For two years I forayed into the hinterlands to teach retired teachers in Escobedo danzon and other Cuban rhythms. I adored my students, but the weekly travel less so. Crossing the mountains into Comonfort involved a change in ecosystems often resulting in scary commutes not aided by the fact we were a bunch of teachers in a 1973 VW bug, basically a clown car full of cumbia dancers.
Still, I was disappointed when the Escobedo Cultural Center canceled the spring term knowing that though I’d miss my students, other opportunities were obviously headed my way. And were they!
Almost instantly local retired teachers wanted to learn a danzon routine to perform at May’s international dance days in front of the Parroquia. Being a serious lot they signed up for three classes a week of two hours each and mastered a routine in less than a month for the performance. Not only that one, but performances at local grade schools and a state-wide competition in Salamanca.
Now, in the effort of full disclosure, I know way too much about local retired teachers. Each year they invite me to their comida for Teacher’s Day that includes a meal and a variety of music including everything from cumbia to cow bells. (Just like the ones my mother used to call her brood home for dinner each night in suburban Hershey, still surrounded by the infamous milk producing cows of Hershey Kiss fame.)
Then on the following Friday night of a three day weekend (teachers and schools get the Monday off) teachers past and present come out to play with a vengeance. Huge orchestras play all types of music that only pause the dancing to allow the mayor to give away microwaves, TVs and such to teachers at each school. It always pays to pander to teacher’s union!
During the evening festival in front of the Parroquia I was surprised to be introduced with my class as a retired public school teacher. I’d love to say it was my obvious youth that would give me away even if I kept my mouth shut and my accent unheard. But let’s get real. My pastiness is the result of something only a long line of intermingling among Gaelic vampires can achieve. No one could believe I was a retired Mexican public school teacher. This fact kept me off the dance floor for the upcoming competition in Salamanca where they check identification. Personally I’m fine with just teaching, I like not having to keep my white pants stain free all day nor performing in the sun.
Salamanca is a town that lives up it to its lizard-like name. Known primarily for its Pemex refinery, Salamanca is not a particularly pretty place. Even less so when a gaggle of retired school teachers arrive to compete in everything from sports to music, painting to danzon! I’ve not seen such utter abject competiveness among teachers since the eighth grade nuns at Holy Name of Jesus beat the pants off the 7th grade nuns in softball. Luckily nun of them went commando!
First up was a choice between viewing basketball and singing competitions. I’ve been at enough basketball games to know brown men can’t jump either so I opted for the music competition and quickly regretted my choice. The event was held in an ex-convent started in 1640. I’m assuming the music room has been used for lots of sundry activities over the centuries as it did not have good vibrations.
Instead I joined some fellow dancers to find where the one prison barred window 20 feet up led. Luckily to a sunny courtyard where we enjoyed the garden while listening to the songs. It was odd to hear the Mexican version of “My Way” and “Rolling in the Deep”. Odder to still to realize the song I remember advertising Fritos in 1970s TV ads is an actual song, not just a jingle. (“Ay, yi, yi, yi. I am the Frito Bandito!”) Suffice to say the actual words are less racist in Spanish.
Then the dancing competition began. The folk dancers tore into it with style and excitement. As a man whose done way too many choreographies involving fans, I was very impressed with the fan actions of several groups. Also, even as a guy, I want to one day try being a dancer in the big skirts. Not only is it a great upper body workout but those skirts look really cool in motion. And I’ve great gams. Sadly a gift from my father, not mother.
With time I’ve learned folk dances feature both the main moments of life (when meeting your future spouse) and the mundane (gathering water from the well). All, when understood, make the dance way more relatable and intriguing.
Finally the danzon groups performed with my former teachers (now students) winning the silver medal. Darn those gold medal winners for including constant switching of partners, always a crowd pleaser. I won’t comment on the bronze winners so we win with both grace and the knowledge that there were only two groups competing in danzon.
Back on the bus, I realized years of field trips make teachers extremely child like with bathroom breaks becoming a way of life. But if one has to be like a child to enter Heaven, I can only hope I too have a child-like enthusiasm for games, songs and dances as I enter my senior years.
Plus, damn it all to hell, I want to win a gold medal!
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkin