Carolinas: Asheville Salsa
by George Nelson
One night, a few months ago, I happened to find myself in a lesbian biker fern bar in Asheville, NC. I was there on business. In Asheville, that is, not the watering hole.
I was working my way back to my hotel, after a nice dinner downtown with some distant cousins newly transplanted to the area. I meandered in a maze-like zigzag, killing some time, taking in the scenes of the closed shop windows on the steep side hills on the blocks behind the family home of Thomas "Look Homeward, Angel" Wolfe.
Peeking in one demi-steam-fogged window, I saw an amalgamation of forms, male and female, jolting in a sway that looked like they needed to turn off the computer, let the hard-drive cool down, then re-boot. De-frag, then re-launch the whole proceedings.
Being the adventurous Viking-like kinda guy that I am, culturally speaking, I ventured in.
In a small open area at the back of the room, tables and chairs had been moved out and stacked on the side of the floor for a Salsa lesson. There were more than twenty people bouncing and shimmying; dancing, if you will. Imagine a school of fish in the coral filled tropical waters of the Caribbean following each other using Braille cards. A stumbling fluidity.
I bellied up to the bar, as it were. Chardonnay. (What, you were expecting a shot and a beer?) I sat with my back to the bar, elbows resting up on the rail. To my right was a group of four or five young men, all remarkably clean shaven, with short, short hair. To my immediate left, in the direction of the main proceedings, two women, each dressed in a black outfit. One, predominantly leather; the other a satin-wanna-be. The first, in leather, closest to me, gargantuan. Ok, no, that's too "direct." "Voluminous," shall we say. Naturally, Ms. Satin was rail-thin. (I swear I'm not making this stuff up.)
Those shimmying on the dance floor were a little more non-descript. Although I did notice one guy wearing a pinkish-hued cardigan dashingly draped over his shoulders. And there was more than one set of ultra-polished tasseled loafers. This bunch was the kind who would not only listen to National Public Radio, but also subscribe.
Directing and gently cajoling this stumbling fluidity was the very attractive, diminutive Latin dance instructor. She was maybe 5'1"; or a very trim four feet thirteen. With jet-black hair pulled back tightly in a bun, she was commanding and forthright. Firm, in a school-marmish way. She was one who had very high standards and expectations, even for this group of novices.
Her consternation was that the most fundamental of issues; rhythm, movement, sway - - the way to sway - - was not sinking in. The concept of sway for these couples was more like the broken cadence of a platoon marching over a wooden bridge.
Her pupils were moving too much with their heads and shoulders. They were bopping and weaving. They looked like chickens in the farm yard pecking at pieces of corn.
"NO!! All wrong. This is sensuous. CENTTSSZZZU-USS. You must keep your whole upper body still and sway with your hips and your how do you say? Your derrieres, your bottoms. YURR BUTTUUUMMMMSZ."
The dance instructor was circling the perimeter of this weaving, jolting school of guppies. At every other couple she would place her hands on one or both of the pair. Move a man's hand to a slightly different location. Placing the palm of her hand on the small of the back of a woman, working her sway. Stroking between the shoulder blades of the male, smoothing out the bump and gyration.
No, NO, you are too American with all your bouncing. I want you to be Latin. Lat-TEEN. I Want To Erase Your Culture. 'I Waaaaaaaannt To EEEERRAAAZZZZZZ Your CultRRRRRRRR.'"
It took her 8 seconds to utter the sentence. Clap, Clap.
"Now, class, follow me."
OK, so we're not exactly talking ethnic cleansing here. But a little ripple or jolt passed through the migrating forms. Eradicate What?!?! It was the overwhelming nature of the statement. Not a "try this hat on for size for a while." Something that tinged on a taboo for this National Public Radio crowd that were trained, nay, left-brain-wired, to assuage; to reach a happy, political medium. Luke-warm preferred. Their sensibilities were ruffled, if not offended.
But that was the least of it. The woman sitting next to me, Ms. Leather, spun her head 180 away from the dance floor to look me straight in the eyes. It took me a moment to focus as the nine metal piercings of her right ear caught the light in a tight flash of blinding sparks. Her quick twirl disturbed the snake tattoo on her neck, which actually slithered down and reappeared near the flabby/muscled folds of her underarm and beefy tricep, languishing against her black leather vest. Sleeves jaggedly cut off at the shoulder, needless to say. The bridge of her nose and eyebrows squinted directly together.
"Damn, first bi-lingual education, then Spanish on the ballots - - Now This."
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