Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Comfort Zone

It’s midnight. I am cowering, seated in a corner of the room after stepping on someone’s toes. My inaudible apology has just been criticized, furthering my embarrassment. I’m at Il Pirata, and I feel out of place. I hadn’t expected my Friday night to turn out this way.

Five hours earlier

I am waiting at the bus stop to spend a relaxing evening at home, perhaps get farther in Kafka on the Shore, and get to bed by ten to catch up on lost sleep. I arrive a little early and go inside the nearest building to find DDR, one of the volunteers in my salsa class, waiting. He mentions his plan to go to a salsa club in SF that evening and encourage me to join him. Apparently, Cuban salsa events only happen at this club on the last Friday of every month, so the next opportunity won’t be for a while. I agree, and he asks what I plan to do for the next four hours.

Five minutes later, DDR is outside my bus, trying to place his bike in one of the storage compartments on the bus’s exterior. He walks inside, and I wave to him. An hour later, just as I’ve gotten to a turning point in the novel, the bus pulls to its final stop, one block from my place. DDR and I get out and store his bike in my apartment. By this time, he’s sent out an e-mail to other salsa enthusiasts at work notifying them about the evening plans.

Given three hours, we grab dinner at that place near my apartment with the colorful owner, but this time, I recognize all of the owner’s catch phrases (N+1, no N, you’ve forgotten me… whoever eats with the hand doesn’t burn the tongue… free fresh free), and the novelty of the place has worn thin. So has my patience with the owner, but at least the chapattis are good.

We finish, take a short walk around the neighborhood to kill more time, and then head over to Il Pirata via MUNI. By this point, I’ve heard DDR’s life story and know he is a world traveler, a couch surfer, and has four and half years of dancing experience. Upon arriving at the club, I discover that everyone there seems to have about the same amount of experience. DDR expects this to be a good thing for me, and I go up to someone and ask if she wants to dance. She agrees, but upon realizing my lack of skills, promptly terminates the back and forth. DDR tells me it’s just a matter of finding someone with the right attitude.

I stand back and start watching others dance, admiring what they’re doing. DDR is disappointed I’ve only asked one person to dance, so he points to someone and tells me to ask her. I tap her on the shoulder, and she walks in the opposite direction. He taps her on the shoulder, and a second later, has taken her hand and is on the dance floor. He looks at me, shrugs, and starts dancing, showing off an impressive repertoire of moves.

DDR notices a Rueda in one of the side rooms, and pretty soon he’s joined in. He encourages me to join, but I don’t know all the moves they’re doing. I look at my watch and feel that pinch in my stomach. I head back into the main dance room and head over to one of the seats, accidentally stepping on someone’s toes in the process.

“You don’t even apologize!” he scorns me in response. I apologize for stepping on the toe and then for not apologizing, curling up into a small ball. I am well out of the Comfort Zone, and this is my only way back.

Twenty minutes later, I notice J, one of the friendlier people from my class, who has shown up with her significant other. DDR tells me that I should at least dance with her. Of course, I do, but it turns out the dance isn’t salsa but Reggaeton. No matter, she tells me. We can try salsa, anyway. She can tell I’m not comfortable and provides some encouragement. We end up switching to a non-salsa dance midway, and the song ends.

At this point, the girl who had walked away from me earlier is in the vicinity. DDR asks me to dance with her again. This time we do, but I am too nervous to do anything but the most basic salsa step. My new partner takes this as a cue to reverse-lead, which makes for an interesting experience. I resist at first, but eventually use it as an opportunity to loosen up. I am reminded of Jeff Winger in pottery class and accept that I don’t have to be good at what I’m doing to have fun. With that, the rest of the evening becomes more enjoyable.

By the time we leave Il Pirata, it’s 1 AM, and DDR wants to stop by at the corner Safeway for cookies. He is planning on biking to a hostel and then heading back to South Bay in the morning. We get into the bus, DDR falls asleep, but I wake him so we can make the transfer to another bus at Market. This bus proceeds to break down about twenty blocks from my place. We walk the remaining way, and I notice how late it’s getting. We eventually reach Haight-Ashubury, and with the familiar surroundings, I feel myself returning to the Comfort Zone. I tell him what my original plans for the evening were, and he seems amused. I then proceed to offer DDR my couch to surf on for the night, which he gladly accepts.

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