The International Writers Magazine: Dance Latin Style (Part Two)
Oh damn, the girl stepped on my foot with her 4” high heel! You figure out the physics of it – a 120 lb. girl’s weight compressed into a 1/2 sq. in. heel. I didn’t complain because her male partner, a large dark guy with a shaved head and handlebar mustache, looked like he had just come off a shift of hurtling 100 lb. cement bags.
Dancing in that crowd was like playing bumper cars in Coney Island, and more and more people were crowding into the storefront dance studio right in the heart of Spanish Harlem. Out front, the street was rife with police activity, not from the dancing but for the bar next door, which looked like a convention of the Hustlers Chamber of Commerce.
Actually, the dance studio crowd was really well behaved. Charm school for subway riders. They didn’t sell drinks, only bottles of water, but nobody cared. The people came to dance, and the pounding rhythmic, Latin beat, punctuated by searing love vocals offering pleading protestations of everlasting devotion, penetrated straight to the heart. The people proudly demonstrated their skill, turning and spinning in tightly choreographed coordination with not a step out of place. This is real dancing, and not the incontinent booty-shaking of the disco and rock cultures.
Anybody who wants to get a thumbnail of the changing demographic of American society would do well to take a ride uptown to the Lorenz Latin Dance Studio on 110th Street, where I am enrolled in salsa classes. I have been studying Latin culture by working and vacationing around Latin people for the last thirty years, and this is my graduate program. I’ll know I have graduated when the girls start telling me, “Papi, tu sabes bailar!”
Every Friday night Lorenz holds a dance party where, for a nominal entrance fee, registered students can practice in a club atmosphere with strobes and flashing lights. If you haven’t yet achieved proficiency there are plenty of female and male trainers to work with you. That is the value for me right now, since I have only accomplished four lessons. I don’t have to ask a normal woman to dance, only to find a female trainer to work with me. I know the basic step, the side step, how to cross my feet like a samba, to turn the girl, to spin the girl and to get back to the first position.
Teaching me to salsa is analogous to teaching the Eddie Murphy jackass character in the “Shreck” movies how to dance. When I signed up, I told the guy, “I got two left feet”. Being a typical New Yorker, and not to be outdone, he riposted, “I learned, and I got two right feet!”
So I have some basic steps and I have a (graceful) captive audience for a partner. The next thing to learn is how to navigate a crowded dance floor. Our instructor, Chris, instructed the class, “In a crowded room, the man’s responsibility is to protect his female partner. You can’t be showing off while she is being trampled. Remember, in salsa dancing the female is the star. Men, you are the frame and the girl is the picture”.
Without meaning to digress at all, I would like to relate to the reader a bit of modern commercial history in the form of Ray Krok, who was a salesman of milkshake blending machines in Southern California during the 1940’s. He would go from restaurant to restaurant to peddle his blenders. One day he came upon a drive-in restaurant in Bakersfield where, instead of having waitresses come to them, the customers had to go into the store and buy take-out orders to bring back to their cars. Instead of offering a full menu of artery pollution, the restaurant only sold hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes. The efficient method of delivery allowed the restaurant to pass its economies along to the customers, and a guy could afford to feed his whole family for just a few bucks.
Krok, a post-World War II type of modern man on the make, immediately recognized the mass-marketing value of the system and badgered the two McDonald brothers to sell out to him, the result being McDonald’s, one of the world’s most powerful corporations and, unfortunately, the defining characteristic of American gastronomic achievement.
Systems, that is what we are talking about here, delivery of value to a cost-conscious mass market. I am having the same Saul of Tarsus moment. I’m about to fall off my donkey. Lorenz Latin Dance Studio is basically a mom-and-pop operation run by young guys from Ridgewood, Queens, whose lifelong focus since high school has always been dancing. The analogy with McDonald’s is exact. The common business model for dancing schools is a veritable cliché: You’re invited in for a free dancing lesson one-on-one with a heavily made-up teacher who then shuttles you in for a meeting with the sales manager, who tries to induce you into signing a lifetime contract at usurious rates.
Lorenz, on the other hand, signs you up for a reasonable fee and then puts you into a sizeable class of 80-100 people who are paired off in long lines to practice under the close supervision of roving assistants, like the army. (Sorry, there’s no accommodation for gay rights. If I’m instructed to change partners and the next person in line is another man, I’m not going to do it, ok? Though I don’t see why they couldn’t establish classes strictly dedicated to gay people, if there is a demand)
It’s obvious that dancing is still a hot ticket. Witness the success of “Dancing With The Stars”. Combine this with the exploding Hispanic demographic and subsequent national interest in Latin culture, quite aside from the fact that the music and ambiance are totally contagious as opposed to, say, the foxtrot, waltz and other wilted dance routines of Anglo-Saxon culture.
