Shaking My Moneymaker: A Memory

This popped up on my Facebook feed as a memory from last year, and I thought it would be fun to share. Hope you enjoy it!

When I was a teenager, I went to Lima, Peru for the summer. My Aunt Amelia got sick of me sitting in my room all day mooning over my dreamy Peruvian boyfriend, Carlos (who’s still pretty dreamy, not that I Facebook-stalked him or anything). Desperate to get me out of the house, she called my mom. I imagine their phone call went something like this:

Amelia: What the hell does your daughter do besides sleep all day?

Betty: Well, she likes to take dance classes.

The next day I was enrolled in Afro-Peruvian dance classes, twice a day, five days a week. My cousin Ursula would join me for the second class which took place after she got out of school. The first day, I was shuttled off to the dance studio and greeted by a very short, very large blonde woman named Miss Elena. Was this my dance instructor? It was. I made the mistake of yawning throughout our first lesson.

“What the hell’s wrong with you? Are you pregnant?” Miss Elena asked.

I never yawned again.

The truth was I loved Miss Elena’s class. I quickly learned that Afro-Peruvian dance was not for sissies.  During the first lesson, we were told to “shake our tits and asses,” a command which was contrary to everything we had been taught up to that point by our parents, schools, and church. During the second class, Miss Elena told my cousin, Ursula, “Chica, this gringa’s outdancing you.” During the third class, she asked me where I had learned to dance. I told her I studied American jazz at home which had several steps in common with Afro-Peru.

You would think being very short and very fat would have hindered Miss Elena’s dancing, but no. To this day, she is the best dancer I have ever seen in person. When she got out on the dance floor, she was the movement, the music, the light. She was beautiful, graceful, powerful. And although I didn’t know anything about sex, watching her dance gave me the feeling that anyone lucky enough to go to bed with her would be given something to think about afterwards.

The dance studio had a large glass window which faced the street. One night, a group of teenage boys watched our flailing attempts to become graceful dancers. When we left the studio, they were on the sidewalk waiting for us.

“Young ladies, please don’t run away. We’d like to make your acquaintance,” the leader of the pack of cute boys said as we scurried down the streets of Miraflores, trying to outdistance them.

Tired of running away from my blossoming body and budding sexuality, I whisper-asked my cousin if we could stop and talk to them.

“It’s not done like that here,” she whispered back.

Throughout my life, I’ve put my Afro-Peruvian dance skills to good use. “Bravo,” a man from West Africa said to me after we danced at a nightclub in Paris. “Dance for me,” one of my friends in graduate school would say after he’d had a couple of beers and sometimes I would. I like to think I gave him something to think about.

When she found out I had to have knee surgery, the first thing my Aunt Kitty said was, “Oh no! What about her dancing?” Several knee surgeries, I still like to shake my ass. Technically, I will never be as good as I was at fifteen, but I don’t care. The movement, the music, the light is in me and that’s all that matters.


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