Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Dancing with Jessica: Not Jessica Alba, just Jessica

I feel I have to be careful in what I post here about the people I meet. As this blog becomes increasingly popular (thank you for stopping by), the chance that someone I write about will come by increases. In fact, one of my dancing friends has already visited the blog and she feels it would be well recieved by several of the people mentioned. I still feel a little self-conscious in that respect, but I wouldn't put this online if I weren't willing to deal with the consequences.

In any event, one concern I have is that people may feel like I am focusing on Asian women. I'm attracted to women of all ethnic groups. It's just that some of the more interesting anecdotes involve Asians. And the fact my last relationship was with an Asian girl means that memories are constantly being triggered by any Asian women I meet (especially the ones named "Linda", and lately it seems like they are all named "Linda"). For those who are counting, Miss Cute Reluctant is neither Asian nor named "Linda".

So, all that is to say that Jessica is Asian. I think she is married, too. But let me back up and start at the beginning.

It was Saturday evening and I showed up at Plaza 59 a little earlier than my group to ensure there was no problem with my table reservation (always a good thing to do if you are organizing a party at a club). The hostess set me up by the door, where my friends could see me as they came in. We had good access to the bar and pretty good access to the dance floor. In fact, it's hard to find a bad location in Plaza 59. While the club is smaller than Tropicana, I think it's laid out very well and just looks really, really nice.

So I sat down at my table and watched Eddie Lopez's free dance class. He was well into it by this point, had learned all the students' names, and was joking with them. Some girl (presumably one of his advanced students) kept sitting down or going back to the bar, but when he needed to demonstrate a good move, he would call her over. I counted noses and saw there were a couple more ladies than men. One lady in the center of the line seemed cute in an Asian way, but I was sitting at least 50 feet away from her.

Eddie saw me sitting down and invited me to come over. I don't actually know him, although I know who he is. A lot of my friends respect him as a dancer, and it's obvious, when you see him dance and teach, that their respect is well-deserved. So, since I was summoned to take a free class, I figured I might as well slip in beside the cute Asian girl.

When I came up beside her, I realized she was a little older than I previously thought (but I am a terrible judge of age). She also had a "baby tummy", which many women are embarrassed about although I think most women wear their baby tummies well (girls -- you only get one of these after having babies -- I actually had to explain that to a teenage girl recently). Most of us have a few places where we show a little more skin than we want to.

So, we reached a point where Eddie said, "Everyone grab a partner." I figured there would be a rotation, so I grabbed Jessica instead of the lady on the other side of me. I had miscalculated my placement, though, as Eddie had to move a lady down to one end of the line to match everyone up. Still, I introduced myself to Jessica, scanned her left hand (men do this almost instinctively), and saw she was ringless.

A lot of women hate it when men do that. Why do we do it? Because we're evaluating women as they evaluate us. We're just slower in collecting information (a typical woman can usually scan a man in about 1/6th the time it takes a typical man to scan a woman). So, I thought, "Well, no ring guarantees nothing, but we'll see."

Jessica had no clue about who I am (in terms of a dancer). She assumed I was just some well-dressed guy come to the club early. So she asked me if I had taken the class (Eddie's class) before. I said, "No". So then she asked if I Salsa dance. I said, "A little."

We got into the basic move with a simple turn and after I asserted my lead, her eyebrows perked up. Eyebrow raising can be done intentionally, but body language experts say that it's usually an automatic response. If you see someone's eyebrows rise quickly, it's generally a sign of increased interest in something (but not a clear indication by itself of what kind of interest -- there could be hostility associated with the interest).

As the lesson unfolded, we went into a rotation as I expected. The next lady I danced with was Lucia. She was cute, too, but Hispanic and I was kind of surprised that she didn't have Latin timing. It's not that all Latin women should be able to dance Latin style. It's just that I meet so few who don't know something. So, Lucia has finally decided to learn how to dance. I waited a few years, too.

I stayed with Lucia quite a while, and was able to take her by surprise, too. But after we rotated again, the ladies in the line knew something was up with me. They started asking me how many years I've been dancing, if I was a teacher, etc. I didn't really say anything except, "I've had a few classes."

The line got so jumbled up with the moves Eddie was teaching that I took one partner away from the group so we could have some space. There was one poor Asian guy whom Eddie was picking on mercilessly. He laughed at Eddie's jokes, and Eddie reassured the group he was familiar with the gentleman and only meant his little jibes in a good-natured way. I didn't feel like Eddie was being a jerk. He was trying to keep people smiling and in a good mood. He had gauged this group's tolerance for critical humor well. That's a rare gift, in my opinion.

Jessica kept glancing at me. I never saw her glance at the Asian man, but I started to sense that they had to be together. So when she finally came back around to me in the rotation (she had not danced with the Asian man up to this point from the time I entered the club), she was obviously eager to be my partner again.

She laughed and said, "I think you have some dance experience." I shrugged and said, "Maybe a little."

So, we finished the lesson as partners. Eddie came over and gave me some cues on how to execute a neat move I haven't done before. The man starts out by leading his partner into Fifth Positions or Cumbia steps. In a Cumbia step you turn to your left and swing your left foot around behind you (keeping it close to your body). Then you turn back to your right and face your partner. You pause. Then you turn to your right again and swing your right foot behind you. Then you turn back to your partner and pause. And so forth.

After doing four of these steps, Eddie had the men grab their partners' hands in a cross-hold, a handshake style. My right hand to her right hand. The man then pulled the woman in front of him, causing her to over-rotate her next Cumbia as she turned to her left slightly. The man stepped behind the woman and grabbed her left arm. We then went back and forth a couple of times and stepped back around our partners.

Very cool step. Jessica and I struggled with it a little in part because I added an extra step (that Eddie noticed and discussed with me) and because she was getting nervous. She knew I was an experienced dancer by this time and she was starting to feel a little anxious. That often happens with both men and women as they partner up with more experienced dancers. I see it frequently when I help with beginner and pre-intermediate dance classes.

The last thing Eddie did was introduce the group to Merengue. Jessica said she had never danced Merengue and asked if I had. I said, "A little." She gave me a disbelieving look and braced herself for the inevitable.

As the music started up, Eddie turned us loose and said, "Do whatever you can think of, men. Just be gentle with the ladies."

Well, Merengue is an easy dance to learn. It's easy to do wrong, but most people pick it up faster than the other Latin dances. So I took Jessica through numerous spins and turns. I had her moving pretty smoothly. She started laughing and saying, "I don't know how to dance like this!"

People were looking at her like she was crazy. So I said, "Well, it's not me. You must be an expert Merengue dancer. You're really good!"

And she looked good. We had quite a few eyes on us as the song finished. She thanked me, I thanked her, and I went over to join those of my friends who had already arrived.

Later on, as I was dancing with Miss Cute Reluctant, I noticed Jessica was sitting with the Asian man. I don't believe either of them attempted to dance to the regular music. Eventually, they left the club together. So, I have no idea of whether they are married. I guess there is a chance I may see them again. They both seem to be genuinely interested in learning to dance.

But that is really what dancing should be all about for a man: making his partner look good. That's why I like the social Latin dances. Women can shine if they learn to relax and trust their partner, and if their partner learns to do it right.


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