Lorenz, which operates two locations in Queens, one in the Bronx, and the newly-opened branch in Harlem, has already been recognized by the New York City Dept. of Education and the New York Police Dept. as being an effective way to distract children and teenagers from getting in trouble. What is to keep their system from going nationwide and establishing a presence in every city? That’s my thinking.
Obviously, the whole business model having already been formulated and executed with meticulous precision, all that is lacking is capital and marketing expertise, which they could get by appealing to the private equity sector. In a mature economy like the U.S., all the good opportunities are already being exploited. A fresh approach like Latin dancing schools might be appreciated by any number of investors.
I count myself as one of the top analysts of Latin influences in the U.S., and not from studying at NYU, but from working and partying with them for decades on end. You’re going to learn more about U.S. Latin culture like that than from watching 10,000 hours of cable TV, ok? A couple of months ago I predicted on this page that U.S. senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz would be propelled to the top rung of the Republican Party, and in the intervening time since then they have experienced a meteoric shock of propulsion that blew my mind and, I am sure, theirs as well.
||No sooner had I made that prediction then Rubio appeared on the cover of Time as “The Savior of the Republicans”, I kid you not! Why? Because getting some Spanish guys up to the front is the only means of stemming the Republicans’ vertiginous descent toward extinction. The old saying has it that “whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”, and Republicans have surely fulfilled the first part of that equation. Fortunately for them, destiny has thrown them a life preserver in the form of two Spanish-speaking reactionaries who can bridge the gap between WASP intransigence and old-time Latin American fascist dialectics.
Naturally, the type of reactionary philosophy they are propounding has completely lost purchase in Latin America, but here in the U.S., which for generations has been welcoming the most hard-core Latin American pricks, a two pronged campaign of savage Ayn Rand social Darwinism (Rubio) and hard-core anti-communist red baiting (Cruz), may be enough to peel away enough support from the Democratic Hispanic majority to blunt the Democrats’ electoral edge. Or so they hope, I am sure.
After repeated generations of U.S. meddling, manipulation and exploitation, practically all of Latin America has moved to the left, one of the main reasons being that their moneyed classes and reactionary elements have been afforded safe haven in the U.S. Now that they are here, they can safely be counted upon to welcome the proposals of Rubio and Cruz, who no doubt whet their nostalgia for the good old days when the population groveled at the sight of a military uniform, as during the interminable Salvadorean civil war, sponsored by the CIA, where fascist leader Roberto d’Aubuisson and his ARENA party initiated countless massacres and mass atrocities. They are all here now, and their visceral ferocity will surely be stimulated by the national emergence of two leaders who really speak their language.
Will it work? Maybe. The U.S. English-speaking media, which is still marveling at the meteoric rise of Rubio and Cruz, without having the reflective capacity to figure out why it happened, is still in a state of shock and awe. Even the Democrats don’t seem to be paying special attention, which is peculiar since it is their best laid plans that would be at stake. To counter this assault, the Dems will have to get their own Spanish stars up front or lose their edge. It’s developing into something resembling the Stanley Cup, with each side hoping that their imported Canadians will save the day. No analysis of the growing Hispanic demographic should ignore how their political style is likely to affect our politics, for better and for worse. They are operating from a different set of paradigms, which are not informed by Anglo-Saxon principles of parliamentary democracy and the orderly evolution of common law. Latin American governance is a free-for-all with a strong infusion of paternalism that disdains the perceived maternalism of North American liberalism. Whomever the Democrats pick to go head-to-head against Rubio and Cruz will find themselves at a disadvantage because they will have to express humanistic values against right wing politics and anti-communism, which lend themselves to bare-knuckle viciousness and ferocious amateur theatrics. I would expect Rubio and Cruz to try to tie the Dems to Castro, Chavez, Correa, Ortega, Morales, Humala, etc.
In the meantime, I intend to continue my research at Lorenz Latin Dance Studio, providing my feet don’t get broken up by those sharp girls’ sharp heels.
© Dean Borok March 2013
Latin Dancing Across 110th Street (Part One)
I have asserted all along that New Yorkers should be compelled to attend charm school, so I decided to take my own advice. The place I chose, the Lorenz Latin Dance Studio, is located in Spanish Harlem