41 La Vida Poca Loca


 Oye como va? Hey, how’s it going? Have you been longing for the ‘smile’ that you haven’t had for quite a while? If you have, then follow me and Nat Cole and we’ll show the way. Put on your sombrero and your poncho. We’re on our way to Cuba. Via Australia.

Our social life and culture has been added more fizz over the last decades thanks in great part to the infiltration of Hispanic and Caribbean culture. Thanks to the energies of immigrants reflecting this heritage.

This treasure trove is here for the taking. Pronto. We’re in the grip of a dancing revival. This has led to the regular unwinding ceremonies in which Australians shed their inhibitions ‘con gusto’, and shake their booties spontaneously, in the open air. Over, Under, Sideways, Down.

Big fun is to be had by everyone. It’s up to you, it surely can be done. Young and old are doing it, anyone who’s bold. Just one try, and you too will be sold. Whatever it’s got, it’s got a lot. It’s an invitation across the nation, a chance for folks to meet, to dance their troubles away, to soar and find amor. It’s very nice, so full of spice, this dancing in the street. Find your spot out on the space. Few need to be won over.

Ole! It doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there. Put your hands in the air and throw back your hair. Doctors bring serious patients whose circulation they test. If their toes don’t start moving, there’s no pulse. If they get vibrations all down to their feet, that’s the pulsating rhythm of the latin beat.

While all those  drums are bopping, like a Jumping Jack I’m hopping without stopping.

So get up offa that thing, and dance ’till you feel better, get up offa that thing and try to release that pressure!

Some people won’t dance if they don’t know who’s singing. Why ask your head, it’s your hips that are swinging. Feel it in your heart and feel it in your soul. Let the music take control.

Don’t you worry if you can’t dance – let the music move your feet. Once you get started you can’t sit down If you make a mistake, get all tangled up, just tango on.

You’ll be helped make a  start.

While finding the tempo you might  lose your heart. Even the kind without a passionate persuasion for dancing give in to the rhythm. Even young folk with two left feet move to the trick of the beat. Even old folk with the gout can’t hold back from stepping out. They do the shingaling and boogaloo too. They get real loose – to dance with anyone, they need no excuse. They develop their hip and knee. The good thing is the lessons are free.

Michael Hutchence set the pace, urging all in Spanish, ‘If you’ve got it, shake it!’

He had a new sensation, in perfect moments impossible to refuse. If this doesn’t get you moving, I don’t know what will.

These festive events have a strong following from the Australian people. They come from the city,


they come from the Bush.

So take it away, muchachos, mates and muchachas! Go Dolores, do a tumbarumba for us! Go Ramon, do a cumbia, come on. Led by such prepossessing newcomers, the locals turn, spin and swivel sensuously with their saucy, willowy yet succinct moves, fancy steps of the hypnotic dance. So whatever your pleasure let us try – just you, lots of others and I- Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi, I like it very much. Si, Si, Si, so very much to see. Orale.

Holy tamale, out there streets ahead of anyone is Leonor, every inch packed with dynamite, twirling and turning, dancing the feet off everyone else. From a land of perfect dancers, she knows all the answers. When she starts to move, senoritas stare and caballeros sigh, everything goes chick-chicky-boom, chick-chicky boom. Oh me oh my, there goes this prize package, a hard act to follow, ’round again, up and then down again, in and then out. Hoo hah. . Mucha muchacha. Born stepping lively and light-footed from the womb, Twinkle Toes’ll die dancing to the tomb. It comes way back from her ancestry.

At dances, she can’t keep her seat. Mama mia. Let’s hear it for the girl. She gets the crowd in a whirl.

Classes are very popular and have raised the standards remarkably. They teach us how to ramba y la bamba. Ay caramba it’s the samba, it’s the one dance I can’t do.

They introduce their classes saying ‘We’ll show you how to be more spontaneous.’ Some slow learners need this. Their standard reply is ‘Fine! When?’

Giving rhythm to the movements of the group dancers is Cuban Pete. He ventures into the centre, begins zig-zagging around while drumming out the beat. Dancers join up behind him feeling his inborn confidence. He comes from a long line of conga dancers.

I used to fancy my freestyle version of dancing to be presentable.‘ ‘Watch me now. Mmm, do you like it like this?’ Leonor knew the steps but I knew the holds. But the new generation who did their homework ultimately kept me shy of centre stage.  Now well on the periphery I do my best to chaperone and keep up with La Bomba. To tell the truth, sitting it out, not up to much except the shimmy, I’ve been left behind in the dust. Hips don’t lie. I can’t dance for jumping beans. Like Elvis, all I can do is stand there paralysed. I can trip easily but not the light fantastic. St. Vitus, pray for my arthritis.

The effect of this razzle dazzle is to blur the difference between the participants and the spectators.  When the spectacle is best left to the musical mavens, these are catered for in carefully choreographed exhibitions.  These showcase the artistry of visiting acts, of locals originating from the Latino mother lode, and of the cornucopian homegrown talent . Music and passion are always their fashion.

