Tag Archives: adventure

Radio Talk: Salsa Date

1 May

Last night, I was invited to be a guest on “Love Bent and Adventure Bound,” a weekly radio show hosted by Ben-Jamin Toy and his co-hosts, Sparkle and Eric. The show’s main focus is adventure dating, and Ben asked me to talk about Salsa dancing and if Salsa makes for a good date.


I had to think about it before I went on the show. Personally, I would not use going to Salsa as a date and have pretty strong opinions about dating within your hometown Salsa scene (but I won’t get into that here). Also, I wouldn’t bring a guy that I’m just starting to date to Salsa, especially if he didn’t really dance (“Hey honey, sit down and watch me dance for three hours). However, I recognize that it’s different for me as an instructor and Salsa addict than it is for someone who has maybe never danced before.

So that caveat aside, yes, I do think that taking Salsa classes and then going out dancing socially would be an excellent date.

Probably not a first date, but if you’ve been going out with someone for a few weeks or months and are ready to mix it up a little bit, taking Salsa classes together would be great. You would be bonding over the shared experience of learning a new skill, have an opportunity to take your burgeoning (or established) relationship out of the one-on-one date realm, and be introduced to a whole world of passion and excitement that I think can sometimes be difficult to tap into (My buddy Richie discussed the passion that Salsa awakens in people here).

However, I would caution people who are taking classes as a couple to avoid falling into the trap of just dancing with your guy or girl.

For non-dancers, one of the most difficult parts of social dancing can be when your significant other (or date) is dancing with other people. But trust me ladies and gentleman, it’s for everyone’s own good.

You will never improve as a dancer if you don’t test yourself and dance with other people—if you get too used to dancing with just one guy, you won’t actually learn how to follow, you’ll just memorize your guy’s moves and it will get boring really fast. The same thing applies to leads—you’ll think you’re a great lead because your girl has memorized your moves, not because you’re actually leading them well.

So, if you’re planning to take Salsa classes with your significant other or someone you’re tryna holler at, be prepared to dance with lots of other people. For some, it requires a degree of trust that can be uncomfortable if you’re a jealous type of person, but when you realize that a dance can just be dance, it frees you up to enjoy dances with other people. Then, when you dance with your significant other or date, you can change the attitude and make it a little bit more sensual, flirtatious, silly, sexy—whatever your chemistry and style dictates.

I probably didn’t articulate any of what I’ve written here during the interview, but I did impart some wisdom that I think is invaluable to all Salsa dancers, whether on a date or not:

Ladies, test drive your skirts before you take them out dancing. Salsa wardrobe malfunctions are the kind of malfunctions.


Severely Out-Nerded at Dragon*con 2013

5 Sep


Steampunk Tigger. Muppet Stormtroopers. Zombie Village People performing the “YMCA” all march down Peachtree Street during the Dragon*Con parade, waving to the sea of humanity on either side of the street.

Every Labor Day weekend since 1987, fans converge upon downtown Atlanta for Dragon*con, what is now the world’s largest science fiction and fantasy convention. The estimates for this year’s con exceed 50,000 attendees and last weekend I was one of the tens of thousand of people milling around four Atlanta hotels, soaking in the sights, sounds, smells and spectacular display of cosplaying conveners.


This picture does not do justice to the CROWD

I lost count of how many people dressed as the Doctor from “Dr. Who” and his trusty Tardis; the number of Star Fleet cadets and captains was staggering and every superhero in comic history was represented in multiple incarnations.


The Doctor and his time-traveling apparatus, personified

I went into Dragon*Con with no idea of what to expect and no agenda and I found that several hours of the day spent there were dedicated to swimming through the crowd and waiting in line: for badges, for the ATM, for George Takei’s autograph, for a Star Trek: Next Generation panel, to get into the Last Party of Alderan lightsaber-lit dance party….fortunately the bathroom was the only place I didn’t ever find any city block-length lines.

