Going Gaga in Honduras

October 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

Honduran dance floors – blurry

Because of El Progreso’s dearth of fun things to do at night (save billiards with “the guys” and/or sitting on a bench next to a life-size version of the KFC man)– my social life has been lacking over the months, to say the least. I don’t really fit into the Coco’s bar scene, since I don’t like guzzling down buckets of beer. Plus, the bar’s dance floor is a five-foot by five-foot slab of wood that gets flooded with women in short skirts and their beer-inspired male partners. It’s not really the most conducive atmosphere for a crazy foreigner, especially when said foreigner is bouncing around alone in between all of the hip-locked couples.

That’s why when someone presents me with the option of any sort of social outing, I jump on it like starving tiger seizing an antelope in the middle of a dry savannah. Last weekend it was the chance to go to San Pedro Sula with Josué.

Josué, the single Honduran I know who likes Korean food, asked if I wanted to go to Boca (벅가), the only Korean restaurant in San Pedro. Our plan was to get there by 8:30pm. When 9:30pm passed and I was still waiting for Josué, I figured that the evening was shot and that my “night out” would end with me dancing at home by myself to “Firework”…again. But at 9:35pm, Josué surprised me when he called to tell me he was on his way.

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived to Boca it was closed, so we drove around until we happened upon a large Mexican restaurant, bar, and club called El Fogoncito. Josué told me it was a fun place because at night there were live dance shows.

The dance show sounded great and all, but priority number one was Mexican food and lots of it.

Josué and I sat at one of the tables near a bar. Beyoncé’s “All the Single Ladies” video was blasting on a large white screen with so much volume that it made conversation impossible. I didn’t mind, since I was perfectly content watching videos while Josué lost himself in the 3 by 5 inch world that was his Blackberry. When our tortillas, beans, and chicken arrived – in disappointingly small quantities – we ate silently while the dance beats continued to make the place shake.

Suddenly, the video screen went blank, the music stopped, and the lights on the bar near our table lit up. A man started speaking on a microphone with one of those voices that was designed for either game show hostdom or movie previews. I turned to see the man – a good-looking guy in his mid-thirties with a shaved head, skinny jeans, canvas shoes, and a suit jacket. He proceeded to introduce the bar’s four dancers – two men and two women dressed in skimpy blue and white clothing – who took the stage and started dancing to a medley of songs before the restaurant goers.

The dancers were amazing. The women – who were wearing blue and white hula skirts – were absolutely beautiful, and one looked like she could have been Shakira’s younger sister. The two men wore tight white pants that emphasized the contours of buttocks that must have been painstakingly shaped through at least 5 million squats. The four proceeded to engage in a competition, seeing who could rotate their hips in the most perfect circles and who could shake their asses the fastest while lowering themselves to the surface of the bar. At one point, the men began gyrating on top of the bar, as though they were making love to invisible people.

I was fascinated. After so many weeks of my moribund nightlife, I found watching four dancers on a bar in a Mexican restaurant in San Pedro Sula to be simply the best thing ever – even though I knew I probably would have considered the show a bit tacky in a former lifetime.

Once the dancers finished the first part of their spectacle, the host took to the stage and announced that it was time for a dance competition. He searched from table to table for his first unsuspecting victim, pointing to young women who were sitting in the middle of their clusters of friends, asking them if they wanted to “bust a move” on the dance floor. Each person denied the host as he sought out participation from someone at one of the tables – anyone who might be brave enough to look up from their Blackberries and step onto the bar and dance.

And then the host’s eyes fell on my table, where he saw a gringo with  curly hair and a disinterested Honduran playing Pac-Man on his Blackberry.

“Colocho!” the host shouted. (“Curly haired guy!”) “Do you want to bust a move?”

I looked over at Josué, who was lost in his virtual world, oblivious to the existence around him.

Deciding that I could spare a few minutes of the life-changing conversation that had been my dinner with Josué, I stood up from my chair and accepted the host’s offer. Not only would I “bust a move,” but I would do so gladly.

“Let’s hear it for the colocho!” the host cheered as I walked onto the stage. “Do you speak Spanish?”

“Claro,” I said. (I’ve taken to saying “clearly” instead of “yes” as of late, though I’m not sure why.)

“Good! Where are you from?”

“New Jersey.”

“New Jersey!!!”

“Woo!!!”

“And what’s your name?”

“Michael!”

“Like Michael Jackson?”

“Yup.”

“Michael Jackson!!!”

“Woo!!!”

“Alright, Michael. Are you ready to bust a move?”

