How to Learn to Cumbia

Attend a wedding complete with carnitas, micheladas, and fireworks in your friend Rosa’s village. Notice the DJ is playing nothing but cumbias. Ask Rosa to dance. Don’t let on you’re into her. Apologize when you step on her left foot.

Take the hint when Rosa tells you she doesn’t like to dance. Force a smile when she says her cousin Suzy has the hots for you. Drink micheladas with Suzy until she starts to look halfway decent.

Ask Suzy to dance. Admit you’re a beginner. Ask for tips. Almost hear the one-two-three beat she counts out. Watch her demonstrate. Left foot back, step in place, right foot back.

Take Suzy into your arms. Step on her right foot. Apologize. Notice (how could you not?) that she’s coming on to you. Notice, too, that her stomach sticks out further than her chest. Dance a bit more even though your heart (not to mention other organs) isn’t into it. Slip away when she goes to the bathroom. Ditch the wedding, head to Rosa’s. Struggle to sleep on the couch.

Next day, Monday, fall asleep on the bus back to your city and ride all the way to the terminal. Summon an Uber. Day-drink tequila until you pass out, wake up Tuesday with a blinding hangover, and teach snotty prep school kids English.

Heed your students when they say bachata is easier. Google the steps: one two three tap and five six seven tap. Watch the video. Tell yourself you can do it. Fail to match the numbers to the steps. Ask yourself if you have ever in your life seen legs like the ones on the female instructor. (You have not.)

Try again. One two tap, no. One two, hell will it. Sit down and roll a joint. Re-watch the video. Try to decide if the male’s sneakers look like they came from Back to the Future or Twelve Monkeys. Refocus on the woman’s legs. Stand up and try again. One two three fuck shit damn. Sit back down, hit the joint.

Google “how to cumbia.” Read a how-to article. Watch a video. Google some more. Learn that Selena Gomez is not the Selena with only a first name. That Selena was murdered by a fan. Google pics of her legs.

Give yourself a rousing speech like in sports movies before the great comeback. Emphasize how dancing will help you to better know Mexican culture and meet pretty women, even if it won’t help with Rosa. (Maybe it will.)

Play “Baila Esta Cumbia” on YouTube, per the how-to article. Try again. Step on your own foot, like you did Suzy’s. (Block out the memory of Suzy’s fleshy belly pressing against your hips.) Try again. Get nowhere. Finish the joint and eat a quart of honey spread over a package of graham crackers while watching Netflix in English.

Thursday you’ve got your regular prep school classes then Business English tutoring sessions. Give dancing and drinking a rest. Go to bed early and think about Rosa while you jerk off.

Friday night overdo the liquid courage and slip on the rain-wet stairs. Crash into your landlord’s potted cactus. Limp up to your room counting one-two, one-two. Scrounge for tweezers and a hand mirror, drop your pants, and pull cactus spines out of your butt. Smear antibiotic ointment. Eat dinner out of three cans — tuna, black beans, salsa casera.

Saturday afternoon sift through the ads on Mileroticos until you find a prostitute with Rosa’s eyes and cheekbones. Meet her at the no-tell motel at the edge of town, the one with the Chinese theme. Pretend you believe her name really is Jennifer. Pay for two hours up front. Come embarrassingly quickly.

Pay Jennifer an extra five hundred pesos and order outrageously overpriced beers from room service so she’ll dance with you while you recover for round two. Dance not well, but better. Order more beers. Put on another cumbia, then another. You’re finally getting it. You’re not missing some crucial part of your brain. Dancing is possible after all.

Jump when Jennifer’s alarm goes off. Feel your heart drop when she says she’s leaving. Swallow the hurt when she laughs and won’t let you pay her for two more hours.

Sit on the bed amidst imitation jade dragons, stale smoke, and lipstick-stained pillowcases. Ask yourself if this is really your life, knowing full well that it is, that you’ve taken every step that brought you here.

So keep taking steps.

Finish Jennifer’s beer. Call room service, order some tacos to go with the next six pack. Al pastor and carnitas. Turn up the volume and practice dancing while searching Mileroticos for a girl that likes to cumbia.

No-tell motels aren’t free. These stories are. Spare some change?

 Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash