On a cool, calm late summer Sunday evening, I carefully navigate the cobblestone courtyard in high heels, pass tables decorated with tea lights and wine glasses, and through the relaxed murmur of early evening conversation. As I enter the renovated Victorian house, I notice the DJ is still setting up his equipment and the restaurant’s music is faint, almost background noise; a subtle hint of the party to come. Smartly dressed patrons are milling about in small groups—chatting and trying not to get caught checking each other out. I stroll up to the bar and order a Cuban mojito in celebration of my salsa night out. The DJ finally begins to spin, and the vibrations of the base and the rhythm of the congas reverberate up from the wooden dance floor, enter my body through my heels, and travel up my legs to settle in my gut.
I notice the woman strolling gracefully through the front doors wearing a spicy red dress that might be overdramatic on any other night but seems perfectly appropriate for this setting. She is carrying with her a lovely satin shoe bag with a draw string tied in a bow that she tugs at with her fingers. From this bag, she pulls a pair of sparkly gold shoes and straps them on her feet. With a sprinkle of baby powder, like magical fairy dust, she appears ready to dance.
Then the guy, smooth and confident, enters the venue. His eyes casually scan the room, and even though he glances in my direction, even though he has greeted me at the dance studio where we both take dance lessons, his eyes look right through me in search of a more tantalizing salsa experience.
His eyes find the girl with the magical shoes and his winks at her, approaches her, and extends his hand. They move through the gauntlet of warm smiles, damp hugs, semi-superficial pecks on the cheek, and begin to navigate the precarious dance space of high-heeled shoes and flailing elbows in search of enough room to beginning their first dance of the evening. My triumph of a mastering a single right spot turn in yesterday’s lesson vanishes instantaneously as she effortlessly executes a triple spin into a hammerlock, kick check, traveling turn and into a titanic…and body roll all with confidence, style, and a slight smile. I watch them briefly, engaged in a flawless performance that seems sensual and intimate, yet tinged with a hint of self-importance.
In time, more such couples populate the dance floor—gliding, twirling, and shimmying their way around the rest of us. This is this vibe that most often attracts people to salsa dancing in Cape Town. From a cozy chair in one corner of the restaurant, I can sip my drink and watch sweaty bodies twist and twirl to a Spanish Caribbean beat. The intensity of this zone of contact holds all of the promise of uninhibited social interaction and movement on the dance floor, and yet I did not manage to move from my chair once. Despite my best efforts to smile warmly and appear eager to dance, I could not persuade any members of the salsa elite to suffer through my enthusiastically basic step. Almost two hours and 3 mojitos later, I slink back out into the night. Hmm. Perhaps next week I’ll take up kick-boxing…or join a book club…
****Part 1 written & contributed by Salsera – Tamara Johnson!
Part 2 coming soon….****