When love comes like this. One is not to blame.
Over the years, the few places that had the same focus as Barba Azul have disappeared due to the bad image of promoting abuse of women. I am aware of the problems that affect my country. For this reason, I have created a pact where every night I only pay to dance, drink, and feel the brass of the group that make my whole body vibrate. Cabarets are centers of social coexistence where whatever happens is everyone’s choice and they are part of the culture that defines the social life of Mexico City. For this to ensue, it is necessary that the people in the crowd start moving their shoulders when the güiro of a good cumbia is heard. In order to feel the heat of the dance, you have to squeeze into the crowd to lose yourself in anonymity, even if you don’t know how to dance. Individualism is encouraged; coming alone and practicing voyeurism, recreating a fantasy with someone else, is something that only happens in the social centers of this city. That is part of the emotions that must be experienced.
In the clear night, dressed in stars. The drums sound on the beach in Marbella.
It’s my third dance and my legs are shaking. I move awkwardly. The beer has relaxed my mind but my body is still numb. The most attractive are the most requested. A girl approaches a “fichero” on my table, another comes and pulls his arm. They snatch him away! She, with the ticket outstretched in her hand, looks at me and asks: Shall we dance? The track is filled with “ficheros”, with girls who couldn’t get men and dance with whoever they can find. There are also customers who have just found out that there is a special event and are launched by the “ficheras” that are left over on this day. From the tables the square to dance is tiny. From the dance floor the cabaret looks huge. The pushes, stomps or the sucker who needs four meters to dance are part of the events tonight. And to dance like that, for what? However, we all have the right to move, even if they do it crappy and others adjust to dancing in a square meter. After all, the Mexico City Metro has already trained us to co-exist in small spaces.
Cabarets are centers of social coexistence where whatever happens is everyone’s choice and they are part of the culture that defines the social life of Mexico City.
The girl in turn moves in a daze. I imagine that she doesn’t know much about dancing because she doesn’t know what rhythm I’m moving to; the music has the soft rhythm of a son, however, I do it as if it were a cumbia. I am amateur dancing. I move with ease in street cumbia and salsa, in the rest of styles I’m lousy. However, the things that I have discovered through dancing many hours in a row have allowed me to feel the bodies and adapt myself so that the movement is satisfactory and captivating. Only true dancers handle all the rhythms: bachata, danzón, rock and roll, salsa en línea, Cuban music, cumbia, son, and others. Perhaps the real masters would be offended by my performance of that night. I think that the “ficheros”, more than mastering the styles, should imitate the cabaret “ficheras”. They are the masters of movement and not only control all the musical rhythms, but also adjust to the emotional whims of the clients.
Nurse don’t make me suffer, nurse don’t make me cry.
It’s not very late and a short girl asks me to dance, with a certain alcoholic joy. As we start with the basic movement, I feel an annoyance that makes the unison wiggle difficult. I look down and discover that one foot is shorter than the other. I could have made unnecessary small talk to digest the four minutes of music and finally bring her to her table. But I applied my brief rhythmic tools and managed to accord to her timing. If I had to represent the dance numerically it would be like 1, 2 and ¼, instead of the basic rhythm of 1, 2. At the end of the song she extends her arms over my back and says: thank you.
Coming alone and practicing voyeurism, recreating a fantasy with someone else, is something that only happens in the social centers of this city. That is part of the emotions that must be experienced.
I return to the table. There is no beer. I had done four dances without a break. I see the jefe of the event and ask him to hydrate us again. I take the opportunity to go up to the toilet and on the way, I gave clumsy looks to pull some clients. The bathroom is located upstairs. In its heyday, the Barba Azul occupied the first floor with music and dancing, now it is a floor that looks like black work with a permanent photographic exhibition of women and musicians who have been part of the historical cast of nightlife in the Obrera neighborhood. At the entrance there is a man who has been attending the “miaderos” for more than thirty years. Every night he corrects the hygiene of old and worn tiles, leaving an itch in the air due to the excess of chlorine. Don Jesús cleans the puddles that drunks leave outside the urinals, with a worn-out old cleaning rag. He comes muttering a soliloquy to the vomit spilling out of the toilet. He hands me some squares of paper to dry my hands. Now we are friends. I’ve earned his friendship with twenty pesos every time I go to the cabaret. Before I started leaving him this obligatory tip, his stalking manner made it easier to avoid the urinals. But now, he trusts me and even tells me that he had countless sexual encounters. Some for money and others for pure pleasure. The tan man with white hair moves to simulate the coitus act to exemplify the scene in which I find myself, whilst I adjust my shirt. I return to the table. The thirst is strong and I drink a beer in one go. At the end of the drink my body matches the ethyl state of my body. I looked at the boss and I thank him for the bucket of chelas.
