Dateline: Old Chinatown in Havana
I am not particularly fond of dancing. That’s why I was surprised to find myself at 10 p.m. in the living room of a home in the old Chinatown section of Havana waiting for a salsa dance lesson from a member of the Cuban professional folkloric dance troupe.
Earlier in the evening, our writer-in-residence Tom Miller asked if any of us might be interested in taking private salsa dance lessons. His current brother-in-law Ernesto, like so many Cubans, was a man of many marriages. One of his former wives, Paula, had a daughter, Jennifer, who was a professional salsa dancer. She would be willing to give dance lessons for a reasonable price. I turned to Judy. I already knew what she would say. We learned that we would be joined in our adventure by our “daughter,” Traci, our back-of-the bus partners the Cones from San Diego, and a younger couple from Nebraska, David and Jill Jensen. Tom and our tour manager Hilary, a professional photographer who could document the session, would be accompanying us.
The bus dropped our dance party off on its way back to the Melia Cohiba. Paula greeted us warmly at the door. “Mi casa es su casa,” she said with a smile. She said that Jenifer wasn’t home yet, but she would track her down. Meanwhile, Peter, David, Traci and I moved sofas and chairs into the next room to create a small dance area.
While we waited for Jennifer, I surveyed Paula’s home, the first Cuban home I had ever been in. Like most Cubans, she was obviously fond of bright colors. One room was painted a festive green. The other was a lavish purple. In the living room was a tall open curio cabinet filled with Chinese dishes and dozens of representations of the Buddha. A curtain of beads separated the 2 front rooms from the rest of house.
Finally, Jennifer arrived. We took our places on the dance floor. In Spanish, she explained that you must feel the beat which is based on an “uno, dos, tres,” count. Hey, wait a minute, I thought,. nobody said high level math skills were needed for salsa. She cued up the CD player and demonstrated the 1st move. It involved moving your right foot forward, then drawing it back and following that with the same procedure with the left. There was also a distinct swaying of the hips involved. When Jennifer did it, she looked sexy. When I tried it, I looked stupid.
Now one of the reasons to travel is to try new things. Another is to learn. I will tell you what I was learning. It is very hard on your self esteem when your tour manager is doubled up on the floor laughing at your dancing efforts. Not to mention the ego damage caused when your adopted daughter describes your best moves as those of a wounded rhinoceros.
By now, Hilary was aware that dancing was not my strong suite. Sensing possible calamity, she moved as a protective measure next to the curio cabinet. It was a good thing she did. On our next set of moves, I kicked her hard in the shin. She was definitely hurting, but the Chinese artifacts remained unharmed.
About an hour later, we had scientifically concluded that when it comes to salsa dancing, American women are much more skillful than men. We also determined that attractive young Cuban women can lie. “No es malo,” Jenifer said, looking at Peter, David, and me, who stood hunched over and sweating. Tom and Jennifer conversed in Spanish. “Jennifer says she is available tomorrow night if you want to come back,” Tom said. Yeah, I thought, and right after that I would like to drink 6 gallons of Cuban sea water. I looked at Judy. “We’ll be here,” I said. Hilary just sighed, still massaging her throbbing shin.
To follow our Cuban trip in chronological order