Written by: Larry J. Pitman
He hated dancing. But he quickly learned that if you go to a party here in Peru, it is almost certain that there will be dancing. Not only that, Juana loved to dance, and she was the real reason why he was in Peru.
Juana couldn’t understand how anyone could hate dancing. It was such an important part of life in Peru, where everyone joins in, from grandma to the five year old. He tried to explain that it was different where he was from. He told her that he had never seen his parents dancing, even once.
He told how dancing was associated in his mind with humiliation and embarrassment. Painful memories abounded. For example, in elementary school he had a sixth grade graduation party where the girls were on one side of the hall and the boys (him included) were clustered as far as possible on the opposite wall. The teacher would then drag the boys (him included) across the floor and get them to take a partner to dance. It was so embarrassing. It didn’t get any better in high school either.
In college, he did develop a marginal, rigid body, approach to dancing so that he could get out on the dance floor and not totally embarrass himself or his partner. Or so he thought.
Despite all this negative programming, he realized that dancing was extremely important to Juana. He imagined him and Juana dancing with the rhythm and spirit he had seen by many Peruvians. More than that, it is also a way to experience the music that is so loved in this country.
He also began thinking that he had to let go of his feelings about dancing and let himself open up as a means of personal growth. Foolishly, he even said this to Juana.. But he never thought any more about it.
Juana hadn’t forgotten, though. Out of the blue, one day she told him that she had come across a marvelous lady in the Mercado* who would be willing to teach him to dance salsa. He turned pale, swallowed hard, flashing back to his painful past, and said,
“Ok, bring her on.”
Doña Augusta became his salsa teacher. That first lesson was difficult for both of them. She probably assumed that she was dealing with a normal human being, but didn’t understand that some of gringos are not born with natural rhythm..
She put on the music and started moving in a dance step. He responded by moving his feet in a stiff-legged style. She looked at him in a strange way and said:
“FEEL THE MUSIC”.
She could have been talking in Quechua; He really did not know what she meant.
Then she said:
“LISTEN TO THE BEAT”.
He really couldn’t hear any beat. It was hard enough just to move his feet. Listening to the music, hearing the beat, AND moving his feet, was just too much . It was then that she realized that she had an extremely tough assignment.
She took a deep breath, grabbed him, and said:
“MOVE LIKE I DO”.
Then he started moving his feet somewhat like she was doing. It was hard enough to just to keep moving his feet, but she also kept saying
“Feel the music”
“Listen to the beat”.
Both of them began sweating profusely. They were exhausted at the end of the first lesson and he hoped never to see her again.
Augusta, however, is a patient, determined woman. Weeks went by. After many lessons, to his surprise, his feet started moving more like Augusta. He even began to HEAR THE BEAT.
Then Augusta got more ambitious and tried to get him to move his whole body and not just his feet. That is not easy for a stiff-backed gringo, but when he started to move his body, he began to FEEL THE MUSIC. Truly a miracle!
Then he realized that he had learned something more. Now he could move with a partner in synch with the music. This was a totally new experience for him . That was what he wanted to have with Juana and now he had it.
Now when they go to a party, people look at him in surprise when they dance. He can almost hear them think:
“Wow! That gringo, he dances like he has the soul of a Peruvian”.
And he murmurs,
• A local market