The Latino Who Couldn’t Dance

It’s exactly the two week mark: two weeks from today, I will be flying home to NYC. I’ve got so many thoughts buzzing around, but the overriding feeling is excitement. Yes, I just feel GREAT about this decision, hopeful, excited, but completely curious as well. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to go to NYC. Instead of writing about all that I feel and think about leaving (because of course, it’s always a little sad when an adventure ends), I am still here. So I am going to write about still being here, in Quito.

Dogs in Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador.

One of my all-time favorite children’s stories is Ferdinand the Bull. It’s about a bull named Ferdinand, who is not like the other bulls. While he has the large horns and the stature of an intimidating animal, all he really wants to do is sit and smell the flowers while his bull friends do bull-like things, like bash their heads into each other and jump around in the field.

Wednesday nights are Salsa Night at a bar/club in the Mariscal. Salsa night at El Aguijon (the name translates to “the Stinger”) consists of foreigners and Ecuadorians  mixing harmoniously in a spatter of salsa moves ranging from sexy and precise to sloppy and awkward. Within two minutes of entering, every gringa in the club will have at least one Latino man (or boy, as if often the case) taking one of their hands and asking them to dance.

What’s sweet is that, often, the guys just want to teach the girls how to salsa (you can turn that into a metaphor if you’d like — also very much true). The nice thing about being a gal salsa-ing is that, for the most part, you don’t have to know how to salsa; you just need to follow the guy’s lead.

I have to say… I used to hate salsa. Mostly because I couldn’t do it, and it took too much thinking for dancing, in my book. My favorite dancing is when I get lost in it, when I can’t HELP but dance. There is no thinking involved, just feeling — some force moves you, you just go with it. With salsa, you have to match someone and force your feet into a slightly unnatural rhythm if you aren’t used to dancing to its beats. I took 1 salsa, 1 cumbia and 1 merengue dance class while volunteering in Costa Rica 5 years ago, but that didn’t do me much good without any practice.

After six months in Quito, I can proudly say I now know how to salsa. At least enough to hold my own on salsa night. And, I kind of love it. Although sometimes I certainly need to switch it up.

That said, not everyone knows how to salsa…

Last Wednesday, my friend Jesua (“Map Jesus” as we call him, since he used to be the mapmaker in our office) brought a few of his male friends to join us for salsa night.  We found them sitting on cement posts on a dark street in the Mariscal, passing a plastic shot glass around and holding a bottle of cheap vodka.

Once we (about 6 of my gringa friends and the four Ecuadorian guys) were in Aguijon, the invitations to dance started comin’. We turned the first onslaught down because we wanted to get drinks, and we just weren’t ready yet.  Eventually, I accepted an invite from a guy with long black hair, about my height (tall, for Ecuador) who smelled like a combination of fruit-flavored gum and sweat. His dance moves weren’t that impressive, compared to what I’ve gotten used to (shout out to my favorite salsa partner, Victor!) so I moved on after I had sufficiently sweat and banged into other gringas on the  dance floor. It aint no joke: some people are hardcore on salsa night! Let’s just say I have a couple cigarette burns from a couple massive German girls.

I ended up spending some time with one of Jesua’s friends, who we will call Fernando (yep, start making the connection…). He started telling me how he hates salsa and asked me what other kind of music I like to dance to. He looked horrified and offended when I told him I LOVE dancing to Reggaeton. Hehe. Don’t hate. He was like “How could you like Reggaeton?! It’s all dancing like wah-wah-wah [him imitating some grinding with a look of disgust].” I laughed and said, “exactly!” I can’t explain my love for Reggaeton, people. There is just something about it that makes me move the way I want to move, and I love it. So there.

He said he only likes rock and plays bass in a band. But I could tell he was starting to get antsy and was weighing the risks of asking me to dance. Eventually he did, with the disclaimer that he can’t dance salsa but “whatever, let’s just see what happens.”

We got onto the dance floor, and I was a bit shocked to see that this nice, attractive enough Ecuadorian guy just could NOT salsa. He knew he was failing and flailing, and immediately began defending himself. He was sweating and embarrassed but figured he would give it his best shot. Eventually it was just too awful, so we stopped and he was like “I don’t understand why everyone thinks all Latino guys can dance! It’s not like that. Not everyone dances salsa!” Hehe. Poor guy. He just seemed so nervous and uncomfortable.

I guess he may have had a point. Although, in my experience, most Latino guys CAN dance. That is one of my favorite things about them. For the most part, the second you step on the dance floor you can tell it’s in their blood. In fact, it is on the dance floor when most guys tell me “Ah, you really ARE Argentine! I can tell by the way you move…” Hehe. What? It’s true. The hips don’t lie. I love dancing.

They exist — the outliers, the anomalies, the ones who break the mold. Latino men are known for being smooth, for having moves that white girls fantasize about, for knowing what to do with their feet, hips, and shoulders on the dance floor and for knowing how to take control…

But not every Latino can dance. Not every bull wants to fight. At one point or another, we’ve all been the Latino who can’t dance, or Ferdinand the Bull. As much as I LOVE traveling, I just can’t wait to stay put for a bit. Sure, the wanderlust will quickly creep back in, but going home, to New York City, has never felt so exotic and so exciting.

I guess right now, I’m the travel writer who is ready to come home. At least I learned how to salsa while I was away.

Me, 15,000 ft up on Pichincha Volcano. Quito, Ecuador.



Filed under Ecuador, Uncategorized

2 responses to “The Latino Who Couldn’t Dance

  1. Geordie

    Reggaeton, Tavel? Was not aware of this…

    • travelswithtavel

      No way… Come on G. You of all people had to know this! Did we not dance to Reggaeton in Pine St. J together, at some point?!

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