This lady was a dancer. That’s what she had been doing for all her life. That and smoking Cuban cigars, Double Maduros as she did in Cuba, back to the time when she was just a small kid.
The first time I saw her was in a Latin club in Berlin. It was Tuesday, the Rumba night, and some of my Colombian friends wanted to teach me las danzas mas calientes. Apparently, Rumba was one of them.
There are many Latin clubs in Berlin, hot spots in the cold immensity of that flat city: the Salsa club, the Forró club, the Tango club, the Merengue club, well there is one for each dance. And when one enters one of this clubs, it is like entering in another world, full of exotic people dancing in such a way, that one finds it impossible among the typical German’s frigidity.
And among all those dancers, there she was. Small, yet dominant, like if all the lights were pointing at her. The skin was dark and wrinkled, but the expression in her eyes was intense, perhaps even intimidating. She was dancing smoothly, but in a very safe way, like if those steps had been born inside her. I was staring at her, and, suddenly, she was alone on the dance floor. There were just the two of us, and I was feeling like a small child looking directly to a giant. It was like she was commanding the great orchestra, ordering the notes of that melody from his feet.
The music stopped without even noticing it. The couples separated, and the dance floor became empty. I followed her with my eyes, as she went graciously to the bar. She whispered to the bartender something I didn’t understand, and he served her a glass full of rum.
“It’s our turn. Let’s move guys!” I was nervous, though my date was an amazing dancer. “Don’t be nervous. Usually the man leads, but this time I will lead you, so just follow my moves.” The music began and it was so much more difficult than I thought. The dance floor became almost instantly over-crowded and we had to dance really close. Those two or three minutes of synchronized movements became painful, and especially embarrassing. Eventually the girl decided I was a lost case and lost the interest. The Latin-American girls chose their men by the quality of the dance. And my feet were made of heavy steel.
The music finally reached its end and I kindly refused another one, so I dropped out of the spotlight and went to the bar, in the shadows. And at that very moment I felt a strong hand holding mine.
“Do you dance, mister?” The voice was deep, almost masculine, but with a sensual warm touch. The accent was far from perfect, but something told me that was her intention. I turned my head and there she was. Even smaller than I thought, older than she seemed initially. The eyes were so dark and so strong that they made it difficult to look directly. I apologized for my lack of skills and, with a defeated look in my face, told her I intended to go to the bar.
“Are you a quitter, young man?” That old woman was challenging me! What could I say? That I wanted to find a hole so that I could hide myself, or at least, that I wanted to go out of there, as quick as possible?
“There’s no way you can hide from me here. I know this place like the palm of my old hand.” She was reading my mind. Who was this woman, smiling at me as if she had known the whole world? “Do you know what your problem is? You think too much. Do not think, just feel.” As she said this, she put her strong harm around my waist and dragged me back to the dance floor.
“I’m sorry madam, but I don’t think I can dance. That girl over there tried hard, but it didn’t work. I think I have a lack of coordination.” I was trying to be polite, as the delicate situation demanded. Her body was warm, and it reminded me of the cosy lap of my grandmother.
“You have a very nice voice, young man. But right now, just shut up!” Her eyes were amazing, two black spheres full of energy. She closed them and let herself go with the flow. Her body was strong, as her voice suggested from the beginning. And then, I too closed my eyes and let me go. I'm not sure what actually happened to me, because, at the moment after, the music had already stopped. I opened my eyes, and she was looking at me, with a big smile in her face.
“See? Just feel it, and you will dance.” She left me and walked away, towards an old and dusty couch. She sat down heavily, as if she had never rested in her life, and lit the cigar already in her mouth. I wanted to know everything about her, her name, her age, where she was coming from, what she was doing there.
“Can I sit here, next to you?” She didn’t answer, as she was more concerned with cigar smoking. I sat.
“I’m Cuban, and do not ask my age. I’ve been living here since I was twenty. Why? Well, my dear, for the reason we all come here in the first place: naïve passion.” So, what had happened to that passionate love? “The passion became love, the love became violence, and so one night I just ran away. I didn’t want to go back to my village. That’s no place for a fugitive girl. And even if I wanted, I didn’t have enough money. So I decided to stay here. I cried for hours, days, even months, until one hot summer day, when there were no more tears in my eyes. That’s why they are so dark, and that’s why I have so many wrinkles around them. They are dry eyes.
“They seem nice to me. I’ve always liked dark eyes. And they are truly intense.” I didn’t know when to stop. I just wanted to say I was fascinated.
“Oh, that’s because I’m very strong, I’ve inherited it from my mother’s side. Here they call me la mujer de fuego. Do you know what that means?” I told her I was Portuguese, and all the Portuguese understand Spanish.
“Are you Portuguese? So you certainly know other strong women, right?” I do, in fact. They have always amazed me, though our relations have not always been peaceful. She laughed.
“Of course not. A strong woman usually is a problem for a man. Because men think they have the power to lead, and they forget the reason why they lead. It’s like the Rumba. When you were with that beautiful girl over there, your problem was that you thought you had to lead her. But if you understand that she is your support, then everything will be fine. In real life it is exactly the same, no matter what.”
And that’s how I learned the Rumba, in that cold winter evening.