I’m not sad, it’s not my crying. It’s the cigarette smoke that makes me cry.
Carlos is the one who organizes the “ficheros”. After I applied to the announcement posted on Facebook, he called me on a Thursday to do a casting. It was a night like any other at the Barba Azul, but with many girls sitting at the same table, gathered for the selection of “ficheros”. They had the task of evaluating some skills of the volunteers. The difficult task is to determine if the participant’s performance was adequate: they took into account poise, elegance, attitude, and the most complicated one, friendly and seductive treatment. I think that in the first two I exceeded expectations, but the attitude examination left me with a gap of ambiguity for understanding what the most appropriate one would be, since seductive treatment in dance seems exaggerated to me because it minimizes the footwork movements. However, I am willing to put into practice my acting exercises, in order to achieve something tonight. So, I danced with all the girls. I would like to say that I did great with all of them, but that would be a ridiculous lie. I had stumbles and rhythmic inconsistencies because not all girls dance the same way and each one looks for something different from the act with men. Some men stick to the women’s body to feel their breasts and place their penis in their crotch. There are others who take advantage of the turns to touch the breasts or buttocks with their hands to “taste” a woman’s body while she dances. This practice is similar to the uncomfortable rubbing that happens on public transport. But, it seems that for some that is important in the dance to get a ten in the casting. Now it’s the turn of a radiant brunette girl, she takes me by the hand and dances the whole song her way. I guess I failed that test, because I couldn’t flow in the dance and I felt embarrassed for being so close to her, because we did the whole song together like in the video for Kaoma: Lambada.
I have found dances in Alameda, La Merced and other corners of some neighborhoods. However, nothing like the Barba Azul.
I urgently need a person who lulls me in their arms, to whom to tell about my triumphs and failures, who understands me and who removes me from suffering.
A friend raises her hand and I come over to say hello to the table. She had arrived with reinforcements. She introduces me to her mother and her aunts. I explain the dynamics and return to my table. A white woman moves on the dance floor. Her movements are very marked, and she stands out among the chaos of the track because of her height. Line salsa is her strongest skill. Her rhythm intimidates me because she dances with the boys who touch her neck, put their hands in her hair and do a breaker when the song ends. She had danced with everyone. The following song she asks me to dance and my mind does not react to the choreographic demands of the foreigner. We say thank you in a polite way and I return to my place. I had lost in my territory to a 1.90-meter blonde, like in the 1838 cake war, because I didn’t learn the moves in a dance academy. After a few songs the aunts take me out to dance. With them I recover from the chips lost to attractive guys. I dance with all of them, and they tell me that the “ficheros” somehow avoid them because they prefer to dance with the younger women. For me, that was an advantage because they danced the way I had learned. When I danced with my friend’s mother, it reminded me of when at a dance in elementary school, my partner did not show up and my Spanish teacher, who I liked very much, came to my rescue and danced with me throughout the festival.
Bartender from Cuba Cuba, Cuba. He only drinks aguardiente to forget.
Without realizing it, I was already drunk. It was past two in the morning and we hadn’t stopped dancing. The jefe gives us a sign that we have finished our humanistic work. The “ficheros” lose posture and migrate to other tables. I drink the last beer I have left. I remain alone in the red chair, perceiving how my body suffers the ravages of the dance. I lengthen the pause waiting for someone to come rescue me, buy me a drink or sit me down at their table. Someone who has forgotten to dance with me. Someone should take advantage, since I’m not going to charge because I don’t work here.
* * * * *
It is February 2022. I have found dances in Alameda, La Merced and other corners of some neighborhoods. However, nothing like the Barba Azul. I write to Carlos asking for some information that could manage to appease my desire.
MEXICO CITY 1980. Graduated in Literary Creation from the Autonomous University of Mexico City, UACM. He writes chronicles and reports. He has been practicing photojournalism since 2008. He has obtained several awards in photographic and literary contests. In 2017 he obtained the PRENDE scholarship from the Universidad Ibero. He received an honorable mention at the Puebla de los Angeles Biennial. He has published in magazines in Spain, Austria, the United States and Mexico.