Before one of the panels, a screen flashed different videos, instructions for how to behave during panels and fun facts. One of the screens pointed out how “mainstream” nerd culture has become, referencing the worldwide popularity in the last decade of superhero films, the LOTR movies and the entire Harry Potter franchise, as well as shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and other popular media that makes geek kind of chic


There were, however, plenty of characters represented and celebrities present that I had never heard of. A host of people dressed as real-life video game and role-play game personages, anime and manga characters and there was an entire track dedicated to “filking,” a fan-created musical genre that is essentially folk music with a sci-fi or fantasy theme.

I went with a good friend and his brother, and my friend’s brother described Dragon*Con as everyone’s opportunity to be who they really are or who they really wanted to be. Attendees shed their 9-5s and their responsibilities (though there were plenty of full families present), donning costumes they had worked on for months  and having the opportunity to interact with others who share their passion.


During a costuming panel, I spoke to the man seated beside me who had traveled all the way from Maine for the weekend. Waiting in line for a late night panel, the man behind us told us stories about his first Dragon*Con in ’89, and how he has seen it grow over the years.




We only spent one full day at the con and only experienced about .05 percent of what it had to offer, but I’m confident that I’ll go back. After all, I’m already planning my costume: Steampunk Michael Jackson.


Take a ride in the almond mobile

30 Jun

March 11, 2012

The time: nine o’clock on a Tuesday night. The place: a corner by a gas station in Havana, Cuba. The players: A handful of college students, elegantly dressed and waiting to hail a cab to a classy jazz club.

A sky-blue vintage Chevy pulls up and the students ask, in Spanish, if the driver can take them to an intersection about five straight miles down the road. He assents and they pile in and take off, the tropical early spring breeze blowing through the Chevy’s open windows.

Unexpectedly, the driver takes a right. Half a block down the road, he pulls a u-turn and keeps driving straight. The students raise their eyebrows to one another, knowing full well that there are no turns on the way to their intersection. The driver pulls into a parking lot outside of a poorly-lit hotel. The students are convinced that their lives will be over after two short decades at the hands of a Cuban taxi driver.

Instead, the driver asks for directions. The students are completely bewildered. Their destination is a well-known intersection in Havana. And the man supposedly drives the streets of Havana in his taxi for a living.

After a few more stops and requests for directions, the taxi driver finally found the right intersection and the students pile out. Such is a night in Cuba riding around in an almendron.

Let me explain about these taxis.

When you see a vintage American car with a taxi sticker in the window, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not a tasty and nutrition nut. But for whatever reason in Cuba those taxis are called maquinas which means machines or almendrones, which means almond.

Like almonds for a mid-afternoon snack, the almendrones are usually incredibly convenient. And luckily, unlike almonds, almendrones are cheap. They run all over Havana on different routes, which are indicated by different hand signals that might be mistaken for gang signs. If you don’t know the hand signals, the driver will just ask you where you’re trying to go and if it’s on his route, you jump in.

Depending on the destination, you pay 10 or 20 national pesos. Just for reference, there are 24 national pesos to one Cuban convertible peso (cuc). One CUC is approximately equivalent to one dollar.

So, for less than one dollar, you can more or less get all over Havana. Granted, you might have to walk a little bit once you hop out of the almendron, but far worse disasters have occurred.

The cars are a vintage car collector’s Christmas morning- a stream of 50s-era American clunkers that, if properly restored, would probably sell for more than four years of tuition at an Ivy Leauge school.  But note the above-mentioned “if restored.”

The interior of the cars is like a pathetic set of bumper cars at a state fair where all the carnies are probably escaped convicts. The floor is steel and the seats ripped leather. The cars were made before suspension was invented. The engine is being held together by duct tape and wishful thinking and probably runs on rum and government-rationed coffee. The drivers have to put the force of their whole body into shifting gears and a stalled or broken-down almendron is as common as a white girl in a Whole Foods. The breaks squeal louder than tweens at a Justin Bieber concert and the cars slowly putter backwards when stopped at a light.

Once when riding in an almendron, I saw spray painted on a wall “Vive los almendrones.” Despite my experience with an incompetent almond driver, I wouldn’t trade those little suckers for anything. Long live the almond.

