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New Mexico: Hummingbirds, Flowers, Balloons, and Salsa!

October 21, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012: Albuquerque, New Mexico

On my run this morning along the Bosque Trail that follows the Rio Grande through downtown Albuquerque, I saw hummingbirds, wildflowers, and six hot air balloons. I sometimes look for omens, and these suggested a good day ahead. When I finished my run, the last song to play happened to be salsa–“Suavemente,” by Elvis Crespo—another omen, because it also was the first song to play in the first class where I volunteered as a monitor today at the Albuquerque Latin Dance Festival.

Albuquerque Latin Dance Festival

I’ve dabbled in Latin dancing ever since college and living in Belize and Costa Rica. You could say I’m self-taught, which is mostly true, and that means that while I don’t suffer from Stiff White Guy Syndrome (I can move my hips with the best of them), I don’t exactly have the steps down, which means I make up my own footwork and am still pretty clutzy dancing with a partner (watch your toes!). Volunteering at the festival, I was not going to improve my partner dancing, since class monitors are not to participate in the classes—we had a job to do. No matter—I love Latin rhythms, and I tapped them out with my hands and feet while I sat monitoring each class through the day.

“One…three…five…seven….!” In the Spins & Turn Technique class, instructor Emily Dunkin emphasized control, balance, and a basic thing that I sometimes forget by taking it for granted: “The most important thing is to breathe.” To say that dance is a metaphor for life may be a cliché, but an image I love to bring to mind. In dance as in life, breathing with consciousness—deeply, joyously, calmly—brings me fully into my present experience, where I want to be. And in my second class, Salsa Rhythm and Timing, rhythm master Abdul Kamara says, “Stay with the music.” If you’ve lost the music—find it again and get back with it.

Abdul Kamara: “Stay with the music.”

What exactly does a class monitor do? It’s essentially a boundary patroller and enforcer role. This is not a role I’m comfortable in. I felt most awkward when I stopped a man entering without showing me a bracelet or ticket, only to find out that he was the internationally renowned salsa instructor who was about to teach the class I was monitoring—oops.

Yet boundary patrol is critical. Guanabana Productions, Inc., is the non-profit organization that makes the Latin Dance Festival happen, yet the program guide didn’t clearly mention that the festival is wholly run by volunteers, including people such as James Foley, Executive Director, and Julie Brovko, Registration and Volunteer Coordinator. The festival is a 4-night, 3-day immersion in workshops, films, lectures, and public and private dance parties at the National Hispanic Cultural Center—a large, impressive complex with multiple studios and ample meeting and performance space—not to mention a dance in the plaza of Old Town Albuquerque. When I learned of the immense dedication and effort given freely to this festival, I became even more committed to making sure that only participants who had paid tuition, helping to cover event costs, were in the classes. Free riders be damned!

Tango Tarts: Argentinian tango dresses and shoes for sale

Latin dance is truly a world unto itself, actually many worlds and many cultures, with highly specialized lingo. Other classes I monitored included Salsa Fusion (by Eric & Marcela), which is about combining different styles—Miami style, L.A. style, New York style. The Salsa Footwork class (by Adrian Tenorio) added variations beyond the basic footwork—where I heard dance terms that were new to me: “chuck,” “Suzy,” and “Suzy plus.” I ended the day with Pachanga (by Adrian & Kimberly), a dance step I hadn’t heard of but has apparently been around a long time. (In Costa Rica, “pachanga” is slang that means, rather appropriately, something like “partying hard,” but that is not where the dance originated.)

The day lived up to the promise of the morning’s good omens. Satisfied and saturated with the spiritually uplifting sensory experiences that are Latin dance, I drifted away from the festival like the hot air balloons that soar effortlessly over the colorful Sandia mountains of central New Mexico.

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One Comment
  1. lilysea permalink

    This sounds like so much fun! Wish I could have been there!

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