Riding on the MTA #362, I noticed the LA River and the many freeways leading me to a more quieter and an unfamiliar area beyond the Los Angeles proper. During the two hours, the straightened roads from MacArthur Park curved as I rode on the route to Telegraph Road. I marveled at sights I had heard of but had never seen, like the Commerce Casino and the Citadel.
I had transferred at various bus stops and walked in heels that was cutting through my feet.
At my stop in Pico Rivera, I looked at the plaza, observing how post-colonialism brought these spaces with common parking lots to replace the colonial haciendas. I walked up the stairs of this suite building. Leaning over the second floor railing, I envisioned my instructor Tony Platero during the summer last year at the Mexican Village and my two fellow peers doing the cross body leads over and over.
I winced as the straps sliced through my feet to practice the basic footwork. "Stop whining!" I chided myself. I don't give a crap if my feet is bleeding. No scarlet drops stained the barley-colored wooden floor.
One by one, a dancer in tights and tank tops entetered. A flash of salsa music was played. I looked at the window to see a gentleman dancing the salsa beats with an invisible partner, and doing a pretty good job of it.
"Hi!" I was finally noticied. I pulled out the earphone out of left ear listening to hip hop on the radio to calm myself down. I was led to the studio. I walked across the wooden floor, excellent for spinning. I saw a woman and a man sitting on the room in the next door with a styrofoam box of roasted chicken and yellow salted fries. The woman sipped out of the straw of a large Coke.
"Hi. I had an appointment for 3 o'clock," I explained feeling shy. I played with the silver ring on my right finger and the watch tied around my left wrist.
"Would you like to sit?" she pointed to a metal chair in the next door studio. I sat on the folding chair, staring at my mirror image. My mind was going through the life of a comtemporary Latina star who recently added a glowing perfume to her growing empire of film, music, clothing line, and her third engagement. She certainly wasn't the best dancer at the audition, but she truly enjoyed dance and attacked the choreography they gave her. That is why she made it through all the auditions to "In Living Color."
"Remember to keep a steady tempo," I told myself. Is it is eight beats? Seven beats? I'd rather have the most heart-wrenching, humiliating audition than to just leave. Auditions were part of life; the mature side of me tried to soothe my nerves. Mistakes were part of my unfortunate sad life. Another opportunity to add another traumatic embarassment to my list of embarassing moments. I had the memory of trying to sing along to Christina Aguilera that ended in disaster at a karaoke event.
"You can salsa?" I nodded like an automaton.
The woman ordered: "Try dancing with him." She pointed to the gentleman who was dancing briefly.
I giggled sheepisly when one of the signals on my wrist left me confused? Was I to turn? What the heck was I to do?
"Don't worry you're in," quickly commented one of the company's dancers.
"You're not proficient in cross-body leads." The lady who was to be my translator, also an ensemble member, translated what the teacher said in Spanish.
"We do a lot of choreography, so you will need to learn fast."
Basically, I had a lot of weaknesses. I had to learn the advanced stuff these people were already doing.
But, but, there was always a but...
"But you have really good hip movements." The instructor with the seniority nodded furiously.
Whatever they were saying was too fast. The pronouns, the verb conjugations, and the subjunctives were uttered in faster and faster tempo. The five ensemble members were furiously nodding in chorus. "Cupo" was something I was able to catch. They were all approving my ability to control my hip movements. Good Lord, now I knew how Mrs. B. Affleck felt.
"Oh, okay." So my choreography sucked. But hey, I could move my butt!
Would I be willing to risk my two part-time jobs in order to place salsa dancing as a priority? Would I be willing to pay a significant amount of fees for salsa dancing? Would I give up three nights a week for rehearsals? Would I be willing to spend four hours on the bus on my rehearsal days? Would I be willing to afford only sliced bread at the 99-cent store and eat MSG-soaked ramen for dinner with the orange thick grease slipping off the deep-fried noodles? I answered, "Yes, Yes, Yes, and everything Yes!"
On Tuesday night when reheasal was to take place from 7 to 9 PM, I learned the first part of the choreography. Also the dancing ended at 11PM. My teacher referred me as "Chinita." Other times, "Chiquitita."
After the rehearasal, I placed my long black coat and my reading glasses to finish some of my reading. Well, the 11:52 bus never came! At midnight, I saw the frosty fog blurring the street lights. Truck drivers stopped at the Jim's across the street for carne asada tacos and a 20-oz styrofoam cup of Coke to satisfy a midnight hunger. The silence also warned me that I was in no-woman's land.
A shiny black Corolla slowed down on my corner. The same black Corolla slowed down at the corner of the bus stop again. Then, again. The fourth time, the darkened window rolled down. "Ju wanna ride?" asked a guy who looked close to my age. Immediately, the image of my father's "Don't take rides with strangers." popped up and I hastily shook my head as politely as I could. He looked at me to make sure and then slowly rolled up the window and left. The black Corolla was replaced by a white truck, a gray Volvo, and a handful more.
The LAPD officer parked at the Jim's looking at me. Was I going to get inside the black Corolla? Was I going to coquettishly wave at the white truck and unbutton my coat? And when was this darn MTA bus coming?
So far, I had answered "Yes" to everything. I was willing to break family ties. I was willing to risk getting fired for reduced availability. But would I risk getting raped or hurt? I answered with an apathetic shrug and a "hmmm" around 11PM. At 1 AM, the answer was resounding, "Hell freakin' NO!"
Why, oh, why was I a weird person? Why was I a person with these strange ambitions like salsa dancing? Why couldn't I be complacent with what I had? I still had to figure out a different plan to not be stranded at the MTA bus stop for next Tuesday's rehearsal...
Hyun Joo Chung:
Hyun Joo Chung was first exposed to salsa when she met a good-looking charmer at a college social event AKA party. She works in two part-time jobs because a salsera enjoys activities like eating and sleeping under a roof.