Her Corazon es en Cuba…
***Note to the Reader: This entire piece was written by one of my best friends, Nina DiFrancisco, after our recent trip to Cuba. She wrote this on the flight home, trying to capture the experience she had in Cuba, before it faded from her memory. In my opinion, she captured something rare and beautiful. This exemplifies so well, so many of the reasons I love to travel.
Step into Nina’s Travel Journal…
February 28th, 2017
Salsa music gets louder with every step as we walk towards the dance studio. Excitement and energy burst forth as we realize: we’re about to get salsa lessons in Cuba! We’re about to get salsa lessons in Cubaaaa!!!
Opening a large wooden door, our view is of sweaty, dark men twirling women around in a large front room. They are all beautiful. And strong. Our excitement climbs as we wait to see which instructor we’ll be paired with. Suddenly, all three of us lock eyes with a cocoa-butter, monument of a man. Grey shirt dripping in sweat, white shorts exposing long, toned legs. His moves are as smooth as hot butter popping off of an iron skillet, and his smile makes my heart beat wildly. Overwhelmed and shocked that a man can be so beautiful, I turn to my friends and shout, “I’m in! I’m in!”
We’re giggling like school children who’ve broken some forbidden piñata full of scrumptious candy. One class ends, while we move towards the back of the studio with our new teacher; he leads us upstairs. Grey shirt walks by and eye contact is brief. I look down immediately while my two girlfriends stare hard.
At this moment, we knew we made the right choice on ordering private lessons.
Our private room has a long mirror and overlooks a small courtyard where those finished with lessons drink mojitos, surrounded by vines and flowers all over the walls. Looking around, we take in the moment: we’re about to get salsa lessons in the heart of Old Town Havana with gorgeous Cuban men, in a beautiful atmosphere.
The first instructor walks in. He’s tall and lanky with wild hair and a strong aura that means business. He starts with 1-2-3, 5-6-7 basics. In salsa, you pause on the 4-beat and the 8-beat. Lined up in front of the full length mirror, we take these steps seriously. It doesn’t take but six-counts to burst out laughing ~ mistakes! Sadly, it sinks in that we’re not as good at salsa as we thought we’d be.
Ten minutes of 1-2-3, 5-6-7 basics steps go by, and in come two other Cuban men: our new dance partners. I see through the mirror that one is the grey shirt beauty and immediately my body gets chills. With tunnel vision, I don’t quite make out what the other instructor looks like. Struggle hits as I hope I’m paired with “Grey Shirt” ~ but knowing if I do, I won’t be able to focus. Shit! I am paired with “Grey Shirt.” He introduces himself as Kevin. I find his name odd considering that all the men we’ve met in Cuba have dramatic, authentic Cuban names. Still focused on his beauty, I don’t pay attention to the other man who just stated his name.
No time is wasted as the 1-2-3, 5-6-7 steps are back on. This time, with a partner.
Kevin is my pair. With lust and utter nervousness, I try my hardest not to show these feelings. He grabs my hand and lower back and firmly pulls me towards him. A gasp shoots out. His brown eyes are staring straight into my soul. Three seconds. That is how long we stare before I quickly turn my gaze. Those three seconds felt as if five minutes had passed by.
As we step side-to-side, back-and-forth, my eyes veer from the floor to the mirror, purposely missing those eyes.
Music stops. Our lead instructor, the skinny one, states firmly while looking at me: “How can you feel the moves and connect if you don’t look into their eyes? Looking away creates distance. We want intimacy.” Double shit. Now I’m forced to face this thing called intimacy that has been nonexistent for me for years. I shake my head with fire boiling over me, as I blush about the feeling behind those eyes. Pep talk internally happens and back to staring face-to-face. Seeing his face this time, I notice the rich brown and dark lashes. His skin that is smooth with little wrinkles. Lips that look soft and pouty. When it feels like I’m dissecting him and may even be coming off as creepy, he surprises me with a smile. All I’m feeling is heat and chills that rush over my body. My head is light. He is so beautiful.
“How can you feel the moves and connect if you don’t look into their eyes? Looking away creates distance. We want intimacy.”
Moves start again and I forget everything that was just taught. I stumble over my feet and feel the sweat drip down my face and back. Between his touch and the 85-degree weather, there is no cooling off. 1-2-3, 5-6-7 ~ mess up ~ do it again. For an hour, the same feeling occurred of nervousness, chills, lust, want and closeness. He moved like a leaf in the wind. Even small movements, soft touches, felt sensual.
With every pause, every mistake, the girls look over: they know exactly what is going on with me. Jokes are cracked. Comments are made. I burst out saying “I can’t concentrate!” They ask me, “Why not?” with smirks on their faces. I leave the answer to their imagination.
1-2-3, 5-6-7. Music. Movement. Deep breaths. Chills. Embarrassment with how my focus is so off. Excitement with how incredible it is to be salsa dancing with this man in Cuba. Eyes keep locking and with every lock, I try my hardest to add an extra second. Ohhh…how the ladies must go wild over this one. I feel danger. I feel sensuality. I feel for the first time in over a decade how I have been afraid of intimacy. How strong is a locked stare. How meaningful and deep it is to stare into someone’s soul. The feeling was overwhelming. I loved and hated every moment. My typical strength and control is out the door this hour. Terrifying and yet satisfying to feel this way. Few words are exchanged as only movement occurs.
Dancing, the action of love and intimacy. Expression of emotion.
Class ends. Hands clapped. Thank you’s given. My anxiety begins to calm as I won’t be sharing vulnerability any more with this mysteriously beautiful man.
I feel danger. I feel sensuality. I feel for the first time in over a decade how I have been afraid of intimacy. How strong is a locked stare. How meaningful and deep it is to stare into someone’s soul. The feeling was overwhelming. I loved and hated every moment.
The men walk out. Us ladies are left behind to breathe hard and laugh about the incredible experience we all just had. Talk is about the emotions, the moves, the overall sexiness that was just in this room. Laughter relieves our lingering nerves and we all agree, “We need a drink!“
Sitting in the courtyard, drinking the best mojitos in town, we have a perfect view of these fit, lean men as they come and go from room to room. The music flows. We laugh. Opposite us, our instructors drink ice-cold cervezas. Kevin sits front-and-center for all to see. I scoot my chair back so I can hide behind a tree. My girlfriends say I’m nuts, but the emotion is back. I’m replaying in my head those eyes, that face. The masculine arms that guide me in my spin. The amount of sexiness that happened to me in one hour hasn’t happened to me in ten years.
After a few mojitos we make friends with the locals. The bartender joins us after our third. We all feel like friends.
The atmosphere was unbeatable. Gorgeous men coming and going, music running through us, and this incredible high that a dream of being in Cuba has come true. Some people never once feel this type of experience in their lifetime.
Every time Kevin is in sight, the girls tell me to look. Nervously, I never do. Noelia becomes bold and hops out of her chair to ask for a dance from him. Now I have a reason to look without guilt. Thankfully, Eileen takes a few videos for memories.
School is ending and glasses are getting empty. We need food and a way to stop staring at all of these gorgeous Cubans.
At dinner, the “Dance” was the entire topic of conversation. I repeat to myself over and over again about the stare. Shocked and flushed all night, which worsens with every drink.
But the bartender had invited us back for a mojito the next day since it was my birthday. So we knew we would see those beauties again…
***Stay tuned for Salsa Lessons, Part Two ~ where Nina dives even deeper into Cuban culture by taking a second private lesson with this beautiful, hunk of a man! What happens next….will he ask her out? Do they go on a Cuban date?? This is our very own, international version of “The Bachelor!” Stay tuned, my friends…