On The Streets, They Call Me Iris Chacon

This morning, I hobbled into the spin room at the gym. Sore, hopped on the bike, to the right of the instructor. I turned to my Sunday morning spin comrades, and told them I barely made it in. I had skipped Pilates, unable to scrape myself out of bed any earlier. Before they could ask me why, I told them. I danced for two hours straight, closer to two and a half. My record is four hours, but that was some time ago.

Smiles.

“I had to, don’t you know on the streets my name is Iris Chacon?” I clipped onto the bike.

The Latinas in the room howled.

“I’m Iris! Didn’t ya’ll know?”

*

I learned to dance watching those that know how to dance.

I spent hours of my childhood mesmerized by Iris Chacon. Watched her shake her big ass on the screen, dressed in a body stocking, while the lights of the stage caught the glint of every sequins placed across her chest. A cleavage, that plunged to big breasts, a tiny waist, and round hips. Her bright red hair as wild as her dance moves. Iris looked like a goddess.

Born in Puerto Rico, Iris was known in all Latino homes. Her variety show that she hosted weekly in the 1980’s on Univision was never short on viewers. Mami walked by the television and screamed the word, fresca at the screen. Her eyes glared at me, and then landed on Papi. Papi peered from his newspaper or looked up from his typewriter, and then settled on Iris. I turned towards Papi, and watched his eyes dance across the stage in step with Iris. If only I could grab everyone’s attention like Iris. Glamourous in her high heels and red lipstick, and with each sexy rumba shoulder roll. While, my hair puffed with frizz, thighs stuck together, and forehead resembled a potato.

Comparisons drawn, I felt defeated, and soon wandered from the sala, in search for something other than the truth. I was not beautiful like Iris Chacon. I grew use to the absence of attention, and looked elsewhere. School became my stage, and books the sexy dance moves I could impress those around me with.

*

I learned to dance watching those that know how to dance.

Mami has two left feet, and I’ve never seen her dance ever, not even a quick bounce to a catchy commercial tune.

But, Papi, well he was born to dance. Before being confined to a wheelchair, Papi never sat down for a song. Papi sang the lyrics of every song like he penned them. And, in between the lyrics he whispered, que letra, pero que letra. Driven by the poetry of the words, hand wrapped around a can of beer, Papi’s body pulsated with every beat. Tia Lola, Papi’s youngest sister, often danced alongside him, salsa, merengue, and vallenato, but it was their cumbia that they were best known for. People circled Papi at parties, and cheered him on. But, when it was brother and sister, and La Pollera Colora came on, it was like the Colombian Ginger Rogers and Fred Astire. Silence came over the room, and all eyes made their way towards Papi and Lola. More than once a long flowy skirt was chucked at Lola, and she slipped it on, her pollera. Smiles broad, Papi and Lola’s bodies picked up every call of the drums, melody of the Native flutes, las gaitas, and the European composition of the music. Souls swayed back and forth in response to a time long ago. And, though it was just the two of them circling around each other, the space between their bodies held room for all those that had come before them. Papi danced as if all his ancestors were inside of him, and his moves told a history of Colombia.

I learned to dance watching those that know how to dance.

It was the last summer we would be in Colombia together. And Joann’s last. Maybe, somewhere deep inside Joann knew that, and willed herself to learn to dance. We were seventeen and fifteen, I held a book in my hands, but peered above the pages at Joann. I watched Joann dance with her yellow walk-man as her partner in the first bedroom at Abuelo’s casa. A stand up fan in the center of the room whirled, as Joann moved to the beat that spilled out of her headphones. In midst of the heat and mosquitoes, Joann’s confidence grew, and she danced every chance she had afterwards. During college she entered local salsa club contests and won. She competed with dancers that took years of lessons, her dance studio were those parties.

I learned to dance watching those that know how to dance.

It was in Zumba classes that the basic steps to salsa were broken down to me. Side to side, front to back, a count was given, and my instructor shouted at the class to listen to the beat. And to feel the music. I already learned to dance with music, but  Zumba taught me how to dance to the music.

*

Yesterday, I went to my madrina’s 80th birthday party. I handed my godmother a small bouquet of flowers, and held her hand as she told all her guests that I was her god-daughter. “You look like your Tia Lola,” My godmother stared at me. Madrina and Mami had been comadres decades, and knew each other’s family members.

A compliment.

I chuckled to myself. Several weeks ago my sister and I did our makeup in the same hotel bathroom mirror.  “Oh my goodness, I look like Lola,” I looked at my reflection, which smiled back at me. My eyes moved to Joann’s reflection, her eyes traced over my face, and she shook her head. “You do,” she nodded.

Armed with a fresh gel manicure, winged eyeliner, bright red lips, dressed in all black, and knee-high boots, I was ready to face a Latina party. Small talk, a part of life, like bees in a summer outing, an annoyance, but expected. Saved by music, pulled onto the sala dance floor by the first few chords of Joe Arroyo’s En Barranquilla Me Quedo. I spun on my heels, swung my hips, and shook my shoulders. I belted out the lyrics, like I had written them, and smiled. Tossed my head back and laughed, as some gathered around to watch me and the other two Colombians at the party.

Colombia! Colombia! The cheers by a room of Cubans.

Transported to my year in Colombia. In those early months I watched those around me dance salsa, and longed to join the crowd. Later, after some shots of aquardiente, I found the courage from the licorice flavored alcohol, and danced. Unsure, I stared at my feet the whole time, and cursed Papi for not having taught me to dance.

But, I was wrong all those years ago, Papi indeed taught me how to dance. You let the letra, the lyrics, tell your body the story, and then you feel it, not just your feet, but deep inside of you. When you do all that, everyone will look up and notice. Because you have told a story.  And, everyone loves a story.

My story is: Yo Soy Connie!

 

 

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5 thoughts on “On The Streets, They Call Me Iris Chacon

  1. Lesslie Burhans says:

    I loved this essay Connie, I felt I was right there swaying to the rhythm of the music with your dad and aunt. Gorgeous imagery!

    Like

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