I feel like dancing means different things to different people, but growing up in Louisiana, it was a kind of cultural currency. Having rhythm and being able to dance was status quo– almost everyone could and did do it. But having really amazing moves and being able to dominate a dance floor made you especially cool, and standing over near the wall bopping your head insecurely and totally off beat make you especially uncool, and it was just kind of understood that that’s how the game of life was played.
I remember going to my first school dance in 7th grade, where the DJ was playing pseudo hip-hop songs from the 90s like “Tootsie Roll” and “Come On Ride It” while my friends had a very heated “back that ass up” competition. In that setting, the people who could dance easily separated themselves from the people who couldn’t. I remember watching the really good dancers intently, studying their moves and trying to figure out what it was that set them apart from the mediocre dancers, and then I went home and practiced dancing in front of the mirror until I could back my ass up with as much gusto and variety as they did.
I didn’t realize until I got to UVA, and later to D.C., that the dance culture in Louisiana was not actually a microcosm of the whole world, and that there were tons white people living in other places who actually look like gerbils on quaaludes when they try to move their bodies in tandem with a 50 Cent song. It’s appalling– just really, really embarrassing and uncomfortable to watch.
Now that I’m a bit older, dancing is still pretty much my absolute favorite pastime, but it seems like there are fewer acceptable venues for it. You either dance at weddings, which is like, two-stepping to an old Motown song with your friend’s gay uncle, or you can go to a dance club and subject yourself to a buttload of creepy men who feel like they don’t need any form of permission or encouragement at all in order to shamelessly grope you and dry-hump your leg.
Just when I was thinking that there had to be a happy medium between weddings and creepy nightclubs, my friend invited me to a Cuban bar called Habana Village where he was celebrating his sister’s birthday.
Now, here’s why I plan to become a regular at Habana Village: You walk in, a man from Mexico or South America grabs your hand before you can even take your coat off and asks you to dance, and then instead of trying to cop a feel on the dance floor, he spins you and dips you and moves your hips around in a salsa or meringue or bachata routine that is not only relevant to the actual beat of the music, but makes you look like a great latin dancer, even if you have no clue what you’re doing.
Then, after one or two dances, he drowns you in superlatives– “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life!” “You have the bluest eyes in the world! Where did you get the blue in your eyes, did you steal it from the ocean?” “I think I love you more than anyone I’ve ever loved before, you smell like fresh coconuts and happiness!”– and that is not an exaggeration. You peel one guy off of you and the next guy is right behind him, ready to tell you that your hair is so shiny his brain is about to explode, and then you dance with him too.
So I returned to this heavenly place on Saturday and was immediately dragged onto the dance floor by this tall Columbian man. After about three minutes of intensely staring into my eyeballs with a deathly serious expression on his face as I tried not to trip over his feet, he declared that I was the best dancer in the world. I rolled my eyes and told him he could go ahead and stop blowing sunshine up my ass because, honestly, I was the worst latin dancer in that bar. Then he said the best thing ever:
“I’m not talking about your salsa moves. I just mean that Louisiana women seem to understand what dancing is really about.”
Hoooooly smokes, if that man had any sense of humor at all I would have definitely given him my phone number and/or hand in marriage, both of which he later requested. But he didn’t, and it’s probably better that way.