Friday, December 29, 2006

Dancing the Makaya (Part 1)

Dancing the Makaya

[Part 1, edited (mostly) on 12/31]

To be honest, I always did it for the girls.

Sure, you had your body in motion sort of thing, the soaring arcs, the taut muscles, the balance--sometimes I think flying couldn't be better--but physical awareness alone would never have gotten me past the gauntlet in the hallway. If that was all I wanted, I could have been a wide receiver or a pole vaulter or something, all sprinting and timing for a moment of airborne grace. And hey, I get those guys too, and if the thrill of flight was all I was after, I would have been one of those. But I've got to tell you, the practices wouldn't be the same.

I don't run or jump unless it serves the rhythm. I don't grapple with sweaty fat men, but pull lithe young women to my body and fan their budding passions. I don't need the animal thirst for the kill, I take the fuller measure of life. I court the fire and whirl around it, feed it, evade it. I sail, I float, I howl. I am the gasp of excitement, not the wheeze of exhaustion The sigh of contentment and not the moan of defeat. I don't catch balls or kick them. Don't sprint, dodge, or hit. I dance.

There's a popular myth that most boys who dance are gay, and yeah, I suppose a lot of us are. I could see how it would be that level of distraction would be an occupational hazard, but on the other hand it's also my opinion that ten minutes with a girl like Makaya Simbi could straighten any guy out. Now there is a girl who can move, and even if you didn't notice her walking around school--you'd have to be blind not to see this girl, but I swear the football players don't--once you saw her move, then, well, turn-on doesn't start to describe it. When she dances, she doesn't just strut or sway, she smolders, sizzles. I've even seen her roar. When she heats up, the girl in her disappears. She's not grown to a mere woman either, like the instructors sometimes say when they want to lord their age over the younger students. Makaya becomes more than any of that. She drills right into something higher when she dances. Hips, shoulders, head, balanced, moving like on she's pulled on great and perfect strings, with perfect timing. It's more than great rhythm, that girl has inspiration.

And if you can move with her, well then that's the thing, isn't it? If you can dance with Makaya, then you can start to feel what it is to be a man. I have been practicing with her this month--we've got a freestyle jazz routine we're working on. Yesterday we were working on a lift sequence. I have to haul her up and balance her by her stiff wrists, and then let fly with all my strength. (You maybe think dancers are all legs, but there's a whole body experience involved, you've got to be perfectly strong everywhere, perfectly limber.) Makaya needs to hit the ground right on the downbeat--up, spin and throw and whoomf, right on the tonic of our bluesy little thing there. Other dancers may slam a landing, or bang it, but Makaya drifts down to the floor like a spark on to a pool of gasoline. Her feet touch and she explodes in movement, flashes a killer smile on the crowd for the two pickup notes, and then slinks at me for three beats, hips swaying like a charmed cobra as the blues start swinging into gear again. The look in her eye just then, you'd think she could eat me.

I don't care how many tackling dummies you can bowl over, or how many helmets you can stomp. You meatheads can keep your silly blonde cheerleaders.

Makaya and I have worked more and more over the last year. There's not anyone else here in our company who can keep up with her when she really gets the feeling, and it helps that we spent some time working on our own together as well, with old Ish. I'd practice with her a lot in any case--every guy in the company gets a good sampling of partners (like I said, it's why I'm here), but even though some the other boys can do the technical moves nearly as well, they're not so good at the freer and looser ballroom or jazz stuff. The stricter ballet or the tap productions work well for them, but when things get impassioned, improvisational, not a one of them can match Makaya when she's under the spell.

Let me tell you what I mean by that. Last year, Gary, one of our better guys, was chosen to dance a samba with Makaya for a ballroom exhibition. It was a big one for us, and the samba was the best part: big solo, live band, wonderful. Was I jealous? Maybe this time, maybe a little. I loved the way that Makaya would roll the word samba around her dark lips ("zamba"), like her mouth was dancing, and look at me like I belonged in the other half of it. So yeah, I wanted to be in Gary's place for that one. But dancing with Makaya is like a battle sometimes, and it's fun to have some of our other lovely young ladies try to keep up with me, too. I like to push the cuties to match my feet and my eyes, see if I can't bring something out in them. Sometimes I let them catch up with me, match me move for move, and it floats them up with a sort of sexy surprise that I love to see. Sometimes I don't let them, drop them short, which always makes them--the good ones anyway--try that much harder the next time. It's never bad to be paired with a woman, and as it turned out, I'd be with Makaya in most of the future numbers.

