April 17, 2009
By Al Carlos Hernandez
Embarrassingly I am so inspired by the TV show Dancing with the Stars that I have to tell my own story about tripping the light fantastic.
I am one of the few full-blooded Latino males who cannot dance. It’s not for lack of trying or the lack of resources to hire professional trainers. My problem isn’t genetic and has nothing to do with race. My parents, especially Mom, were great dancers.
We grew up raised on radio, nurtured in a music filled environment as my dad was a weekend musician. My sisters dance. I’m not sure how well since I’ve never danced with them. Maybe if I had they would have told me, in no uncertain terms, how much I sucked. This could have saved me years of humiliation.
My brothers, one a Harley biker, the other a successful Porsche driving attorney, are somehow socially bound not to express themselves in a festive and physical manner in public. That leaves me to distinguish myself as the Dork of the Dance.
In the early years I was successful in doing the slow strut vato loco two-step. It didn’t matter what song was being played. The girls thought I was a brooding, troubled romantic. However when disco came along I had no shame in my game and took to virtually running in place while snapping my fingers in the air. I’ve been told I looked like a commercial for the Cholo Special Olympics. Then there was the time I was strutting my raggedy stuff down a Soul Train line at a house party in Oakland and almost took a beat down because my moves were so stiff and lame. Luckily, I faked a platform shoe ankle injury and escaped with my permed afro in tact.
When salsa music hit hard I was a program director for a Spanish radio station in San Francisco. We would co-sponsor the biggest and baddest salsa concerts the West Coast had ever seen. Women would drag me to the dance floor only to try to lose me during the timbale solo because my moves were so spastic and whack. After a lady would dance with me, her girl friends would hit her with their purses after she got back to the table.
Believe it or not I thought I had it going on. I thought that by amending my aerobic disco-jog by kicking my feet off to the side, then flapping my elbows like a rooster getting ready to jump over a barn, it was salsa. It wasn’t salsa. It was sorry. Friends and family, through an intervention, convinced me to limit my club participation to buying people drinks and court supervised slow dancing.
Ironically I met my wife, a great dancer, at a salsa club. It was during a radio station sponsored Halloween party. I spent the whole night trying to convince this gorgeous conservative Latina business executive that I was not the convict looking, pinto vato loco my costume made me out to be. But my headband kept slipping down and blinding me to the point where I felt like smashing a piñata.
I growled at dudes who asked her to dance, scaring them away. I then took courage and asked her to dance myself. The room got quiet as I limited my movements to very subtle rthymic steps while keeping my arms near my waist, avoiding flight. As confidence grew I began walking around in circles while moving my shoulders to the music. The radio staff was no help. Soon everyone in the club knew that I was trying to dance again. All eyes were on me, waiting to bust a gut at my murdering of this traditional art form.
Mi vida quickly read the situation, discerning the glee that my free loading entourage was getting at my painful attempt to salsa dance. She took pity on me and led me back to our table. This gorgeous, intellegent woman realized that I endured public scorn by trying to make her happy. We have been together ever since. 25 years married in May.
Enamored, I confessed to her that I was not a dancer and, although I can play some conga and bass guitar, rhythm somehow has no way of getting to my feet. My body simply does not multi-task when it comes to physically expressing myself to music.
We agreed to do all of the slow dances together. Then it would be my job to commandeer the best and usually most effeminate male staff members to dance with her during the up tempo tunes.
It has been years since we have danced in public. The whole experience falls under the “been there, done that” category. If we went to a club nowadays we’d see that what passes for dancing used to be considered a misdemeanor fondling morals charge.
I have learned through trial and error how to accept my social limitations. I am happy to have had such good friends who cared enough to tell me how much I blew at dancing. My inability to dance never cost me any money. It did teach me a certain humility and probably qualified me to run for public office.
Al Carlos Hernadez writes from Hollywood.