Dancing with Jesus.
One of my favorite effects of traveling is the tendency to feel (at least functionally) comfortable in nearly any situation. This is easier some times than others. Eating with your right hand in Nepal? No problem. Scooping up fried worms in Zambia? Okey dokey. Dancing in Cartagena? Gulp.
It was some Italian guy’s birthday (I never find out whose exactly) and a few of us went out dancing. To me, dancing is something your body does with the music, fairly automatically. If necessary, all you have to do is repeat a mantra of “why NOT embarrass yourself?” or “is it really embarrassing if you’ll never see these people again?” or even “is being embarrassed really that bad?” That thing some people do that they’ve studied, learned, memorized? More power to them, but that’s something else. Some sort of performance art (or just an infallible technique for getting laid) but not dancing as I understand it.
So there I was, doing my little white boy dance, which has served me well enough in various countries. But now I’m in a part of the world where they start salsa dancing at age 14 months. Seriously. I have seen tots, barely able to walk, bopping and swaying to the beat. Pint-sized show-offs with rhythm.
My Colombian companions were tolerant of my gringo disability, but I was definitely bringing down their average. Then I found salvation. I found redemption. I found Jesus.
He came from out of the flashing lights, across the smooth floor, hips shaking, arms swinging, hips gelatinous. All those paintings you’ve seen of Jesus were wrong. He’s not an anorexic victim of a gang beating, eyes rolling up into his head of long hair in a divine seizure. No, he has short hair, latino-tan skin, bright white teeth, fairly tight pants, and a silky shirt unbuttoned a bit, not a puncture wound in sight.
And he’s about 19.
Jesus posted up next to me, pointed at my relatively sedate feet, then down at his own which proceeded to swing and kick impishly. He stopped and looked at me expectantly. I gave it a try, although I felt a bit like I was doing the Running Man. He nodded in acceptance, if not enthusiasm.
Then he put his hand on my hip and pushed. My own poor British-descendant joints did their best to duplicate his gooey torso slide, and again I got a resigned nod.
Jesus reached down and tapped my wrist, where it was hanging uselessly at hip level, then raised his finger and wagged it back and forth, no no no, like a teacher at a high school dance. His own hands took up swinging forward and backward, much higher and faster than mine. I gave it a go, feeling a bit like I was on a Nordic-track infomercial.
Put all of this together and you had one rockin white boy, looking down in incomprehension at what his body was doing, afraid at any time that it would all fall apart, like the riding a homemade bicycle down a precipitous mountainside.
Jesus nodded and smiled, the Colombianas laughed, the music continued, the aguardiente flowed like water, and I dare to hope I didn’t embarrass myself too badly that night. Praise Jesus.
My foray into salsa felt just like that! Maybe I just needed more fire water.