In Which a Diaphragm has a Complaint

Remember last week when the blog was late and I was very sick? Well welcome to this week! The head cold is mostly gone but the hacking asthmatic cough remains and let me tell you it’s all kinds of fun. My intercostal muscles are crying and my diaphragm is ready to disown me but I survived one hell of salsa weekend so it’s all good, right? Check in next week. If I’m still upright we’ll know it wasn’t a terrible idea.

But let’s wander on back to where I left you on Wednesday. I was mopey and sick but clever enough to realize that working from home might be just what the doctor ordered. Save your advice about sick days—the guilt from taking a sick day only makes me sicker. I work from home and that’s gotta be good enough.

So Thursday I spent the day in bed on my laptop puttering away at my work and snuffling unceremoniously. When 4pm rolled around I closed the computer and collapsed back into restless dozing, but only for an hour or two before it was time for salsa. Yes, this crazy person had paid several hundred dollars for a congress pass and she wasn’t about to waste it! I put on my favourite jumpsuit, disguised my illness with makeup and set off to Times Square for the New York International Salsa Congress. The Thursday night shows were…well…Thursday night shows, but the dancing was enjoyable and, even better, my former salsa team was there! I had sort of pushed away all thoughts of how nice it is to have a posse at dance, but my goodness is it ever nice to have a posse at dance. I might have to stop being such a loner.

The following day I woke up, shoved myself onto a train and dragged myself up to the office for work. My boss had just returned from a month overseas so there was simply no chance I could take the day off for dance. I finished up in the office around four and bounded off into the city for the first day of the Karel Flores Performance Bootcamp. It started at five so there wasn’t even time to grab dinner, instead I ran to the hotel, strapped on my shoes, and got ready to work!

And work we did. It was one of Karel’s easier choreos but the Mother of Dragons still offered me more than enough to work on. We did a contemporary section which involved dropping to the floor via half splits, rolling across the floor, and bounding back up again to start another sequence. Let’s just say that the floor and I have never gotten along. We’ve come to an agreement involving soles of shoes only and the occasional accident, so intentionally leaping to the floor went about as well as you’d imagine. Add a few high kicks to that and I’ll freely admit that I was very happy to find that not all dancers were to dance all sections. Someday I’ll get my splits and right about then I might also learn to love the floor but for now I’m a lot more comfortable with more traditional mambo.

After three hours of rug burn, bruises, and delicious challenge, I slipped into the ballroom to catch the shows before racing home to shower and change before the social dancing. Friday was the first night of live bands and oh boy was it good! It was a well loved local band that really knows how to play for dancers and so we danced all night long. As an additional bonus, one of my favourite dancers from my days of touring with Salsa Caliente was there. He had to leave on Saturday but we managed to sneak in a dance and he’s absolutely as lovely to dance with as ever. It’s a bit of a funny thing, dancing with people, I hardly know them, I hardly speak with them other than to exchange pleasantries and ask for a dance, but I have such deep and evolved opinions and feelings about them all. Sometimes I think I avoid getting to know them too well lest my favourite dancers prove to be prone to some of the less savoury salsero behaviours.

Come Saturday morning, my cough continued unabated but I was undeterred (and had already paid a pretty penny for it) so I headed back into Midtown to tackle day two of the bootcamp. I’m sure it would have been tiring no matter how you sliced it but I can’t help but think that having a coughing fit in every break was not improving the situation. Three hours later, I stumbled out into the world seeking costume components. I’d looked earlier in the week but it seemed that no where in New York had flown white skirts for sale. White crop tops were everywhere, but white skirts? Hopeless. Somewhere around store number six my temper and the train delays got the better of me and I snatched a strapless white dress of the rack and marched to the till. I do not like dancing without straps but I had neither time nor energy to deal with that fact so it was to be visible bra straps. If anyone had any complaints, I figured I’d just cough at them and hobble away.

Having finally found a costume, I had barely enough time for a tiny nap before changing and heading back into the city for shows. Saturday shows are always a good time and one of my favourite female dancers was over from Turkey so I was simply delighted. She clearly has extensive studio dance training underpinning her salsa and I just think she’s brilliant! Great tricks, great stage presence, and a whole lot of that magical somethin’ somethin’ that all the best dancers just seem to exude.

Following the shows, I popped out for drinks with a pair of visiting Canadians (westies not salseras). Apparently the end of August is when everyone comes to New York and I’m not complaining a bit. We met in a posh little rum bar with a live band and excellent drinks. At some point an aging granny hopped on the piano at her daughter’s urging and actually turned out to be brilliant. Between the excellence of the venue and the fantastic company, it was a very pleasant little interlude.

I returned to the ballroom for the band and a few dances, though I was starting to feel the pain of the bootcamp and the rage of my lungs. I called it half an hour early (at 2:30) and sought a train to carry my broken body home.

Now we had been supposed to practice the choreo on our own on Saturday but after my ignominious foraging for a costume, I’d simply not had the time. So, driven by the sick sense of dedication that I seem unfailingly to possess, I headed in two hours early so that I could work the choreo in a studio before we started to rehearse again. There is not enough coffee in the world to make that feel like anything other than the worst idea but, fortunately, I’m terribly stubborn so I stuck with it and, by 11, I could do the whole salsa section up to speed if not very well.