I looked out at the audience. Even the Josués who had been glued to their Blackberries looked up to feast their eyes on the scene, waiting for me to make an absolute fool of myself.

“Claro,” I said.

The DJ started with “Beat It,” which I responded to with the typical Michael Jackson dance moves once might perform while listening to his music – playful movements with a hand lifted up to an invisible hat, attempted backwards moonwalks, crotch grabbing, and the like. The crowd reacted instantaneously, cheering for me as I danced away to Michael, until the music changed. Then it was Punta, a local Garifuna dance form that essentially requires one to do shake one’s hips as much as possible in a short amount of time. And shake my hips I did, much to the audience’s glee.

After apparently succeeding at Punta, the four bar dancers joined me for the Latin portion of my dancing gauntlet. I thought that was my cue to get off the stage, but Shakira’s sister pulled me towards her and told me to stay. My hips tried to follow the pattern of hers, a near impossible task to expect of a self-trained dancer who studied at the not-so prestigious studio that was his high school bedroom. I’m not always sure what to do when I have an actual dancer in my hands, let alone when one’s hips are pressed into mine, but I try my best and make do. As I danced, the host, whose name was Herman, managed to coax various other participants from the crowd to dance with the professionals. Soon we were a group of eight on the bar, all performing in a show that seemed to delight an audience of laughing and cheering viewers.

By the time I returned to my seat, sweaty and with tight knees from so much bending, I was excited to watch the rest of the show. Josué looked up at me from his Blackberry and smiled.

“Michael! You have no shame!”

“Shame?” I asked, as though the word were a foreign-sounding concept.

“I took videos,” Josué said. “They’ll be on Facebook.”

I laughed and watched the rest of the show – which involved a series of girls from the audience in skimpy dresses giving lap dances to the two male dancers. After a large woman of approximately 200 pounds ended up giving her lap dance to both of the men – with one dancer caught behind the other – I felt Herman tap my shoulder.

“Who wants to see Michael dance again?” Herman asked.

The crowd cheered.

And up I was once more, shaking my hips with Shakira’s sister the best way I knew how.

***

The night in San Pedro was a long one, since Josué – who had gotten sufficiently tipsy on tequila – escorted me to five bars and two nightclubs. We stayed out until sunrise. I spent the rest of the following day recuperating not from a hangover but exhaustion. My body was so unused to staying out that late. At the same time, I felt rejuvenated in a unique sort of way that only a good night out can inspire.

That said, I made no plans to go out the following weekend. One night in San Pedro Sula was enough for me, at least for two weeks. Besides, I had received an invitation for a 7pm cocktail the following Saturday in the parking lot plaza of a new gym that was opening in El Progreso called Speed Fitness. I had visited the gym during the week to see if they were looking for a yoga instructor. I wanted to teach there not just to make some more cash, but to see if I could enter the gym for free since the monthly membership was approximately US $45 (a price that is asking a lot, especially in a place like El Progreso). Fortunately, the gym told me they were interested in me giving classes there, after which they handed me a special invitation to the cocktail.

When I arrived to the cocktail, I was wearing my “fancy” clothes – a black t-shirt, orange pants, and black shoes. It was a good thing I had dressed to the nines, since entering the cocktail required walking over a glittery red carpet and greeting two of the skinny, made-up Honduran hostesses who looked they had just come from Hollywood.

“Your invitation?” the girl in the skintight silver dress asked.

I handed over the invitation, which I had somehow managed to fold into a crumpled mess before the event.

“Please follow me,” the girl said with a wink.

I felt like I was about to be led into a brothel, but the girl took me past the cocktail’s VIP section, which consisted of three sets of white couches in front of a stage – and around to one of the high tables. She sat me down at a table for four. I thanked her before she walked away.

I sighed. Judging by the other filled tables and couches, I was the only one who had come to the cocktail alone. To top it all off, I didn’t have a Blackberry that I could use to distract myself. With a dinky cell phone whose “features” included a flashlight and pong, a public display of technological hermitage wasn’t even an option. So I was left with nothing to do but people watch, which was by far the most interesting thing I could do. I couldn’t believe how glitzy and glamorous people had dressed for the occasion, especially the women – whose ages ranged from late teens to mid-sixties. Some were dressed as though they were headed to a wedding, and others to a club in LA. Some of the men were bulky and muscular specimens who I had never seen at El Progreso’s other gym before. I had no idea where these beautiful, evidently wealthy people had come from. It was as though they had fallen from the sky so they could attend this extravagant parking lot cocktail.

