And those who were seen dancing,
were thought to be insane by those
who could not hear the music,
'Baila', he says to me.
There is never enough time. Even in my saddest and most self destructive scenes of life. I yearned to open my chest and heave out all the cities that have grown there with walls of graffiti swearing upon my execution. The swarming streets where I cannot be still for a moment, that will not give me rest. The limbless figures that are too painful to see.
But there is something about dancing. Any form. It is to out-move death. I stop thinking of the cities.
They all gaze at me.
'Baila, baila', they shout and chant.
The teacher shuffles his feet and drifts across the dust. He’s dressed in white and moves his hips as if there were no bones. Strutting. At lunch I shouted into his mouth as it opened to spoon my lentil soup into his mouth. For his ears would not work. No matter. He listened to footsteps instead, the way bodies move.
'Es un danza de Haiti', he had announced, suddenly, out of nowhere, at the table. I hadn't imagined him to speak. He complimented my Spanish, which is, for him, to pay tribute to the way I speak with my hands, my eyes. Los ojos del mar.
After Haiti, it sailed to Cuba and onto the east coast, to Veracruz and onwards into the centre of the country. The way feet move.
I have never taken a dance class in my life.
And I cannot do anything on the spot. The dentist has to force open my mouth with horse tranquillisers. I refuse orders like a rogue sheepdog. I spit gasoline at passing cars when crossing the road, refusing to allow them the right of way.
I stare downwards. It’s going on two months since I last wore shoes and my sandals are starting to become a part of my bone structure.
This is danzón. My feet no longer know each other. My dance is not their dance. My frenzy of whirling and stamping is not applicable here. Passion is more controlled, focused.
I withdraw to sit and watch. The dozen or so here exhibit an elegance, a style, a dignified movement across the stone dance floor. Ways to face it all. Most are housewives. One is from far away. She becomes my regular partner in the turns, keeping with me, guiding me. Her bump appears to grow from her sides, her back. Her hair is a stark contrast to the others, Later when they pat her belly, I feel foolish. I had just accepted her and her body as natural and thought little of it.
She holds my hands tight and I feel her gaze upon me, glossing me, as I focus on my feet as the sequences build, as I forget myself.
She speaks Spanish how I’ve heard them speak often before - almost fluently. I curse my tongue and consider sculpturing it to allow it more room. Perhaps I have too many teeth for languages of the sun. I can make the sounds of rain perfectly.
Beside me, constantly, is a short ageing man with shiny black shoes. Shoe polishers do well here - singing and whistling as they brush away. I wouldn’t be able to cease laughing if I had it done. One day my sandals and I will pay a visit to the market and find the most enthusiastic foot cleaner. It will be an important day for us both.
The señor becomes my uncle quickly - guiding me through each movement.
'No! Pequeños, pequeños - pequeños pasos!' I keep making huge steps no matter how much I think about it. He takes me arm and gently pulls me this way and that. 'Te ves? Asi es, muy bien, puedes hacer todo que puedes imaginar.' Something about the way he moves makes me smile and smile, despite myself. As if every step he takes is important.
It’s a mess when with Ana, scattered, all over the place. She’s young - I cannot know her age. She has three children that appear out of cracks in the ground and lives up in the mountains where it gets cold at night and there are more trees. She steps on my feet and I on hers. We try not to be partners but we’re both fresh and lacking style and shaking of hips.
My new tio with the buttoned up shirt and pushed out chest returns to my side. ‘Pequeños pasos…hombre, dios mío!’
I am surrounded by people counting their own movements, trumpets coming out of the speakers, the sun sinking down into the mountains. In Central Mexico… facing down a winter with a gun at my stomach, wishing away wishes. Of everything that has passed me by, I am most here : under the volcano, moving on through the ashes. The more the sets of dance increase, the more I am lost. But it is an abandonment that I swallow with laughter as my steps get smaller.
One last dance. Four sets. Everything blurs in. I go one way and she goes the other, her eyes never looking down, always upon me. Later, she becomes a hyena in the kitchen with the other girls - loud and thunderous in the Cuernavaca night. Now, she asks me where I’m from. She knows already and I even know what part of the country she’s from - clustered and without space out in the west.
It’s been a long time since anyone at all saw me. I have decided to become visible again.
Photo - Orquesta Enrique Peña.
Because I love my country, it hurts me to see danzón at gatherings of decent people [La Voz de Cuba (8.10.1879)].