Latin, lust and me


One of my friends met his wife at a Latin dance class some five years ago. I still remember listening to him talk – sometimes rather incessantly – about this wonderful woman he’d met on the dance-floor and fallen in love with in the midst of a merengue.  In December last year, they welcomed a baby daughter.

For quite a few years they’ve been trying to persuade me to get in touch with my inner “Baby Houseman” (that’s a Dirty Dancing reference for all the blokes or the uninitiated) and salsa my way towards true love – as had so spectacularly happened to them.

Of course, as I am a cynical being for better and definitely for worse, part of the reason why I never went – even though the studio is less than 1km from my house – is that they set such a bloody high benchmark. A bit like that movie He’s Just Not That Into You, in my opinion, the meeting of their fully-clothed, gorgeously-toned bodies, and then ultimately their minds and their lives, was the exception rather than the rule. You know like an urban legend to rival Baby and Jonny’s undying celluloid love.

The picture I had created in my head of their experience was them sticking out like a pair of beautifully tall, fit dogs balls amongst a flotsam of desperate, dateless, and not to mention enormously uncoordinated souls, so it really was no great surprise they eventually gravitated and gyrated towards each other.

But, aside from that vision being ridiculous and ultimately very insulting, part of the rejuvenation of my soul that was inspired by my recent trip to Christchurch has involved me “connecting” with my local community – which does sound very wanky. But what this load of old bollocks statement really means is that I finally took their advice and enrolled in that damn Latin dance class.

The first class was seven weeks ago and I was full of much trepidation. The aforementioned tortured visions of a gaggle of gargoyles – myself included – played like a broken record in my head as I wandered into the studio. And like so many things in life, I had done very little preparation, including still wearing my converse high-tops while attempting to learn the samba.

I was probably even holding my breath that night as I gingerly came face-to-face with about a dozen very normal-looking, slightly-nervous (just like me),  and nice people. In fact, one of the faces I saw made my insides do a sensational somersault, which is something I hadn’t experienced since I was a gymnast back in the 80s.

Of course, I’ve been valiantly trying to ignore this very weird “he-makes-me-lose-my-steps-when-I-dance-with-him” reaction ever since. Trust me it’s not easy when you’re sometimes dancing groin-to-groin and nose-to-nose.  I suppose it would be harder to hide my excitement if I was boy, though, so that is some consolation.

Apart from sometimes getting flustered (see above), I’m also having trouble being a “follower” on the dance-floor. I have learned that in Latin, the blokes are the boss even when we’re not dancing Bossa Nova. How odd and also slightly confusing. This is taking some getting used too, in fact I proclaimed on Tuesday night: “What year is this, 1870?”

We are nearing the end of the basic course and it seems like our entire class will be continuing onto the next level together, my paramour included I hope. Part of me wonders if I am enjoying it so much – contrary to my previous vile visions of vacuous love victims – because I get to see him every week, and sometimes on Saturdays too. But deep down, I know that’s only one very lucky part of the equation.

It’s learning something new; it’s pretending to be in Dirty Dancing; it’s getting to dance with 12 different people in one night while completely sober. But most of all, for me, it’s about intimacy. Anyone who has been single for a long time, as I have, knows what it’s like to miss something as simple as holding somebody’s hand.

On the Latin dance-floor, your hands, fingers, and often legs can be entwined and it’s not because you’ve drunk one too many vinos, it’s 3 in the morning and you’re trying to pull a root because you don’t want to go home alone. No, in these dance classes there are high fives for steps well-learned, skirt-twirling turns around and around, and sometimes a hand on my back that lingers there just a fraction too long and my heart skips a little happy beat. But the steps, just like life, can be complicated, so for me that’s more than enough intimacy – for the time being anyway.

Viva La Salsa indeed.