The song I am writing about today is El Cantante by Hector Lavoe. It’s one of the first salsa songs I remember hearing and dancing to.
I’ve danced to it many times throughout the years now, but one night in particular stands out above the rest.
And because I am going to tell you the story of my first night salsa dancing at Bosso in DC, I have to tell you about my first visit to Bosso.
If I hadn’t read a poem I wrote during open mic night at Bosso years before my night of dancing, I may not have had the confidence to dance at all.
A few weeks ago I got a wild hair and decided to clean out the storage closet under our stairs. And if you give a mouse a cookie…instead of cleaning, the mouse will find memory boxes and go through every letter, card, and keepsake.
As my oldest and I were sifting through my memory box, he found a poem I wrote in high school. When he turned the page around to me and said, “Did you write this poem, mom? This is good!” memories suddenly came flooding into my mind…
When I first moved to DC from Morgantown, WV I was about as cornbread country as a person could be. I felt like a Clampett who was doing my best to not let my rope-belt show as I was being ushered into new spaces and places that felt way too fancy, important, and cultured for the likes of me.
I had come to DC to escape some big mistakes I’d made and start fresh.
But I’d left breadcrumbs.
My first year in DC was a whirlwind of the new and the old colliding; creating supernova’s so big my life ended up feeling like nothing but a black hole sucking all the light from my life.
Luckily, I was finally able to kick my old life to the curb and move toward the vibrant, expansive new life I was making for myself in DC.
Meeting the person who would become my best friend during such a huge time of pain and transition in my life was serendipitous. It turns out we both needed someone we could lock hands with and head out into the great wide world beside.
One day, W and I were going through my memory box, much like Izzy and I did recently, and I found and read her that same poem I had written in high school.
When I was done, she popped up off the floor of my studio apartment so fast it made me gasp. In my memory, which is fuzzy but creative, I looked up to see her standing, arms akimbo, backlit by the light of a thousands angel halos, long hair blown by a curious wind…
“Katie, you MUST share this poem. You are coming with me to the open mic poetry reading at Bosso this week and, inshallah (God willing), you will read this poem from the stage as it was meant to be read.”
I hadn’t been to Bosso Bistro and Lounge prior to that night, but I was fairly familiar with the Adams Morgan area of DC. One of my favorite places to eat after patronizing Madam’s Organ or Town Tavern was the Amsterdam Falafelshop.
We arrived early, because of course we did, and grabbed a table right by the stage. I had my high school poem, still on its original notebook paper, folded in my pocket and a gin and tonic in my right hand. I waited to add my name to the open mic sign up sheet so I wouldn’t be the first.
The event organizer took the stage to welcome everyone and explain how not everyone will be able to make it to the stage in the time allotted, but to encouraged everyone to always come back and try again.
She started the night off with her own spoken word poetry.
I immediately decided perhaps my name was still much too high on the list.
The more poets who poet-ed, the more tightly I clutched my high ball glass. I leaned over to W and whispered apprehensively, “I can’t do this. My poem is…not real poetry. I was a kid when I wrote it. I am going to look like a dumbass if I get up there.”
Wajh leaned closer and whispered back, her voice assertive and sure, “It doesn’t matter if your poem is good or not. You are here to read it because you need to heal and you need to be confident in who you are. Who cares what these strangers think of you? Now drink up, you’re next!”
“Now welcoming to the stage: Katie!”
I stood on shaky legs and walked to the stage, unfolding my poem as I went.
I grabbed the mic and I swear to Pete it did that feedback squeal like you see in the movies when someone comes to the mic nervous.
“Hi! I’m Katie.” (Going for more of a “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” vibe, but giving more of a “Hello, I’m new here and don’t speak the language” vibe.)
The lights were bright in my eyes, but I looked out in the sea of people anyway. There were a lot blank, waiting faces looking back at me.
I looked at W, her eyes alight, sitting on the edge of her seat like a mom watching their kid perform for the first time at the dance recital.
“I’m, um. I’m a little nervous. But here goes…
I’m glad I stayed in this place I found
Once when I was looking ‘round
here is where I brought fate
where I made my own mistakes
here is often where I lay awake
not to worry
About You and You
to feel the way I do.
Before, I’d swallow what they’d say
lived in their houses day after day
It worked for them, but not for me
I would sometimes try to make them see.
So huff and puff and blow all day
this house is strong
I made it that way.
But know that I won’t stay inside
Behind a wall
cowering and scared
afraid to fall.
For now I know
it’s time to go.
Time to try another road.
And don’t you even worry about me.
I’ll take this way, see what I see
This was not a bad place to stay
you just hang
As I ended my poem and began to leave the stage, cheeks on fire, I started to hear the snaps. The whole room was filled with snaps - the poets version of the clap. Someone patted on me on the shoulder on my way to my seat and said, "good job!". W was practically levitating with joy.
I felt electric. I had done it. I had shared something I wrote with others.
Shortly after this night, I started my first blog.
