Andrew & The Girls
One of the girls I tutor asked me what I was doing that afternoon and told me about the anniversary celebration in her high school. Lilian begged me to come and wouldn’t let me leave the orphanage until she had extracted a promise from me. There was to be folkloric dancing and I couldn’t pass that up. Her pleading big dark eyes sealed the deal though. She had already asked me to be her sponsor for her first holy communion and she goes around the orphanage calling me her dad. I just couldn’t say no. So at 2 pm I was looking around for the high school and spotted some of the other girls sitting on a bench by the street. I stopped for a while to chat with them and then they led me to the high school where I met Lilian.
High School Anniversary Celebration
She took me by the hand and proudly led me all around, showing me her classroom and then bringing me down to the playground area where all the students and teachers were gathered for the celebration. After an abbreviated mass out in the open with the sun beaming down the students all scattered and took places for the ceremony and dancing. I was the only one who actively sought out the sun but after an hour the intense rays were beginning to take their toll. Even this sun-worshiper from Cleveland finally had to find some shade. I had forgotten my cap so I put my sweater over my head for some relief. I must have looked like a gringo Bedouin. There were some long dry speeches. The principal also presented each male teacher with a small gift since it was father’s day in Latin America (March 19th, feast of St.
Joseph). Finally the dancers came out attired in their brilliant blue and silver costumes. The boys wore baggy pants stuffed into long boots and a jacket with puffy shoulders and a hat. The boots were fitted out with bells and dried pods with seeds inside them, so that with every stomp and movement they would clank and rattle. The girls wore matching costumes with a very short skirt that flared sharply away from their hips, pantyhose and boots, and a white blouse with a tailored jacket over it. They also wore an embroidered hat. If the dancing was as impressive as the costumes we were in for a good show. I knew a little about the highland Bolivian dance, the Caporale, that they were going to perform but I had never seen it, so I was looking forward to the show.
They stamped and strutted and swirled around the playground to the infectious music. It was so catchy that two rambunctious and daring younger students ran into the center and pranced about to the music, half mockingly and half seriously dancing. They were so funny that none of the adults went in to get them. And they were making everyone laugh so hard anyway.
The second performance was a duo of girls dancing a choreographed reggaeton routine. They wore long socks, short skirts, white blouses with ties and jaunty hats and it was as if they were auditioning for a reggaeton video, albeit with a lot more clothes on than the video girls. Their dance was cute and flashy and just on this side of provocative.
The next group of girls also did a dance routine but theirs was a bit disturbing in that some of the girls were much younger and some of the moves were more provocative. But this is Latin America and dancing like that is not seen in the same way. I thought it was funny that one of the young boys that had crashed the Caporale dance did the same thing to the reggaeton dance and I thought his moves were better than the choreographed moves of the girls.
Later that evening I invited Anita to stay downtown and join me for a tango performance in Sopocachi at a café. It turned out that the owner is Lebanese and Anita knew him and some of his friends. We had a nice couch near the area they had cleared away for the dance.
The very young girl didn’t look very Bolivian to me but her partner left no doubt. His name was Jefferson or Wilson or something like that and he was dark like an Indio or Chollo. But could he dance! They were a lovely couple and they danced several tangos and milongas. Then she came over and took me on to the dance floor and her partner took Anita. I handled myself decently for not having danced tango in ten years and Anita didn’t do so badly for her first time. In such capable hands she looked pretty good. We got into a conversation with the girls’ parents. Her mother is Bolivian and her father is French. He was such a nice man and after Anita left I stayed to talk to him and dance a little more.
Andrew trying to remember his tango moves...
We talked half in French and half in Spanish and before leaving we traded numbers. They asked us to come to the tango dances and Anita was thrilled and said she wanted to learn. I had forgotten how much I loved tango and I remembered why I was so passionate about it and why I even organized tango classes when I was in Cleveland at the time I was working at D’Vine Wine Bar. That was ten years ago but it was all coming back to me now. We agreed to come to the dance and to meet up again soon.
As I was leaving I went to pay and realized I had left my ATM card in the machine earlier in the afternoon when I had taken out money on the main street downtown. I panicked a bit since it was six hours earlier, but luckily I had my laptop with me and I logged on to my bank site to see that no withdrawal had been made.
I found a phone and called to cancel my card and the call took awhile as I patiently spelled out the address to the innocent customer service rep. I had to keep repeating “La Paz”, it’s the capital city of Bolivia. “L-A then P-A-Z”. “Bolivia, it’s a country in South America.” We finally got it taken care of and I felt like I had just given an intensive geography lesson. When going to pay for the phone call I had made in the mini-market that was open late, a slightly drunk man, probably the father of the lady that was running the store, swayed towards me and slurred, “hey, you have some sparkles on your forehead.” I was puzzled but then realized what it was. I told him, “Oh, they must be from the girl I was dancing with. We were dancing tango and you dance it forehead to forehead.” He smiled and I said, “It’s a very romantic dance. I’m not going to take a shower now that you pointed it out.” Everyone in the market was laughing as I bid them goodnight.