as couples.
At this moment some cherished myths start to debunk themselves in front of my eyes. It seems not all Latin men have rhythm in their souls. In fact some of the Spanish guys in the room look positively stricken. The machos, of course, have to contend not only with remembering the steps but with leading the chicas, who depend on their every signal to know what move they’ve to make. I immediately decide that I’m having none of this, and promptly infuriate the first of my partners. “Que no”, he hisses sternly, “you have to wait until I tell you to turn right”.
“¡Rotamos!” orders Andrés at an opportune moment, and the girls all duly move on to the next guy.
My second partner has clearly been relishing the chance to practise his English with a native. “Where you from?” he shimmies, as I’m trying to let him turn me round without making it painfully obvious that I’m having to duck four feet below his arm at the same time (and I’m wearing flats). Just as I’m trying to think of a polite way to tell him I really can’t converse in Spanglish above the music at the same time as learning the steps, I’m birled overenthusiastically onto the next guy.
And finally, just as the class is about to end, the studio door opens and in walks a guy done up as a waiter carrying two large bottles of Cava and umpteen paper cups. An older Andalucian gent steps forward, and I recognise him as the one who had informed me all in all earnestness as we rotated round that he couldn’t help being a great dancer since all Andalucians innately are. He announces that today is his grand-daughter’s first birthday, and he’d be honoured if we would all raise our cups to celebrate. This is a genuinely touching moment, and I start to feel guiltily churlish about my intention to parody proceedings for my own selfish blogging purposes. Having said that, I suppose they’ll never see it. They think I’m called Chulieeeh.