It all seemed a bit much for my tastes, but I wasn’t complaining – especially not when the waitress brought over a free glass of champagne for me to consume.

“Are you alone?” the waitress asked.

I examined each of the three empty chairs at my table before answering.

“Yes,” I said.

“Oh,” the waitress said. She smiled at me nervously before walking away.

The nerve of that lanky gawk! Who did she think she was handing me a glass of alcohol, asking if I was alone, and then looking at me as if I was about to commit the worst social infraction ever by drinking a glass of champagne by myself in the middle of a parking lot that had been decorated with a tent, couches, and a red carpet?

I toasted to myself and then took a sip of the champagne.

“Michael!”

I turned around and saw a woman who I vaguely recognized from my gym. She was nearing sixty but had glittered herself up so much so as to effectively subtract at least ten of those years. I barely recognized her. Had it not been for her Helen Lovejoy eyes, I probably wouldn’t have been able to.

“Oh hi!” I said, failing to recall her name. “Is it alright if I sit with you?”

“Sure,” the woman said.

I got up from my table of four and sat down with the woman and her husband. The husband, a tired looking man with thinning gray hair and a red polo shirt, glared at me like I was a Martian who should have never come to earth.

“Are you planning on switching gyms?” I asked the woman.

“Next week,” she said.

“That’s great!”

She nodded.

And we sat there. The husband said nothing. The wife said nothing. I looked over at the gym, and then at the trays of unopened food at the tables to our side, and then back at the table. Still nothing. I tried asking a few questions about the man’s work and what kind of exercises he liked doing, but it was of no use. The couple barely made eye contact with one another, let alone me. I felt like I had just barged into their lives after some sensitive conversation about infidelity or the need for a divorce.

The woman left to mingle with some of the other women her age. I struck a chord with the man when we started talking about commerce and banana plantations, but after that conversation ran dry I realized that it was best off for me venture back to the far more comfortable world of solitude. I used taking a tour of the gym as my excuse to leave, even though I had already seen the gym before. The man nodded. I couldn’t help but feel as though he was happy to see me go.

After walking through the gym, the “show” had started. One of the instructors – a statuesque human being with inflated muscles and a young, fresh face – was demonstrating the spinning equipment to blasting music and flashing lights with three other students – beautiful male and female models with well maintained and manicured bodies.

My old table had been taken over by a group of four, so I moved to one of the unoccupied tables in the back. I figured that the location might remove me from other people’s line of sight and would give me a convenient escape route if the cocktail proceeded to remain stuffy and over the top.

And then I heard…the voice.

“Hey everyone! Who’s ready to see some dancers bust a move?”

I looked up at the stage and recognized Herman, the same host who I had met the previous weekend at El Fogoncito.

Instinct told me to lower my head, but I figured that I was far enough away that Herman wouldn’t see me. He introduced three female dancers with full and curvy bodies who started dancing to an array of Spanish and English dance songs. The male spinning instructor remained on stage and danced with them, his reserve of energy seemingly endless as he occupied center stage, effectively robbing the women of their spotlight.

After the dancers finished the first part of their performance, Herman was back on stage.

“Are you all ready for a dance competition?” Herman asked. “We’re giving out free Speed Fitness towels!”

Nobody in the glitzy audience responded. I couldn’t blame them, as towels weren’t the most alluring of items.

“How about you?” Herman said, pointing to a young adolescent boy of approximately 15 years. “Do you want a free towel?”

An older guy, perhaps the kid’s brother, pushed the boy onto the stage. Once there, Herman asked him a few basic questions and determined that his name was Kevin.

“Kevin! Are you ready to bust a move?”

Kevin shook his head. The music blasted anyway.

“Bust a move Kevin!” Herman said. “Bust a move Kevin!”

Kevin threw the towel over his head and stood there like a partially veiled ghost.

“Oh come on Kevin!” Herman said. “That’s not a dance move!”

The music came to a swift stop and Herman thanked Kevin for his participation.

“How about someone else? Maybe you? Or you? Or…”

My jaw dropped the second Herman’s face turned towards mine.

“I see you back there, Michael!”

Busted.

Herman hopped off the stage and walked all the way to the back of the parking lot near the street where I was sitting.

“Colocho!” Herman said when he was at my table for four. He tapped at my shoulder. “Come up to the stage and bust a move!”

All eyes were on me – the weird foreigner with curly hair in the back of the parking lot who had come by himself to the Speed Fitness cocktail and had the nerve to drink a glass of champagne by himself without toasting to anybody.

