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tanzen & the in-between

I spent Sunday at Oma's house, passing the time from one AirBnB to the next. For one of the first times since being here, her apartment really felt like a second home, since from 11 am to 4 pm I had none. She met me halfway to the bus stop and helped me carry my things, a jug of water and a bag of snacks. I could smell Mittagsessen even in the foyer outside her door: buttery curry chicken sauce with Oma's creamy good mashed potatoes and more white Spargel. She criticized her cooking, saying the asparagus had all slumped to the bottom of the pot and the chicken was over cooked, and it's true some pieces were a little tough, but the flavors and textures were delectable and I mmmmmed the whole time and helped myself to seconds as Oma kept repeating Ich kann nicht mehr... du kannst alles aufessen, isst du Gut...

We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting, or rather, Oma mostly chatting while I worked on some Soduku, and then at 4 pm we rode two bus stops down to the new place. Oma said she was richtig neidish about my shower stall, since her apartment only has a tub. It's been an incredible treat, having for the first time since being in Germany water that's actually too hot. Is this all I'll remember of Berlin: the temperature of water and the weight of my bags?


I should shower the sweat away; I went to my first intermediate bachata class tonight (Wednesday) and was totally disoriented; I don't know why I assumed that the class would be in the same place as my styling class, or taught by the same instructors. I left an hour and a half early and arrived at the big door with only a few minutes to spare; the subway loudspeaker had kept repeating, because of some technical difficulties, the trains are not running on their regular schedule. We thank you for your patience. The trains were so crowded in the end that one woman had to announce that I wanted out, because I assumed the magic seas would part without me saying a word. Is this how I still move through life, waiting for others to speak up for me?

When I arrived at the destination, I almost didn't see the "bachata" paper sign on the big heavy door, which otherwise looked like any main entrance to an apartment complex. I pressed a buzzer that let me in, Gottseidank, and there I stood in the dark hallway, thinking I should have more accurately read the sign out front, which had mentioned "to the right and take the stairs down". There was a door to the left, and double doors in the front, and so I chose the double doors and then found myself in a courtyard in the cold drizzling rain, looking for the paper trail and finding none.

When I walked back into the main hallway, a young man noticed my confusion. Tanzen? he asked, smiling, and I said yes, and he led me through another set of double doors and down dark stairs and around a corner, and then there I was with my wet red umbrella. The guy told me his name, and I stood there trying to figure out how to say "nice to meet you" in German for such a long time that I ended up saying nothing back, except my own name, which I spelled out in English.

The dance room was empty except for a couple of men, so I sat in the corner and strapped on my shoes, and one of the guys said now he's afraid to dance barefoot. The shoes are literally just small pumps, but it's true that they can stab. When class started, there was a surprising surplus of men, and I realized everyone else except for a done-up woman in a bright pink short dress was wearing tennis shoes. I've been debating for months whether to start dancing in flats, but salsa heels are so wonderful to spin in, and I don't want to get accustomed to tennis shoes and then stumble out on the floor.

The class itself was amazing; the teacher spoke German the whole time, and one guy named Jacob (Yakob) asked me if I could understand everything, and I said I understood most of it, but the good thing about dancing was that you could just observe? Like, Austin and I talked about this too, but dancing is something you can take with you ANYWHERE and you have an instant community. It's truly incredible in that way, and something last week's salsa teacher was saying too, that in Germany (I'm paraphrasing) it's common to live your whole life next to a neighbor and only see them when they die, but in salsa you make friends instantly and are always invited.

I was a little rusty at first, maybe because of the bright lights and the shock of being somewhere completely new, and maybe because a couple of the men I first danced with were really damn good, and I was thinking wait a minute, am I making a fool of myself by not taking the beginner's class. But then I heard "you must be dancing for a long time" from a man who was struggling, and I realized that I wasn't doing half bad, and once I figured out how to do the backward ocho, the teacher complimented my precise footwork and asked me if I did ballet! So there I was with all this inflated ego, which didn't quite make me friends (I was in one of those moods where I smiled the whole time but didn't feel like making small talk, and I basically purposefully sat away from the group of people on the U Bahn after class), but did get my ass to HAVANA! "THE PLACE" for salsa and bachata dancing, as one of the hostesses on AirBnB wrote me months ago.

I had planned to go home after the class, but then Googled how far Havana was and it was just a couple stops up the track, and I thought, well, if I don't go now, I'll just keep pushing it off, and I felt primed and confident from class so thought why not? In the U Bahn, as a means to break the awkward space between me and the group of people I just took class with, I tapped my bachata teacher on the shoulder and asked about Havana, and he said he'd only been there once but wasn't impressed because it seemed like most people there were about "hooking up" and less about the dancing, so you can imagine my smirk when one of the first things I saw was two people making out during bachata.

The club was a lot smaller than I imagined, because despite having like four floors, the basement bachata floor was maybe the size of Rudy's in Nashville, and the salsa floor (the main level) was bigger but packed. Downstairs was also a coat rack (boy I love German clubs and their coat racks!). Overall the setup was amazing, I looooved being able to just escape from downstairs to upstairs when I didn't see anyone I wanted to dance with, or salsa to bachata when I got too tired from all the spinning and steps. I danced with a lot of good dancers who'd tried moves I never had, and inevitably got the one taller bigger guy who lifted me totally off the ground and the token drunken guy who probably has danced his whole life based on his effortless steps, how drenched he was with sweat, and the way he belted out the song's lyrics, shamelessly, with beer breath.


I'm demolishing some leftover red cabbage, ground turkey and Oma's delicious mashed potatoes while writing this, trying not to eat too fast but watching the time, seeing how it's almost midnight, and how I've gotten a streak of good sleep that I don't want to spoil. I've slept deliciously well ever since moving to my new AirBnB, although I've also developed a habit of listening to a white noise track that lasts until morning, when it sounds like gentle rain. I can still hear the cars from here, but this little studio room is set back a building from the street, so the tires don't run over my face like they did in the apartment up the road.

The apartment is a cheerful little place, with a huge white comfy bed and a pop of appliances that are matte robin blue. I love seeing all my things spread out and hanging, drying from their weekly wash. The only weird thing is the wall behind the bathroom heater is crumbling apart, with small stones and dried drywall falling all day and night. If I wanted to, each day I could sweep more decay away. It's a strange and unsettling feeling that reminds me how ancient this room and city are underneath all the facades.

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