Dancing With "Jesus"
It isn’t every day that I’m inspired to write a title like that, but here in Milan, Italy, these have not been ordinary days. I’m here because I said, “yes” to a dance friend’s invitation to attend the 5°Campionato Nazionale di Latin Hustle a dance competition near where she lives part time in Milan. While I am not the biggest fan of competitions and consider myself more social dancer than competitor, I’m a big believer in going where I’m invited even if it means being stretched a bit.
It all started with Italian dance extraordinaire, Francesca, an ever-present icon of beauty, class and sass at SoHo Dance LA where we met under the tutelage of Raul and Yesenia a couple of years ago. Very often, after classes, Francesca has been known to make a mean frittata in the SoHo kitchen, where I have had the privilege of serving as her sous-chef on several occasions. Her cooking and enthusiasm for all things Italian has intrigued me since we first met and now, here I am cycling through the streets of this bustling city trying to keep up with her fast-paced endless energy.
The first five days of the trip began with three fellow SoHo friends, Betty, Dede and Christi who help comprise the Cinque Belle Donne as Francesca named our little entourage. It was our love of hustle dancing that led us to this city of romance where, I discovered, lovers really do kiss slowly in restaurants, on subways, and on sidewalks.
When I said yes to traveling all the way to Italy, I didn’t know I would be meeting “Jesus”, as world salsa champion Jhesus Aponte is referred to here in Milan. Tall, lean, warm and friendly, his smile and gentle Puerto Rican manner immediately put me at ease. Working with him in preparation for the competition was one of the highlights of my dance life. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have danced with “Jesus” if for no other reason than to able to say I did.
Speaking of Jesus, Milan is home to the Duomo, Italy’s largest cathedral where the Savior’s image is heavily laden in gold gilded grief. I spent the day there today gazing at one gothic gargoyle after another while reflecting on this week of joyful adventuring with my beloved Cinque Belle Donne, five beautiful women.
Here in the city of the golden Madoninna standing watch from atop the Duomo with the antiquity of Roman ruins undergirding the very soil beneath my feet, I can’t help but get caught up in the palpable passion here for life’s pleasures. Dance, Drink, Laugh, my version of Eat, Pray, Love. Being a SoCal native, I have experienced diversity and rich culture in LA life via the perspective of a suburban mom. I thought we had it all until Milan. Shopping here is like Third Street Promenade, Rodeo Drive and Farmer’s Market combined ten thousand times and injected with steroids. I have never seen so many beautiful displays of clothing, food and shoes—even chocolate ones which made me want to wear them as much as eat them!
After a couple of days of practicing with Jhesus, meeting his adorable partner Joel, enjoying spontaneous invitations for cappuccinos, lunches and dinners and basically eating our way through the city, we left the hustle and bustle for a small town called Biella where rolling hills and even a castle met our gaze. We lunched at a countryside farmhouse where the mere essence of the place opened our conversation from surface to soulful. The meat of the meal was more spiritual than animal as we shared stories of life and loss, rainbow bridges and chance encounters with angels. Conversations under the spell of Italian culture alchemized us from dance friends to spiritual gurus, each with our own inner wisdom.
At the competition we were welcomed by our very own “America” sign and kissed right cheek, left cheek, right cheek or was that left cheek, right cheek? I learned that this was important stuff, if done incorrectly, it could lead to awkward American-almost-kissings which were hilarious or horrifying depending on kisser and kissee.
When not dancing, the Cinque Belle Donne were eating, shopping and laughing our asses off while imitating our beloved Francesca saying, “mother fucker” in a thicker than pesto sauce fake Italian accent. Somewhere between the Duomo and the dance hall, Francesca renamed our little group Cinque Belle Gnocche. We went from “Five Beautiful Women” to “Five Beautiful Pussies” which according to Francesca is a term of endearment in Italian. Sounding more potato based pasta dish than female body part to me, I just had to trust her sensibility. Like the time she introduced us in this way to a waiter who smiled broadly and promptly invited his coworker over to our table too. Our mantra thanks to Betty, “it’s all good”.
There is something about the cohesiveness of women over 40 collectively laughing, swapping stories of love, life and spirituality over slices of pizza, scoops of gelato, shopping sprees and playful dance that transcends even the most sacred of spaces. From eating authentic Italian fare at a country side farm to walking among cream colored cows grazing on green grass adorned with bells sounding like wind chimes over rolling hills.
On our final day of cycling through Milan, it was the magical visit to a Chagall art exhibit that served as the cherry on top of this delicious trip. The sights, sounds and scents of Italy have filled me with a deeper sense of self, sensuality and super powers. I feel richly independent, renewed and ready to dance my way through whatever comes next. Dance made us friends. Milan made us sisters. Dancing with “Jesus” will do that.