After another 3.5 hours of training we were released to prepare for the show that evening. We were to rest, do our makeup, and create my most feared hairstyle of all: curls. Anyone who has ever tried to curl my hair knows what I mean, it just doesn’t work. I’ve tried every brand of curling iron and all the different products but my hair just refuses to stay. Even crunchy with hairspray the manage unfailingly to fall. So I decided to try tight braids. Unfortunately, even that requires two days to get a slight ridiculous but durable 80s crimp so when I took out the braids I found myself with slightly frizzy, very hairsprayed, straight hair. I consider it dedication that I went out and bought a curling iron. I consider it vindication that even that didn’t work and I and my increasingly ratty mass of hair headed back to the hotel.

We had a very quick tech rehearsal and then headed to the green room to change and put the finishing touches on our looks. We were meant to be 4th in the show order but when the stage managers are New Yorkers, those who are not ready, do not perform and suddenly we were second. Until the MC made a booboo and suddenly we were back to third. Of course there is a story but for the sake of propriety I will not be sharing it here. Suffice to say, I have opinions.

When it was finally time to perform the adrenaline booted in and despite my breathless exhaustion I survived. It wasn’t pretty, but I survived. And that is how I was reminded that I still have a LOT to learn, the first of which being how to maintain good posture while nervous and gasping. I’ll keep you posted on how well that does or doesn’t work out.

After we performed, I changed and caught the rest of the shows before catching up with the Salsa Caliente ladies for a chat before the band got started. We’ve been through some things, but when it all comes down to it, there is still such a bond and they are really lovely ladies. Finishing up our wine, we headed down to catch the one and only Bobby Valentin. In the last few dj songs before the band, I was asked to dance several times and by the third song I found myself unable to inhale. Apparently the combination of coughing and powering through choreography before artistically collapsing to the floor, had done me in entirely. My entire chest was tight and rigid and so I decided that it would be a night for enjoying the music and watching the band. I felt bad turning people down but when it comes to dancing or breathing, I have to admit that the latter is required for the former and the latter must overcome the former no matter how little I like it.

As soon as the band wrapped up, I gathered my things, had a brief break, chat, and jujube session with Salsa Caliente, and then headed off home to sleep. My restless, noisy sleep carried me through until noon the next day when I decided it was probably time to get up and manage some life admin. I hadn’t done laundry in two weeks, I hadn’t had food in the house for a week, and I certainly hadn’t cleaned anything. So I started with a coffee and a croissant sandwich at the inimitable Ceci Cela bakery and then set to work.

By the time it was time to head to Taj, I had clean clothes, fresh food, and two days of prepared lunches. After my indulgent rest, I was also surprising fresh myself for a final night of dance. For those who have not been to the New York Congress, very nearly the best night is the night after the congress ends, Monday at Taj. The crowd is fun, the music is great, and the vibe is much cozier and clubby rather than showy and ballroomy. And of course, if I didn’t already love Taj, New Swing Sextet was playing and they are a band that can’t be missed. In fact, they were the very first salsa band that I came to love.

You see, salsa can be hard to untrained ears unfamiliar with the rhythms and the particular vocal timbre used, but the instant I heard New Swing Sextet, I loved them. They use a lot of piano, a healthy dose of vibes and comparatively little vocals which made them much more approachable for me. I’ve since come to love all manner of salsa, but like the puppy love of youth, there will forever be a cosy corner of my heart set aside just for them. They really are great.

I arrived a bit early in order to get in a bit cheaper and found the Salsa Caliente crew snugged into a booth waiting for food. We sat and chatted and got picked off by dancers looking for a partner often in the form of whoever was nearest the edge. Having arrive last, I danced lots. Somehow, despite my illness and the subsequent low caloric consumption (when feeling asthmatic, I cannot bear the thought of anything extraneous entering my thoracic region) I managed to enjoy both a glass of sangria and a mojito without undue impact upon my dancing—or at least so I thought. No one seemed bothered by my dancing though and one even told me I had “swing” so I think I was alright.

We will not discuss how late I stayed out on a Monday night, but I will say that the subway was full of adventures. I’m not sure what happened but there was a very distressed man roaming about the platform shouting about how the city was being taken over by white racists and we were all white racists, and he hoped all white people would die. Studied deafness is incredibly useful at such times.

Then, quite suddenly, it was morning and I was climbing back on the commuter train to the office for another day of work. I pity my poor colleagues, at least one of whom is convinced I have pneumonia. I think I’ve just got cantankerous lungs. She’s given me a week to recover before I have to call the doctor. I don’t want to contribute to the antibiotic resistance problem unless absolutely necessary and I suspect that the doctors will give me only one of two options: rest and/or antibiotics. I have chosen rest until functioning ceases entirely.

And now I’m lying in bed, eating the remains of a starfruit between diaphragmatic spasms while an unusual quantity of police helicopters hovers overhead. Apparently Trump doesn’t like the DACA protestors. I can’t imagine they like him much either.

Spasmodically yours,
The Salsa Girl


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