Eloísa Pérez-Lozano grew up bilingual and bicultural in Houston, Texas. She graduated from Iowa State University with her M.S. in journalism and mass communication and her B.S. in psychology. She is a long-distance member of the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City, and a member of the Gulf Coast Poets. A 2016 Best of the Net nominee, her work has been featured in The Texas Observer, Houston Chronicle, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and the Acentos Review, among others.
Another weekend during my internship in Kansas City and my husband can’t come visit me from Ames, Iowa. There’s Latin dancing at a club inside a casino in town and as much as I am aching to dance off the work week, I won’t go alone and risk my safety. Luckily, I have a shy roommate who’d been wanting to get out and change things up so it’s easy to convince her to join me for a girls’ night. I slip on a slinky dress that hugs me where I like, then squeeze into open-toed heels that shape my feet into a feminine, though not super comfortable shape. As my lipstick meets my mouth in the mirror, I think of my husband and conversations we’ve had about my dancing.
Where we come from, Mexican custom dictates that a wife belongs to her husband so she only dances with him and vice versa while every other man keeps a respectful distance. At weddings or quinceañeras, he is her only partner with the exception of cousins, uncles, or any other blood male relative. Since I had never dated any Mexican men before my husband, I wasn’t really aware of this expectation, which initially made me roll my eyes and bristle. “Así son las cosas,” he would tell me, but many seasons of watching “So You Think You Can Dance?” and doing a year and a half of ballroom dancing have enlightened me into a much different perspective: Though it involves a certain degree of proximity and intimacy with your partner, a dance doesn’t have to mean anything more than that.
We arrive at the casino and look for the club, she nervous at the prospect of dealing with the social implications of dancing with men she doesn’t know (and whether or not they’ll ask her to dance) and I excited and buzzing with energy, ready to leave it all on the floor and shake my body with abandon, regardless of whether anyone asks me to.
Even before flouting the “married women should be tame” convention, I’ve always loved expressing myself through dancing, whether it was as the only B-girl in a breakdance routine during Hip-Hop Club in college or whirling around without a partner, but surrounded by girlfriends, on a dance floor on the weekends. And contrary to the idea of “women dancing for attention,” I’ve always danced for myself because physically showing my love for a song represents how it makes me feel and the respect I have for the music. If I attracted any man’s gaze in the process, it was a by-product of my passion and it wasn’t done with malice or the intention of leading anyone on.
The first two guys who ask us to dance are obviously drunk and don’t know what they’re doing, but luckily, the song doesn’t last long. For the sake of being polite, we humor them and suffer through the dragging shuffle that doesn’t remotely resemble a salsa beat. The upside: It’s a good warm-up for her and I start to feel slightly more comfortable in my three-inch heels. Later, the evening picks up, and whether it’s the alcohol-induced buzz or my friend finally letting loose by choice, she finds herself laughing and dancing along to the different salsa, bachata, and merengue beats. As for me, the DJ plays a great mix of songs, including some of my favorites, as the bass thunders through my body and my feet pivot and twist to the rhythm of infectious melodies. As the night goes on, six or seven guys ask me to dance and all of them are capable and helpful partners, making the outing that much more exhilarating and worthwhile for me.
The few times I have gone dancing without my husband for a partner, I am upfront about being married with anyone who is interested in taking me out on the floor. In every instance, my partner has acknowledged my status and offered his hand. We’ve then proceeded to dance, I maintaining a respectful distance and he respecting it as such. In this way, I am respecting my husband by affirming my loyalty to him and I am respecting my partner who knows I’m romantically unavailable and can now erase any sexual expectations he may have had before asking me to join him in a dance. This proves that dancing with other men never means anything more to me than sharing the joy of movement and music with a partner who is hopefully a good leader I can follow. In this way, I don’t see anything wrong with my dancing because my heart always belongs to my husband and there is no pretence between my partner and me.
Finally, after a great couple of hours, my roommate and I decide to call it a night around 1:30am. As we walk out of the club and later out of the casino into the chilly Kansas air in March, I feel the temperature of the sweat on my back crystalize, a tangible reminder of all the energy I’ve spent. As I drive us back to her apartment, we agree that the evening has been rewarding for us both: she was happy to let loose on the dance floor and she gave a guy her number while I have delivered my dance offerings to the DJ gods, stomping and swaying out the stress of the week to the plethora of Latin beats that take my body over.
Even so, I know what is expected of me in the role of a Mexican’s wife and that it casts my behavior through a dirt-stained lens, regardless of my best intentions. When I talk to my husband the day after, we both know that while he logically understands nothing happened except dancing and that he trusts me implicitly, the cloak of cultural custom that he’s grown up with slips a little, provoking a slight emotional chill in him. For this reason, he knows not to ask me who I danced with and I know not to tell him how many men joined me in my euphoric, endorphin-inducing night of self-expression. It’s why I say my roommate and I looked out for each other during a great night of dancing and leave it at that.
Even though I refuse this cultural notion that my actions dictate I’m a wandering woman to be watched, the collective culture doesn’t care about my feelings or intentions and so it claims me without my permission. Because of this, I am a dangerous woman for relishing time spent in the arms of a partner, not my husband, who can lead me in Latin beats that make a home in my heart and awake my soul, energy running through my body and shaking off my shoulders, waist and hips.
I am a dangerous woman for desiring to dance, digging my toes and patriarchal ideas down into the floor with deadly rhythm, knowing I’m true to my husband even if our culture says I’m not.