Against the CD, Gary and Makaya's practices went well enough. Over a month, they honed every step of a solid two-minute routine. But it's always different playing with a band. It's not just the mistakes--the missed notes or even a missed beat now and then--those are recoverable if you're a good dancer, but with young Ms. Simbi, you're talking about a different set of possibilities. You might get some joker in there who fancies himself a real musician. Might try to improvise.

Me, I love the samba rhythm. I love anything with a swing feel, and for a samba that's just the beginning of it. Before Gary and Makaya's showcase piece, there was a group number as an introduction. Right away, I could tell that they had a quality drummer for this band. He let nice, crisp pulse on one of the deeper toms--Bom be-bom be-Bom be-bom--nothing fancy, just the bare heartbeat of the whole pattern, but it was already infectious in the way that the tape had never been. You could feel the audience of TV-watching ballroom geeks getting into it from the first beat. The air seemed to crackle.

The boys and the girls--we poor extras of the crew--were on opposite sides of the stage, in the dark wings. As the drummer hit his opening groove, we strutted out toward one another, looking almost like chickens, with the down-stepping feet and bobbing heads. As we met in the middle of the floor, the snare started in, a strict sixteenth note pattern, but you could feel that the funky latin waterfall had kicked in, and with only a bar or two of that, the dude was in full swing. Someone else in the band started a tambourine in tinny electric syncopation. I swear I could smell ozone when the horns hit.

Our opening part wasn't that long, just enough to introduce the main couple. I was paired up against Wendy for it, a long, pale little thing, who looks taller than she is. Wendy has a shoulder shrug that can make me smile when I'm not dancing, and she's nice enough, but I can't ever see her growing past girlish. People will still be calling her cute when she's forty. Not my type. Just the same, this is a performance, and I carried her through our introductory twirls. The drums and the trumpets built to a quick crescendo and ended on a stomp, at which we dancers all froze in our different positions. Wendy's position was in my arms, never a bad thing.

During the pause, it's the job now of each couple to duck and run gracefully back to the wings, the ones in front first, revealing the back of the stage like an opening zipper. As this happened, the lights dimmed and the narrow spotlight opened onto Gary and Makaya in the back center. It's no wonder that Makaya was picked to lead this number. Even looking at her, you could tell she was perfect for it. You wouldn't even have to get past her eyes, but the rest of her was stunning in a shimmering red dress. The instructors, most of them, don't let us get into anything too revealing, thinking that it would be inappropriate (well, she's nearly eighteen, but you know, there are sometimes families at the show who come to see the younger kids in the group) but even the stodgiest dance outfit is designed to show off a body. In Makaya's case, you can see the femininity steaming from her, even as she's standing still. She owned that dress. I think Gary was paired against her only because he looked good almost as good in his clothes. He's got the same black-coffee skin as Makaya, and I have to admit, he looked damn good next to her in his sequined white. (Maybe the queer dancers are on to something after all.) I'm not as pale as Wendy, but I have to admit, I'd fade out in that outfit, under those lights.

The musical rest was just long enough to build tension, not so long that you'd forget the theme. Makaya and Gary were there looking at the crowd and as the drums hit a huge beat to reannounce themselves, they turned and stepped past one another with their straight backs and stiff necks, without losing arm contact.

Like the introduction, the piece started with pure percussion, and from the sides, I could see that the drummer's sidekick, the guy with the tambourine, was not really paying attention anymore, there's just the guy on the throne hammering on his middle pair of toms. He was looking at the dancers too. One interesting thing about the samba--the samba dance--is that it's got a "three feel" even though it's not strictly that, and the drummer was playing that three feel up a lot at first, matching his hands to the feet of the girl in red, and adding more to it by the second. The rhythm was so thick and layered, it started to sound like there were seven beats in there, 2-2-3, but it was so filled up with beats and thuds, that we were all too mesmerized to count. Like I said, these live guys sometimes have talent, and here was someone good enough to improvise something well beyond what we practiced.