Especially dear to the ‘aficionados’ of this scene are the Brazilians who, helping Mr. Cupid along, bring their particularly sensual and athletic razzamatazz to the fore. They bring on their dancing girls. Ooh la la. Blame it on the bossa nova.

In their traditional bikini costumes decorated with neatly ordered beading and tiny discs sewn out of sequins, crowned by elaborate plumaged headpieces-and not much else- these glamazonian princesses, bodies so brown, really get down.

They provide the hot stuff dreams are made of. Starting a heat wave by letting their seats wave. Bim bam bum! A bit of wicked wicky-wacky. Piqued by the tut-tuting and raised eyebrows of any remaining wowsers, my reaction is to urge the girls to show them who the real Christians are. ‘Turn the other cheek!’, I entreat them, my tongue firmly planted in my own, ‘come on, let me see you shake your tail feather. ’ Equally breathtaking are the capoeristas with their fast-paced dancing acrobatic stunts. Oba!

Naturally enough there’s the usual bevy of tropicalist ladies in tutti frutti hats. Wop-bop-a-loom-a-boom-bam-boom.  The gold hoops in their ears frilly blouses, puffy sleeves, bangle bracelets, big beaded necklaces, swirly wrist movements and blithely flirtatious expressions all attract the eye. Their massive turbans are festooned with fake fruit, some with cherries, some with pineapples, some with small umbrellas atop. It makes you feel like you’ve been immersed in a giant, warbling fruit salad. It’s a miracle the ladies don’t crumple under these daunting architectural formations. Behind them   a huge cast of scantily clad women waves around giant bananas.

In one memorable rehearsed routine, a Carmen clone appeared in a huge shirred skirt, whirring, eyes rolling, hips and hands in constant motion, only to have her partner emerge from under it before their samba to ‘Down Argentine Way.’

Her large skirt and headwear was then whisked up to reveal she was actually wearing an   orange two piece bikini jumpsuit .

The Brazilians lead the festive parade that caps off each Latin American festival at Bondi.  As a beach boardwalk for this corroboree of flesh and fantasy, Bondi is more than a match for Copacabana. It’s the hottest spot west of Havana. It woos swimmers, hedonists and party animals from all over the world.

If these migratory birds can sing and dance like a toucan,

surely you can.

‘Xavier taught me how to rumba on the sand, ’ I overheard one beach bunny say. ‘He looks at me and softly says, ‘Si, Si’ to all I planned. ’

The procession is a less elaborate affair but it shares the same brazilliant sense of saturnalian merry making and collective spirit as that at Rio.  The drummers precede a long single file of slow grinding dancers and performers from various countries. It’s not a milonga so the conga gets  longer. Here we go loop di loo! Snaking around the beachfront, past peanut vendors and surfboard menders, picking up reinforcements on the way. Looking at the drummer navigating it’s head always made me reflect, ‘Leadership looks fun, but it’s stressful. ’

People of all shapes and sizes join the conga. One time a woman was so chubby she was both the front and the rear end of it. By herself she was a group. I was afraid when she’d stoop. I got numbo dancing behind this jumbo.

The irresistible sight and sound of the sirens of samba pulls the surfers from the water with the same urgency as those that warn of sharks.  They join the long cavorting callithump of happy clapping revellers singing, whistling, whooping it up, high fiving, up and down like jumping beans, improvising musically with whistles, bottles, spoons- whatever comes to hand. Some can take a tambourine and whack it, but to them it’s just a racket.

‘You know how to whistle, don’t you, muchachos? You just put your lips together and blow. Shake, shake, shake, shake your body line, whoa! Shake, shake, shake, shake it all the time. Work, work, work, work it all the time. ’

Everybody plays the fool. Anything can happen. Blissed by the hypnotic rhythm of the band, things can tend to get out of hand. Woo hah. Such mambo jambo is now an integral part of our social life. The most fun you can have without taking your clothes off.

Sydneysiders can now go to clubs and restaurants most evenings of the week. Patrons are drawn in by the pulsating rhythms and sensual dance movements though a few are slow to respond.

The ambience is often laid back and the cuisine novel.

They can catch the ‘ritmo de la noche’ in a more intimate setting.

Their souls are on fire, aflame with desire. That’s why they perspire.

As they hit the timber, loosen up, start to limber, they can hear that hot marimba.

For millinery mania there’s usually a house party for the arty tarty.

Why wait for New Year’s Eve? Don’t herd your blues at el rancho, get real rauncho. Dance all night, get so light, watch a show, get real low, stop the rot, get real hot, shake it up, give it all you’ve got.

There are porros, lambadas to tickle your spine, moonlight and music, orchids and wine.

Dance around the hickory dickory dock. Tico Tico Tico Tico Tico Tock!  Latin radio programs are broadcast locally and television piped in from abroad.  The internet tops off what has become an all pervasive cultural force. The Hispanish Armada. The whole enchilada. You don’t have to go to Tijuana to eat barbecued iguana.

These developments have helped to allay that sense of solitude. In this respect time has been on my side.

I’ve got my maracas from Caracas.


I’ll eat tamales in Nogales.

I’ll save Havana for mañana.