Clearly, said foreigner had absolutely nothing left to lose. Not even his sanity.

“Alright,” I said, getting to my feet.

“Alright!” Herman cheered. “Let’s hear it for Michael!”

The glitzy audience stared at me in silence as I walked towards the stage to what felt like the gallows. I stepped onto the wooden surface with authoritative stomps, ready to make it mine in the seconds that followed.

“Do you speak Spanish?” Herman asked.

“Claro,” I said.

“Claro,” Herman said with a laugh. “So what’s your name?”

“Michael,” I said.

“Michael Jackson!” Herman said.

“Woo!!!”

“And where are you from?”

“New Jersey.”

“New Jersey! And what brings you all the way here to El Progreso.”

“I live and work here.”

“What do you do?”

“I work for a local NGO called OYE Adelante Jóvenes and I’m a yoga instructor.”

The audience let out a collective “Oooh.”

“A yoga instructor?” Herman asked. “Really?”

I nodded.

“Well, let’s see if this yoga instructor can bust a move, shall we?”

I smiled and waited for the song that I knew would follow…

An audience of voices – mostly female – cheered as soon as I started dancing with my pretend hat to “Beat It.” They responded to absolutely everything I did. If I shuffled my feet, they cheered. If I lowered my body to the stage, they cheered. If I attempted a moonwalk, they cheered. When I bent backwards all of the way into the wheel pose yoga posture, they went crazy.

When I stood back up, the song changed to “Danza Cu Duro.” The spinning instructor joined me on my left and Herman danced on my right, each one following my choreography, smiling and laughing as they attempted to mimic my unapologetic moves. And then came Punta, which meant hip rotation on drugs. As soon as I started spinning my hips to the music, the women let out more collective screams.

At the end of the song, Herman asked what the audience thought of my dancing. The women cheered. He then asked if I wanted to dance with one of the girls. I told Herman that I couldn’t possibly pick one of the girls when they were all so beautiful. Brownie points from the audience of swanky women.

Herman handed me my well-earned Speed Fitness towel. I was about to hop off of the stage when he stopped me and told me that we weren’t done.

“What song do you want?” the spinning instructor asked, a huge grin stretching from one side of his face to the other. “You can have anyone you want!”

As if he needed to ask.

“Claro,” I said. “Poker Face.”

“Alright!”

I think all people should be armed in life with at least one song that they can confidently dance through to its end with self-choreographed moves. For me, that song happens to be Poker Face, which I began with both legs marching to the dance beats. I turned to see that Herman and the spinning instructor were dancing in kind. Then our shoulders went up and down before ours hips starting rotating to “Oh, whoa oh oh oh! Oh, whoa oh oh oh oh! I’ll get him hot, show him what I got.”

And then I deferred to Gaga’s choreography from the video to the “Can’t read my! Can’t read my!” chorus, waving my hand over my face and sticking it out to the audience. After that, I decided to play more to the audience, walking to the edge of the stage as I swung the towel over my head, Cuenca style as I had seen performed on special occasions in Chile.

A little voice in my head whispered for me not to do what I planned on doing next. Admittedly, I’m sane enough to hear that voice, but I’m just insane enough to ignore it. The next time I heard “Oh, whoa oh oh oh!” I decided to stick the towel in between my legs and swing it back and forth as I lowered myself to the ground. The audience screamed in response to the inappropriate gesture that only a “crazy gringo” would perform, with some of the women actually leaping out of their seats to get a closer look.

And then it was back to the chorus, which Herman, the spinning instructor, and I performed in synchrony.

More songs followed, with the three of us dancing until we were sweating. We ended on a particularly energetic performance of YMCA to the applause of a loud and suddenly enlivened audience. Herman had me say a few nice things about the gym, the food, and the drinks. And then I stepped off of the stage to an overwhelming applause.

I thought I’d return back to the solitude of my empty four-person table, but the lady with the Helen Lovejoy eyes stopped me before I made it back.

“Michael! You were incredible!”

I laughed. “More like insane.”

The woman’s husband, who had once been so cold, was alive with energy. Laughing and slapping at his knee, he told me that “it was an excellent show.”

“You’re coming with us to a birthday party now, right?” the wife asked. “You’ll have to dance there too.”

I hadn’t been planning on going out for two weekends in a row, which was practically unheard of in my little Honduran way of life. But how could I resist the invitation to dance with others when the alternative would be far less exciting?

“Vamos!” I said, feeling as though I had somehow earned my place in this shimmering Honduran pack.

Just Dance

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