Makaya didn't look uncomfortable with that. The end of each bar thinned to a little bada-bup that seemed to heat her up a little more with each repetition. Gary adapted to the beat well enough at first, and he was even copying Makaya's move on the little fill (the dance looked nothing like a samba at this point), but the drummer seemed to be out for him. Out of nowhere, he laid on the snare, a completely alien pattern except that Makaya's face lit up with anticipation right before the break, and as the drummer hit it, she threw out her arms and her crimson flew all around her like she was bursting in flames. Gary stood still. Poor bastard.

Makaya grabbed his white shirt and yanked him at her, threw him past her, as the music crescendoed again. The horns again lit in for a final beat, and there was a silence once more. Gary scraped his ass from the floor, and the formal samba started again as if nothing had happened. Gary moved through it like a frightened robot. He hasn't danced with Makaya since. Can't even look at her anymore.

[to be contd.]


- part one of three or four
- Good call, rundeep. The rhythms are important to the story, and I spent a few hours listening to (and choosing) drum samples.


rundeep said...

So, you too watched the "American" professional ballroom dancing open on public television? (The quotes are because every team was Russian or from a former Russian satellite). Or rented "Mad Hot Ballroom"?

I like this, but to tell you the truth you need to give it better rhythym. I mean that literally. You have some long sentences with choppy punctuation and some short sentences that scan long. I love the way it starts, and would like to see it punchier, I guess, with an occasional languorous line. (Maybe mimic a dance outright? A conceit, for sure, but a fun one).

Great start.

Keifus said...

I think that's excellent advice. Since this is what I'm hinting at, your thought is spot-on.

The idea came a while back when my daughter was involved with dance (the little unmotivated one). As I snoozed through the recital, I noticed a spirited little boy in the group. Seven years old, I was thinking, and here he's got it all figured out.


Keifus said...

(And yes, I did sit through some of those programs.)

rundeep said...

Cool drumbeat, man. Hard to sleep through that.

My daughter is also taking a "social dance class" that is run basically by our community as part of a series of etiquette lessons, culminating in a dinner dance. She didn't do it last year, but having learned now that most people in her class do it, she is too. She needs the help. Though cute and smart as hell, she dances like her dad.

I think this will be a great story when you're done.

Artemesia said...


Makaya is like a pistol flare..A magical girl dancer. What does a guy do when he presumes to dance with a 'Dakini?'..A celestial dancer, Makaya has power.

Will Gary rise to the challenge..the occasion? I see more than rhythms between these two..

Like you and RunDeep I love to watch the formal and informal modes in Ballroom dancing..Some like waxwork tableaus, Seurat in the ballroom.

Did you see the Australian film 'Ballroom?'(I think it was called)..

I like your story, the theme of a young man on the boards, getting in with Terpischore..a dangerous venture by any means. Or, maybe it will be a new Fred and Ginger, 'Greased' for 2007?

Waiting for more with restless feet..

Keifus said...

Hiya A, thanks. I've gotta say though that it sure looked better when I was going over it this weekend. (What "drafts" are for, I guess.)

Pleased to see you got the reference. Was thinking to name the narrator Fred actually, not after Mr. Astair, but from a similar ancestry as his magical partner (though different family & differently inspired).

Hopefully will get back to it Wed. Tough week at work just now, sadly.


Anonymous said...

dangnabbit, i haven't found any good samples yet [anywhere in cyberspace, not just youtube], but ondekoza is amazing [saw them in concert several years ago].

csfrg ceasar's frog

LentenStuffe said...


I loved this. The rhythm is very sexy, as of course is Makaya, and the alternation of sentence lengths actually suits if not approximates the dance flow. rundeep's comments were bang on, and Artemesia's instincts are always finely attuned.

A very pleasurable read.

rundeep said...

Keif: one more idea. Maybe call it "Dancing the Makaya" instead. I like the idea of her embodying the dance.

Keifus said...

anon: if that video was better, maybe I could see what that dude in the loincloth was standing up for. Yikes, maybe just as well.

LS: thanks for the compliment. It got edited a fair amount between drafts, so I'm pleased it's now going in a better direction.

rundeep: awesome suggestion.