Monday, September 11

One-two-three Five-six-seven

‘I’ll only go if W—h goes,’ I said, hoping just slightly that he would decline. My two friends looked at me, laughed, and W—h said that indeed he would go. So it was decided, the three of us would spend our Friday night at a salsa club. P—l attends every week, either on a Tuesday or Friday, with his wife; a habit they picked up after visiting Cuba and seeing the dance ‘firsthand’ thought they would try their hand, or more accurately their feet, at it. ‘Well, look, hurry up, it starts at seven,’ he said, and we necked the rest of our drinks, bade good-bye to our other colleagues – who were tiring company – and made our way across the river.
A dark sky spread out before us and the wind turned, blew in large gusts, and cold sparse rain descended down the napes of our necks. W—h opened an umbrella and allowed me to cower underneath. We were in good spirits, laughing and joking as we walked along. Mostly I joked that I was a terrific dancer and that my feet would set the venue on fire. ‘Fuck off, your arsehole will go as soon as we walk in!’ I said—‘Yeah, probably,’ as I danced down the street. But this makes a great change, I thought, from the usual affair of going out on a Friday night, whereby we set up in a dark pub and drink until the last train calls weakly from its final platform of the evening. Although I knew the dancing and so forth would not be for me I was most excited to be doing something different. Nearing the mouth of London Bridge, there was a massive coming and going of people, moving back and forth, starting their weekend right.
Down the stairs, illlit and uneven, the bar lay empty and intimidating. Us three men walking in were nervously regarded by the others waiting for things to begin; there were a few groups of women and a handful of men, alone, jittery and necking shots in anxious anticipation.
‘Fuckin hell, man,’ I said—‘it’s dead!’
‘Keep your voice down!’
‘Why’s it so fuckin dead?’
‘I don’t fuckin know! It’s usually banged out!’
We ordered some beers. Next to us was a tall man without a chin, sinking shots before waving the barman over for another, his fragile right hand pushing him toward some form of alcoholic confidence. In fact all of the men acted as though they knew the whole building was structurally unsound and were waiting for its inevitable collapse at any moment. Some of them practiced moves to the background music, awkwardly knocking their body into the shapes their memory dictated. The women, far greater in number, clung to their tables at the periphery, watching wide-eyed as the strange spectacle played out.
Then it filled out. The room became full so that one struggled to move through the crowd without brushing against someone. They danced in rows to warm up. The music played and they moved as an organisation of rhythm. I was never inclined to dance, but I observed. No, I would not have danced a single step! What terror I would be grasped by if I even attempted to participate! It was much simpler to choose my position in the room and to not move, but to look at them doing what they did. Do not think me such an eyesore! there were others who did not dance, yet admittedly not many. The others though unlike me, did not seem to be enjoying themselves, but I was enjoying myself, thoroughly, smiling and tapping my feet and trying to follow the instructions if only in my head, acting out the moves in thought. It made me smile to watch everyone dancing, the teacher instructing them, the music playing constantly and synchronised with only when required. The accented beats 1-2-3-…-5-6-7… And that was chanted – nay, shouted – by the teacher so that it became a mantra for the evening and seared into everybody’s limbs: 1-2-3-…-5-6-7… Watching and counting along, trying to understand their steps going lightly spinning and the movements of their hands endeavouring to become fragrances in the air.
The women outnumbered the men so much that there were always several who, during the alternating couples, were left alone and were then forced to carry out the moves on their lonesome with some elegant or clumsy phantom.
During the break P—l’s wife said to me, most Germanic and frustrated—‘Some of these people belong in the beginner’s class!’ I laughed and ran to get another round of drinks in.
They resumed, a different teacher this time and I thought him more relaxed, less strict.
The women were sublime, do not think me a eunuch! I was startled by their grace and beauty, which was only amplified by their dancing, amateur, intermediate, expert or otherwise. Watching the men I felt quite sad. They moved robotically and unnaturally. To them it appeared the whole occasion was one of immense discomfort. I sensed that this was all a way to meet new women, but by not apparently enjoying the dancing or engaging with them between songs, they looked foolish and out-of-place. Ah, yes, I too was uncomfortable to dance and to meet the women, but I hoped I would never resort to such misplaced tricks of attraction. It was satisfactory for me to sit at the sidelines and spectate. The fray never appealed to me much anyway. I wished them luck.
Upstairs I poked my head into the room where W—h was learning with all the others on his first salsa lesson. He concentrated so sternly, smiled at his partner while stumbling as he looked down at his own feet and apologised in his thick, faltering accent. I saw him and smiled. It was a real pleasure to watch him, I cannot explain it.
After two hours the classes ended, the music raised, and new people arrived who liked salsa but did not need the classes. After one song, as the room’s previously organised arrangement of couples fell apart, a new throng kicked up, of new couples and a more genial atmosphere. It became evident that these new people really did not need the classes. They moved fantastically! I was hypnotised. One woman caught my interest as she moved about the room dancing with different men, each a better dancer than the last. She was totally in control of her body and of her partner. The music bounced off of her and the light off her hair. She swung and spun, stamped her feet. One-2-3-… five-6-7… I was in love. Now that I was in love I recognised that it was time for me to leave, and had I not seen enough?
For a quarter-mile I tried to catch a cab but all the orange lights were off and since I had not danced I surmised that the walk home would be good for me. As I kept my balance along the pavement kerb, I said over and over in my head: One-2-3-… five-6-7-… One-2-3-… five-6-7-… One-2-3-… five-6-7-…

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