Salsa in the City: Santo Domingo Rises from Ruins

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Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order. – Samuel Beckett

For those wanting the ultimate Dominican experience, check out Las Ruinas in Santo Domingo where every Sunday night locals gather to dance merengue, bachata (both invented here) and salsa—the world dance popular from Asia to Africa to Australia.

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Setup before the party explodes

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I love hearing Latin music played daily in taxis, groceries, and restaurants and hearing it played live in the Colonial Zone feels like home. When in Nashville I danced weekly—sometimes biweekly—with people bonded by a shared passion for dance and music. From Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama, Canada, Spain, India, France, Ethiopia, Syria, and Jordan, strangers became friends and made my life richer by teaching me about cuisine, art, and celebrations from around the globe.  Dancing has always brought me pure joy and freedom. It makes me feel alive.

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Las Ruinas is also symbolic of the spirit of the Dominican people. Flanked by food trucks and under bright, colorful lights, Las Ruinas is a backdrop to a sea of laughing faces and twirling bodies. It is a testimony to tenacity.   Formerly called The Monastery of San Franciso and built by Nicolas de Ovando in 1508, this first monastery of the New World has been battered by nature and war. First it was stormed by a hurricane, then sacked by Francis Drake. In 1673 and 1751 it was shaken by two earthquakes. French troops collapsed its ceiling by placing artillery on its roof and Cyclone San Zenon in 1930  destroyed much of the building.  In 1940 it was converted into an asylum.

Today Las Ruinas is the site of the biggest dance party on the island. The days when Dictator Rafael Trujillo censored bachata are gone and now friends and families gather to sing and see older couples show young ones how it’s done. The weekly ritual is a reminder that despite daunting times the human spirit can rise from ruins.  Together we can celebrate and dance on.

Love’s Eternal Summer

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Today is the 2nd Wedding Anniversary of  my friends, Monica and Alessandro.  I Skyped with Moni this morning—they now live in Vigo, Spain– and neither of us could believe that two years have passed since the day they said “I Do.”

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I met them in Nashville:  Alessandro at the first-ever Mad Donna’s salsa night five years ago and Monica a couple of years later at a birthday party at a restaurant on Old Hickory. We learned we lived and taught high school in the Donelson area.   We bonded over hikes on the greenway where we walked miles in each other’s shoes.  I found this journal entry I wrote two years ago:

Today I was the sole witness of the wedding of soul mates— Monica from Spain and Alessandro from El Salvador.  Sprinting to deliver the bridal bouquet, I forgot money for the courthouse garage. Though I fancy myself Ms. Salsa in the City, I couldn’t handle Carrie Bradshaw heels in Nashville heat.  My feet swelled, then blistered.  After the ceremony, I leapt, then limped, across sizzling sidewalks barefoot — shady spot to shady spot– to Regions to withdraw the ransom for my car.

No matter.  Tonight I’m still smiling at the beauty of simplicity.   I was honored to see them stand before the Justice-of-the-Peace.  Though their wedding costs were minimal, the way they looked at each other as they exchanged vows and treat each other daily makes the couple one of the richest I know.

Monica returned to Spain three times after I met her—when her father died, when her teaching visa expired, when her holiday visa expired.  Despite the miles that separated her and Ale, their relationship grew even stronger.  Two years after they married, I still hope to have  what they have.  Love.  Fun.  An ease that comes from respecting each other and enjoying “the life.”

Though Skype keeps us connected, I miss my walks and talks with Moni by the Stones River.  We gave them a send-off which was bearable only because I plan to visit and, more importantly, they have each other.  I will miss them both at Mad Donna’s 5th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday—the place they met.  But I remembered just last month when we were all three at Summer Solstice parties—me on a farm in Tennessee and them at bond fires on the beach—that we were welcoming summer under the same moon.

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Salsa at Mad D’s…where the Happy Couple and so many of us met.