The Spanish equivalent of Madonna is also pickled in hair dye and cigarettes

29 Jun

July 28, 2011

On one of my last nights in Mexico, my friends and I went out with our gay Mexican doctor teacher and his boyfriend to a 30-and-up bar to see a band cover all the hits of a Latina 80s pop superstar, Yuri.
The  ambiance of the bar was sophisticated, but laid back. I think it’s a little unfair that hangouts for 20-year-olds aren’t that classy. And don’t have 80s cover bands.
There were huge leather couches around little coffee tables and polished marble floors, and my friends, Jorge Uno, myself,and Jorge’s 22-year-old boyfriend, were the youngest people in there by a good 15 years.
Three ladies, friends of Jorge (and at least 40), sat near us. After introducing us all to each other, Jorge turns to me and points to one of his friends, exclaiming “Don’t her boobies look nice? She went all the way to Victoria’s Secret in New York to get that bra.”
I learned two valuable lessons from that exchange, the first: there are no Victoria’s Secrets in Mexico (although I did see a store that flagrantly abused international copyright laws and used all the VS logos and pictures of their models).
The second: I asked if there was a word for “push-up bra” in Spanish, and learned that, like “nerd,” it’s a direct translation from English to Spanish. (For the curious, “OK,” and “Lady Gaga” are also direct translations).
Before the Yuri cover band went on, the DJ was spinning 80s favorites and projecting the videos that went with them. Think Pat Benetar, David Bowie, jorts, big hair, and other 80s music video staples, except with the lyrics all in Spanish.
When I wasn’t too distracted by the videos, I chatted with Jose, Jorge’s boyfriend, about dancing and his most recent role in a production put on by his acting school. My friend and I had gone to see the performance earlier in the week- it was essentially a Shakespeare comedy, except all in Spanish. I felt like what those four-year-olds with cultured parents must feel like when they are made to watch “Taming of the Shrew” as toddlers. “WTF mom? I just want to see some cars or princesses.”
Jose was great in the play, but we left after about 30 minutes, because as entertaining as it is to understand absolutely nothing that’s going on, sometimes its more fun to just watch American T.V. shows in bed.
Jose told us his character in the play, “Fortuna,” was a diva (and, you guessed it, in drag), and so he had to bedazzle his 5-inch stilettos with aquamarine glitter himself to fit the role. I think he is a method actor.
When the Yuri band went on, it was pretty much exactly what I expected. Slightly-synthesized sounding with a persistent drum beat, the music videos for each song perfectly aligned with the cover band.
At one point, the band did Yuri’s version of a high-energy remix of a classic salsa song, and Jose pulled me out onto the dance floor. Or rather, the short strip of open floor in between the door and the rest of the tables.
With his dramatic acting school lead, we did a slightly erratic combination of salsa, merengue, samba, and freestyle booty-shaking.
After we sat back down, Jorge asked me if I was part Cuban, but then revised his statement with “You need bigger boobs and a bigger butt to be Cuban.”
It was the nicest thing I’d heard all week.
The band continued with some of Yuri’s more soulful tunes that everyone in the club (except us American girls) knew by heart and crooned with the same amount of passion that most Americans reserve only for karaoke versions of “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Party in the U.S.A.”
After the band played Yuri’s version of “Karma Chameleon,” we decided it was time to call it quits. It was hard saying “Good-Bye” to Jorge and Jose. Jorge Uno was easily one of the most unexpected, but most entertaining, parts of my trip to Mexico, and bidding him “Adios,” meant leaving his renditions of ABBA and Susan Boyle, infinite knowledge of contraceptive devices, and obsession with pygmies.
But, as Yuri once sang “Pero No Te Olvido”: But I don’t forget you.

