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Dance, dance, dance

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

On Saturday morning, I recycled empty plastic bottles at Havelpark that I’d been collecting for weeks. They vibrated in Oma’s basket on the cobblestone paths as I pedaled past tangerine homes. The church bells rang at noon and some horses neighed and a man disappeared through an iron gate. In a long sliver of shade, a big white dog panted.

 

Saturday night, I went to tango. When I told the bouncer why I was there, he smiled and said "I know." I got there almost 45 min later than I usually do, but not late enough: I caught just the end of the same breathwork/ice breaker exercise the teacher always does, about catching a rogue mosquito and saying "HA HAA!" I suppose I should give credit where it's due: delivering something with such passion that half the room thinks it's brand new?


For the breakout groups I skipped the close embrace lesson, since I'd already done that last time, and instead went to the fancy figures class, which had a good number of people (including several from France) but nowhere near the crowd of beginners in the other room. I saw someone I'd danced with two weeks before, so I asked him if he was really good at tango because this lesson might be too advanced for me, and he was like no, it's only his second time. So we did the warm-up dance with each other, and thank God since we both didn't know what the hell we were doing and I was sure someone would rat us out, but everyone was patient and we both got better as the night went on. The teachers Leo and Ornetta were incredible--they critiqued each couple and came over when you asked. I learned from Ornetta to not kick up my heels, that the first most important part of tango is your partner, and the second is the floor--to keep contact as much as possible, to slide and shift weight. She was such a spark of passion and joy, the way she used her whole body to show how her energy spiraled to the sky. And Leo kept using the word "inspire", that it's the lead's job to inspire, but the follower’s to respond: to receive and give energy, over and over again. To stay suspended in dramatic tension, to articulate and extend. They described the movements being like a "gummy band": you stretch them out as much as you can, and then leg-whip 'em back into place.

After the hour-long lesson, I went to the rouge room and danced tango for a while, sipping first a gin and tonic and then a Moscow Mule. I frequented the upstairs techno floor as well, and the funk room down below, where a man in a dress was shaking it all night long. In line for the bathroom, I saw a poster for a big dance event Sunday night, with tango, bachata, salsa and zouk taking over all the techno spaces, and when the mosquito teacher caught me looking he said it really was going to be something. Another dancer said the same thing. So there I was, thinking I should have come Sunday night instead, while also thinking, well, who says I can't?


I stayed until nearly 3 am, I'm not exactly sure how, and then chatted with Austin on the walk home from the Falkensee Bahnhof, when I spotted a dawn coyote!! Earlier that day, I’d seen a rat on the Ubahn tracks; I always look for them but don't often find them; they blend in with the rocks. But it's such a wonderful thing to see creatures crawling in the urban grey: little bundles of life in the underworld, while we're all stuck waiting above.

 

I got a WhatsApp group message Saturday saying there wouldn't be any open-air bachata that night because of "sooo many bachata events in the city". I googled and quickly discovered what I would have otherwise missed: a Carnival of Culture in the Kreuzburg neighborhood, with a big street parade on Sunday at noon. After only a few hours of sleep, I made it there closer to 2 when it was winding down.


The transit to get there was bursting at the seams, but I'd managed to hop on at an earlier stop before anyone was even on board. In front of me, a fawn-eyed girl in a red and black Spanish dress sat on her dad's lap and pressed herself to the glass as the mom said, Marianna, please, not with the face. Behind me, people crammed in so tightly they had to push others away. The train skipped two of the stations and then dropped everyone off at Hermannplatz near the end of the parade.


Within 20 minutes, the floats came by. I squeezed myself next to a bunch of people on the grass and swallowed back tears, suddenly struck with that sense of being here, like, not just geographically but existentially really here. Alive at a time with all these other people dancing in the streets. I loved watching everyone's faces, even the performers who were half-assing the last half mile, with paint smearing down their cheeks and pit stains on their shirts.



After more than an hour, I hunted for food. Everything looked delicious, but the fragrant booths had the longest lines, and I ended up passing up every option until suddenly I was at the end, totally starving, almost dizzyingly hot, and just out of water. I also had no idea how I was going to get to the club later, since so many Ubahn stations were being re-routed and blocked, and I had no service because of all the bandwidth overload. So I finally popped into a Turkish hole-in-the-wall a few streets down for a falafel sub, then sat in the shade and gobbled it up, my feet aching in my boots, mapping out transit options when I finally had cell service again.