Several years later, I would return to Bosso, but that night wouldn’t be about poetry. That night would be about salsa dancing.
One day, my friend T asked if I would join him and a friend at Bosso for some salsa dancing.
“I’ve never danced the salsa in my life, T, but I can come and watch you!”
“Salsa isn’t for watching. You are coming with me to dance. Come on! I know you can do it. It’ll be fun. I promise.”
So I reluctantly said yes.
The day of salsa night, T and I were chatting in the hallway at Georgetown University Hospital where he was a resident doc and I was a resident program administrator, making our plans for the evening.
“Oh, there he is!” T exclaimed looking at someone approach behind me. “Katie, I want you to meet my good friend Dr. S. He is the one I was telling you about that is going to join us for salsa tonight.”
Again with my fuzzy memory, but from what I can recall, the moment I met Dr. S everything began to move in slow motion. He stood in front of me, one hand traveling elegantly through his blonde waves, the other outstretched to shake mine, a crooked smile on his face. I can’t remember what he said to me, but I do recall he was speaking in an accent I couldn’t quite place but was immediately enamored of.
At some point, I remembered to hide my rope-belt-cornbread-country shock at shaking hands with such a beautiful human, and act like I had seen a handsome blonde doctor with an accent who danced salsa before.
Upon ending the awkward hand-shaking session, I immediately spun around and headed straight towards my bestie W’s office and was happy to see her office door open when I arrived. She looked up at me as I leaned on her doorframe, saw the look on my face, and said, “Omg! What!? Come in and close the door and tell me everything.”
W came to my apartment, located just a few floors below her in the same building (I know!), after work to help me pick out what I was going to wear dancing.
We decided on a short, flowy black dress that hit several inches above the knee, bounced when I walked, and spun when I twirled.
Gold heels, gold jewelry, gold purse, and my golden blonde hair completed the look.
T and I arrived at Bosso together and after grabbing some drinks headed upstairs to join the party. It was still early so only a few people had arrived, but T and I started to dance as El Cantante played.
I had no idea what I was doing, but T lead the way with smooth confidence. Smiling at every toe I stepped on and laughing at every twirl in the wrong direction we made our way through a few songs without major injury.
People continued to file in and the room started to fill. T and I switched partners a time or two. Dancing with strangers who didn’t pay any mind to my mistakes showed me how dancing salsa was more about the fun and connection of it all than it was about any kind of perfection.
As the night went on, T and I found each other again, both covered in a light coating of sweat. As we continued to dance with each other, he told me he was going to spin me.
As I spun, my dress wrapping and clinging to the sweat on my legs, my hand transferred from T’s, to someone else’s. I was so dizzy from spinning it took me a moment to realize I was chest to chest with Dr. S.
He was no longer wearing scrubs and a lab coat, but was wearing a white collared dress shirt unbuttoned just the right amount as well as black pants and a matching jacket. He didn’t say a word, but took my hand and started to spin me around until a space cleared on the dance floor and people were watching us.
He took off his jacket and tossed onto the nearest chair as we were all hands, arms, legs, and smiles across the dance floor.
We danced for hours without saying more than a few words to each other. We would occasionally switch partners while holding each others gaze from across the room.
As the dance floor eventually started to thin out, I realized, with shock, that we had danced until closing time.
I was talking with T about us getting a cab home when I looked over to see Dr. S leaning against the curve of the piano, his black jacket slung over his shoulder.
T looked at us looking at each other, smiled, and said, “I’ll see you in a minute.”
I turned and walked over to Dr. S, both of us taking in the sights.
“Thank you for dancing with me all night. This was my first time dancing salsa before, but it’s official. I love it. I can’t wait to come back.”
“The pleasure is all mine. You’re a wonderful dance partner. Skilled and beautiful.” he said leaning closely to my ear. “I would love to bring you again some day, but unfortunately, I will be moving soon and won’t be here to dance with you. I certainly hope you continue without me though. It would be a damn shame to deprive the world of such a thing. You’re quite something, you know.”
“Moving? Well. For my own sake I am sorry to hear that. I was hoping to get to know you better. It would be a damn shame to deprive myself, you know…?”
(I guess I can flirt well sometimes.)
He smiled at me, squeezed my hand, kissed my cheek, and then grabbed my hand and lead me over to where T was patiently waiting.
As the three of us walked arm-in-arm through Adams Morgan after a night of salsa dancing, I told myself to never ever forget it. Not that moment, not that night.
It was one of the first times I could remember in a very long time I felt totally alive, sexy, capable, desirable, and confident.
I’d come a long way, baby.
T said goodnight to us as Dr. S hailed a cab for me.
“Maybe I’ll see you again one day, Katie.” Dr. S said, opening the cab door for me as I got in.
“Maybe.” I smiled.
I don’t remember hearing that poem but it’s wonderful. I would love to hear you read it. The handsome doctors are just a plus. W’s expressions of faith and support fill me with even more love and respect for her.