I’m going to yes myself to death

29 Jun

July 5, 2011

You could say I’m agreeable person. But not just in the sense that (usually) I’m easy to get along with.
I literally agree to EVERYTHING here in Mexico, which has had some mixed results.
See, when I don’t understand exactly what someone is asking/trying to tell me, the easiest course of action is just to smile, nod, put on my “I completely understand every word you’re saying to me”-face, and say “Si” repeatedly.
This strategy has resulted in many outcomes, including having my eyebrows dyed, being followed to the movies by Jaguar Jesus the Pasta Salesman, and eating some tasty marshmallows (maybe?) and hot fudge on fro-yo.
As you may or may not already know, I have (more or less) successfully navigated a few beauty salons here. I managed to get my hair cut short WITHOUT looking like Justin Bieber, and even though I accidentally agreed to having my hair dyed a little more red than I wanted, at least I didn’t accidentally agree to platinum blonde.
However, when the stylist was dyeing my hair, she asked me if I wanted something done, and all I caught was “the little hairs.”
Well, since my hair is short, of course all of it is “little hair,” so I smiled, nodded, and said “Si” a few times.
The next thing I knew, she was painting dye on my eyebrow.  At this point, it was a little too late to walk out of there. What was I supposed to do? Leave with mismatched eyebrows?
Let me just tell you that, as a white American girl, I already stick out like George Bush at an AME service. I couldn’t POSSIBLY attract more attention to myself by leaving with mismatched eyebrows, although honestly, I probably looked weirder walking out of there with random streaks of dye on my face than if I had just abandoned ship halfway through.
Since my American friends and I usually travel a pack, I think we attract a pretty good deal of attention, but usually people are a little intimidated (or uninterested) in approaching us.
Not so in the case of Jaguar Jesus. We were waiting at a bus stop to go to the movies, when a friendly little dude who was waiting at the same stop walked up to us and asked where we were going. We told him, and he pointed to a bus stop around the corner and said we needed to take that one. The bus stop was literally 50 feet away- we didn’t need a personal escort, but he took it upon himself to make sure we got to the stop safely.
We chatted a little bit, but it was completely one sided. I had literally no idea what he was talking about. I kept catching the word for China, but he didn’t look Chinese at all. I like to think that my Spanish has progressed enough to at least have a basic conversation with someone on the street, but not this time.
He was wearing a polo embroidered with a logo that said “something- something- PASTA,” so I asked him where he worked (as if I would understand his response).
From what I could gather, he worked at some sort of company that provides pasta to different places (presumably restaurants), and he was the delivery boy. He pointed to his elbow, I guess to signify elbow pasta.
The bus finally came, and my friends and I moved to get on it. He said something to me, and of course I smiled, nodded, and said “Si” a few times.
Suddenly, he was on the bus with us, sitting next to me. He asked me my name, and told me his. I couldn’t understand what he was saying.
So, he pulled out his I.D. and showed me. It said “Balam Jesus.”
Balam is the Mayan word for jaguar, and Jesus, is well, Jesus.
I was sitting on the bus with Jaguar Jesus, who was chatting my ear off in a language that I can only assume was Spanish (but maybe it was Chinese, since he kept talking about China…)
We arrived at the mall with the movie theater, and (I guess) since I hadn’t demonstrated any ability to understand anything so far, Jaguar Jesus took it upon himself to walk us to the theater (in case I should get lost going somewhere I actually HAVE been before).
While he was walking with us all I could think was “How do I get rid of him? If he asks to see a movie with us, I probably will accidentally say yes!”
Luckily, at the door to the mall, he let us go, bidding us farewell (I think) and trotting off to wherever he was going, be it to sell pasta or work his moonlight shift of accompanying American students to the movies.
The most success I’ve had with my “Yes” strategy is when I’m eating, in a restaurant or in my house. I’ll agree to eat just about anything, and usually it lands me delicious condiments (there’s this stuff here called media crema that is like sour cream, but not sour!) or an extra scoop of ice cream (the vanilla here is bright yellow, because vanilla beans are yellow…?).
“They” always say that you should say “YES” to life, embrace it with open arms, seize the day, blah blah blah, but in reality, all that will get you is weird colored eyebrows, a persistent companion, and, if you’re lucky, tortillas on the side.