 

About twenty minutes down from all the chaos, I city-hacked my gym membership. I rinsed my sunburned skin in the gym shower before drying off with my sweaty shirt, since I hadn't thought far enough ahead to bring a towel or soap, just a straightener, deodorant and brush. I changed into my club outfit, straightened my hair and drank a whole lot of faucet water, then left the gym around 6:15 and took the bus to the club. I arrived just at 7, before the doors even opened, and stood in a line.


The whole setup was different this time, and instead of walking immediately downstairs I hung around by the pool, waiting for something to happen. Finally at 7:30 they announced that the warm-up would be in the big room, so we all went; instead of techno heads on the stage, there was a tango orchestra. An older man from Madrid said the orchestra was well-known and that the night would be incredible, and then he told me about his day, how he stayed at the club until 5 am or so the night before, ran some errands and then took a nap to prepare for the night. He was wide-eyed, going on and on (about Berlin being the tango capital of Europe; about the lead needing to interpret the follower’s skill level rather than exerting theirs over it (which I totally appreciated considering I danced with a guy who made it sound like everything made sense when I told him I'd only take a few lessons); about living in Germany for a few weeks at a time because Berlin is incredible; about attending his first goth party) while I— probably thirty years younger— was fading fast.


The warm-up this time included all of us crawling around like angry T-Rexes as I was distinctly thinking I should have waited — like the smarter people — on the sides. Thank God when all that was over, the group split into several different ones: the total tango beginners up top, the rest of us in the big room below, salsa in the adjacent room, bachata in the rouge room where tango normally is, and zouk in the funk room.


Leo and Ornetta taught the tango lesson again, and it was slightly different than the day before. This one involved a weightless spin for the follower, like a ballerina turn, which only a few leads figured out. After about an hour of the lesson, the social dance began, and soon the whole floor was packed with fancy people in evening attire. I learned it's rude in tango to leave a partner after only one song--that the normal rule is you dance three, even if the partner's pretty bad. So I did several sets of 3ers with strangers, closing my eyes almost exclusively so I could concentrate on the feels, and then checked out basement bachata.


Oh boy, have I missed bachata! After all that tango where I'm still such a novice, bachata felt, in a way, like coming home. I moved to zouk next, which struck me as a mix between bachata and erotic interpretive dance. I danced with someone who told me zouk is the root of sensual bachata, and honestly I‘m still figuring out how it’s different: maybe just the musicality? So then I went back to bachata, and then back to tango, where I realized Leo and Ornetta and the tango orchestra were enchanting the whole crowd. I perched on the wall to get a better view, but still could hardly see. After the performances, the floor filled up quickly again, so I went to salsa instead, the forgotten space where there was only soft music and a handful of dancers, and not all of them dancing. But I was able to get one really good dance in--the kind where I felt like all eyes were on me, even when there's no one in the room-- and then got my stuff from the coat rack and left.


I checked my phone as I walked to the nearest train station: it was just after midnight, but there was an alarm going off in the UBahn and cops rushing in, and then a command to "leave the train station immediately", so I walked and walked until I finally found an open SBahn, where I navigated my way to Nauen.

 

Wednesday night I took the train to the Hbf and walked along the river, following the sound of music, until I arrived at a small group of salsa dancers, where a man I've danced with before pulled me in. The late evening sun was beating down and I was already feeling hot, but I was dancing well and in a smiley mood, which made everything more fun. Next thing I know I’m dancing salsa for the next few hours and only occasionally moving over to bachata-- my original motivation for going-- which seemed less appealing in all the sweat. I danced so much I lost the heel to my boot but was able to push it back into place again.

I left around 10 pm, double fisting a water and a bottle of beer, sauntering across the bridge. Bar lights twinkled on the river, and on the horizon, the iconic spike of the Fernsehturm pierced the evening blue. I was thinking about what someone told me while dancing that night: that time isn't really a thing in Berlin, because there's so much to do that all the days run together--sort of like a party with no end. And maybe that’s the magic of a big city, but also dance— that if you just show up, someone or something will sweep you right in.


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I love the fact that you are so fearless and just do what you want to do even if it means doing it by yoursel; you are a brave woman just like your mom 💜💜

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Missy La Vone
Missy La Vone
Aug 08, 2023
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Thank you Aunty 💚

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