Acclimating, Adjusting and Being Accidentally Groped by Alberto

So I have been a terrible blogger. Forget the months of May and June. I was in stage two culture shock (think Kate as the Hulk, tiny purple shorts and all), so there would have been a lot of whining anyway. What follows is going to be a little bit about what brought me out of my intense frustration with all things Argentine and into what feels like the early stages of the acceptance/acclimation phase. Which is good, because y’all, Argentina is awesome.

As I might have mentioned earlier, I was hoping to find a girls soccer team here. I haven’t played in a while and I thought that would be a great way to meet people. Argentina is crazy for soccer, so it seemed like a fool proof plan . . . except that very few women here play. I haven’t been able to find a team here in San Luis, even though everyone claims to know someone who plays and assures me they will put me in contact with them. So I decided to take this opportunity to learn something new. Because functioning in a second language isn’t frustrating enough. (It is. Oh God, it is). And that’s how I found myself taking Tango, Bachata and Salsa classes.

Anyone thinking, “Hmmmmm, Kate. You’re much more of a contact sport, sweating, looking gross kind of girl. Are you sure you want to put yourself that far out of your comfort zone when you’re already fighting with the language stuff? Also, that whole man leading woman following thing.” Yeah, anyone who thought that, cookie for you, because the only thing I can think to equate learning to dance to (drumroll please) is learning a second language. Learning to move my body in a way that I am not used to/REALLY not comfortable with, learning what specific pressures and marks from the dude mean and what movement I should make in response, all in time with the music. Es mucho. Those first few classes had that “This is new and exciting” shine to them. And then it because clear that I am not a natural dancer. So for most of May and June I was dancing badly five nights a week and struggling daily to not sound like a really pretentious and frustrated five year old (speaking Spanish).

Let’s start with Tango, which I have the unfortunate tendency to pronounce “tengo.” “Tengo” actually means “I have.” This has resulted in my frequently telling people “I am taking I have classes.” But yes, Tango. When I watch my professors dance I can’t help but think that Tango is a truly strange and lovely blend of elegance and violence. Also sex. My professors are a couple, and when I first saw them dance I felt exactly like one of the dudes on Mad Men (I forget who it is) when he sees Joan being saucy and says (slack-jawed)  “She is so much woman.”

I am not so much woman when I dance Tango. I’ve only learned the basic step, ochos, sandwichito, and a couple of nifty turns. At first I felt as graceless dancing Tango as I felt speaking Spanish, and it’s worst when I get paired with Alberto, a 70 something who has less musicality in him than I do, and who has the unfortunate tendency to grope me. I’m pretty sure this is less to do with him being a pervert, and more to do with him having poor eyesight, forgetting to bring his glasses to class and then mistaking my breasts for my shoulders. Frequently. Being accidentally groped by Alberto does NOT make me feel like the Tango goddess I had hoped to become.

And then there’s Salsa and Bachata. We often get split into two groups in the class: The beginners, and the people who know what the hell they’re doing. There is no middle ground. This means I fell in with the beginners, learning the basic steps over and over again for about a month and a half until I finally realized that if I actually wanted to get any better I was just going to have to throw myself in with the more advanced dancers and try not to drown. These classes are both much larger and more chaotic than my Tango class. There’s time for questions and clarifications, but there’s no way to make sure everyone is doing everything exactly right. When I finally made my way into the more advanced group, I discovered that I actually have a really natural sense of rhythm. . . . . which makes letting guys who have NO sense of rhythm lead especially difficult for me, and then I start thinking about dance as a metaphor for all the things that are wrong with patriarchy . . . and then I stop myself and decide my time would be better spent learning to move my hips more like Shakira and less like Elizabeth Proctor. I’m still pretty repressed looking when I dance, but at least it’s rhythmic repression.

And then things shifted. About a week ago almost everyone I know made a point to tell me how much my Spanish has improved. I’m speaking fluidly, if not exactly fluently, and people are finally talking to me like they feel confident I’ll understand what they’re saying. Funny that that should happen around the same time that I start really having fun with the dance classes. These days when I’m Tangoing, Salsaing and Bachataing I’m thinking more about how much fun I’m having than how stupid I might look to others. Last Wednesday I went out dancing with some friends from the Salsa/Bachata class. I met a swarthy Argentine lad (that one’s for you Ms. Trish), and we danced and talked until 6 AM. And it was actual dancing, where he marked certain moves and I could actually follow most of them without falling flat on my face, not to mention actual talking. He pretended not to notice when I mangled verbs and mispronounced the word pronunciación (the irony). It was all the fun.

No profound truths to offer. Mostly I’m just grateful to be vindicated in my prediction that the first few months here would be really hard, and then things would get awesome. Things here are awesome, and there is more talking, Salsaing and Bachating to be had this Saturday. And then of course there is Tango class tonight. I really hope Alberto brings his glasses.

Note: I imagine most people have a sense of what Tango and Salsa look like, but a lot of people have asked me what Bachata is. Here is an extremely humpy example of Bachata. It’s pretty much highly structured raunch. My first class I seriously considered asking the professor if I could just learn the pretty twirly parts of the dance and not the humpy parts. I refrained, mostly because I didn’t know what the verb “to hump” is in Spanish. Anyway, I’m learning it all and it’s seriously fun.