Cultural Exchange Students

One side effect of learning to dance has been that our social adventures have expanded significantly. So it was that we found ourselves in a local bar last Friday evening, surrounded by curious patrons, and listening to instructions in Spanish.

OK, let’s backtrack a bit. I had received an email from Richard Ortiz, a young local dance teacher who specializes in Latin steps, primarily salsa, bachata, cumbia, and merengue. Richard was publicizing a free bachata lesson followed by a social dance, and wondered if any of the members of the Ballroom Dance Society might be interested. He recognized this would be a bit of a stretch, both culturally and from a dance perspective. The latter consideration was because he teaches a club dancing style (less, um…reserved…than the typical ballroom moves); the former because the BDS membership is overwhelmingly middle-aged (to be generous and diplomatic) and Anglo.
Regardless, I appreciated Richard’s outreach and passed the invitation along to a group of our fellow ballroom dancers who I thought might be open to a different kind of dance style. Thus it was that eight of us turned up at the bar at Casa Madrid on Friday night, along with two other Anglo couples (none of us under the age of 40) and about ten Latinos, none of whom were over the age of 25. We were an odd group, but what we shared was a desire to learn and enjoy a new dance step.
I won’t bore you with the details. Bachata is a very easy dance to learn, but like most things, difficult to master. We didn’t progress beyond the most basic steps but that was all we expected. Richard is an excellent instructor, patient and encouraging, and seamlessly provided instructions in both English and Spanish to make sure everyone understood what to do.
Interlude: Here’s one version of the bachata. This is NOT our version.

This is more like our version.

We did face one significant challenge. The bar area of Casa Madrid is small, and Richard’s plan to gradually expand the dance floor by removing tables as bar patrons vacated the premises was sound but failed to anticipate the fact that we apparently represented irresistibly attractive entertainment… because nobody left! I figured we were the equivalent of a bad car wreck on the interstate; onlookers couldn’t help but tarry and wonder at the unfolding madness.
The lesson was enjoyable, and the close quarters provided a sense of camaraderie. The students encouraged one another even as Richard encouraged all of us.
It was obvious, however, that our dancing experience varied widely. In fact, after the lesson I learned that the two non-BDS Anglo couples had never danced before, in any venue. As I visited with them, one of the women leaned forward and in a conspiratorial stage whisper confessed, “we’re Church of Christ!” I laughed and told her that was OK; we’re Baptist, and sometimes it seems about half the people at our dances are also Baptists. We decided that the need to dance just built up over the years until it finally couldn’t be contained.
We didn’t stay for the dance, primarily because of the small dance floor, and, frankly, because the music wasn’t really our cup of tea. But Debbie and I plan to learn more bachata steps (and in fact we tried out a few of them at our Saturday night dance). And while I don’t necessarily agree that all new experiences are valuable and edifying simple because they’re different, this one was positive and we both came away glad that we took a chance and did something out of our comfort zone.


  1. Eric,
    I love how you were able to observe all the small details about the lesson and the wonderful ambiance despite coming from a different cup of tea. It’s nice to know someone is watching. Nice videos too. I see that you’ve noticed a variety of styles of the dance(3) and the music(3-not corresponding to specific styles of dance). Unfortunately, none of these variations are labeled in YouTube videos but should you like to learn more to see if one better suits you, feel free to ask. I have one in mind that I think you would like.
    It was extremely successful in both the early turnout and those who came later. So much that not only was I able to raise the amount needed to bring next months performers/instructors into town but also catch the attention of a local venue manager who is now willing to sponsor what I do. Thank you for your support.
    I should know the final details about my next social (April 29) by this Friday, but it’s already looking much much bigger and better. What I do know so far is that there will be guest performers, a huge dance floor, and a 90% chance of live music. Then workshops on Saturday afternoon. I’ll post more on when I finalize details. Hope to see you again soon and thanks again.
    Richard Ortiz

  2. Richard, thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment. I’m glad you had success with the initial event, and we’ll definitely be interested to find out about the upcoming plans. We might just surprise you and show up again on the 29th!

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