Dance on, little sister….

If you didn’t know that there was a Puerto Rican restaurant in the worn building tucked between a highway and a tired strip mall in a working class neighborhood, you’d drive right by.

Most days, Antojitos does a steady business for lunch and dinner.  One Saturday night a month, they close to host a private party – reservations only.  Fabulous buffet dinner for $20.  Since it’s a private party?  Bring your own drinks.

The magic starts when the music begins.  Members of a regional salsa band consider it a ‘jam’.  They have friends, and other musicians drop in whenever possible.  Sometimes a small subset of the band gets going.  Other nights?  The small storefront is packed solid with a full horn section, percussion, keyboard and guitars.

At some point during the evening, you are no longer in a nearly invisible restaurant in a smallish town in the Midwest – you forget all that.  You’re in Old San Juan, or some cheerful dive in Central America, or in Little Havana….

Last weekend, i joined friends to celebrate a birthday at Antojitos.  Some had been to “Salsa Night” before, but for a few it was a first time.  It was a good night to be baptized.  Full horn section in the house, with guest artists from a local high school jazz band. My guitar teacher, and her husband, were there as well.  Almost two dozen musicians!

The place was packed!  Our group of 20 crammed two tables at the front of the restaurant.  Another 50 people were packed in – tables so close together we were nearly sitting on top of each other!

Getting our fill of the amazing food at the buffet, our attention turned to a matter of tremendous importance — making room for a dance floor!  We helped tear down two large tables, and rearrange to clear some space in the middle of the room.

The music started.  The magic happened.  Couples hopped up to dance.  Young children joined on percussion instruments.  Joy, laughter, music!  All ages in the house – including multi-generational families.

And so it went… music, dance, drinks, laughter.

By midnight, the crowd had thinned out a bit, but the dancers had kicked up the energy to fill the space.  Returning from the restroom, i was stopped by a young girl.  Maybe 10 years old…

“I like the way you dance.”

Confident and direct, this was completely unexpected!  i mentioned that she seemed to be pretty good on the percussion instruments, too!  i thanked her, and returned to the dance floor.

As the band kicked into the last song of the night, i was standing by a wall, deciding if i had one more in me.  My young friend stepped up, took my hand and led me out to the floor.  The kid had salsa moves!  Executing steps and turns with confidence and grace, she threw it down – and i had to work to keep up!

dance li'l sister

This was taken earlier in the night, but that’s my girl in the light blue shirt.  She’s got it goin’ on…

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25 thoughts on “Dance on, little sister….

    • i’m sure she’s grown up with music and dance. Every time we go, there are always a few kids, and even babies, hanging out with family. As for keeping up? i’m doing better – i even did it in 3″ heels!

  1. What a lovely story. Let us hope that as she “matures” the world and those with their own egos to massage don’t knock all the talent and confidence out of that young lady

    • We can hope. i went the other way – a terribly shy kid, as the world knocked me down, i eventually figured out that i didn’t have to take it, and learned to shake it off! She’s a gem…

  2. You don’t have to tell me how stupid this sounds. I already know.

    Who knew there was a Latino contingency where you live?! I thought it was all Wonder Bread.

    A girl with big, brass cojones. Just like someone else I know…

    • Not an entirely stupid question, but typical for folks who still consider us “flyover” (even though you used to LIVE in this state, my dear!).

      My little town has made national news for welcoming immigrants! We have a thriving Hispanic community, and the Turkish community is starting to really dig in and reclaim a few neighborhoods! The world is flat, and getting flatter!

  3. Boy, I’m jealous of your community! No live music in this town except the gospel/country group of Old Boys who play monthly at the VFW…

    Love the story of your young partner/percussionist. Maybe someday we’ll be hearing about her and her career.

    • We’re lucky to have a vibrant music scene. Arts, too… The town is just big enough to support a good variety, but small enough that you can still get up close and personal. Since i started going to clubs and festivals, i’ve lost interest in attending mega-star concerts… i’d rather hang out at a hole-in-the-wall, listening to a local band, than see The Rolling Stones in a stadium, getting a nosebleed!

  4. I love finding little local gems like this!
    When I lived in St. Cloud, FL, every Sat night you could find a whole bunch of locals camped out in the parking lot of a fantastic bbq joint playing all kinds of country/bluegrass music.
    No “set” …. just start playing your choice of instrument and singing.
    Inevitably, dancing would happen as well.
    It was a blast!

    This girl sounds like she’s well on her way to being a future force to be reckoned with!

    Something about food, music and dancing has such a magical way of bringing people together …. I love it! 😀

    • Outdoor jam in a parking lot? With barbeque? Sounds like heaven to me! Although i’m not a huge fan of bluegrass, i’ve recently grown to appreciate it a bit more. Love me some classic country, too.

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