How to Learn to Cumbia

Flash Fiction

Jim Latham


Two latinas smile while dancing How to Learn to Cumbia by Jim Latham | Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash
How to Learn to Cumbia by Jim Latham | Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

Attend a wedding complete with carnitas, micheladas, and fireworks in your friend Rosa’s village. Notice the DJ is playing nothing but cumbias. Ask Rosa to dance. Don’t let on you’re into her. Apologize when you step on her left foot.

Take the hint when Rosa tells you she doesn’t like to dance. Force a smile when she says her cousin Suzy has the hots for you. Drink micheladas with Suzy until she starts to look good.

Ask Suzy to dance. Admit you’re a beginner. Ask for tips. Almost hear the one-two-three beat she counts out. Watch her demonstrate. Left foot back, step in place, right foot back.

Take Suzy into your arms. Step on her right foot. Apologize. Notice (how could you not?) that she’s coming on to you. Notice, too, that her stomach sticks out further than her chest. Dance a bit more even though your heart (not to mention other organs) isn’t into it. Slip away when she goes to the bathroom. Ditch the wedding, head to Rosa’s. Struggle to sleep on the couch.

Next day, Monday, fall asleep on the bus back to your city and ride all the way to the terminal. Summon an Uber. Day-drink tequila until you pass out, wake up Tuesday with a blinding hangover, and teach snotty prep-school kids English.

Heed your students when they say bachata is easier. Google the steps: one two three tap and five six seven tap. Watch the video. Tell yourself you can do it. Fail to match the numbers to the steps. Ask yourself if you have ever in your life seen legs like the ones on the female instructor. (You have not.)

Try again. One two tap, no. One two, hell with it. Sit down and roll a joint. Re-watch the video. Try to decide if the male’s sneakers look like they came from Back to the Future or Twelve Monkeys. Refocus on the woman’s legs. Stand up and try again. One two three fuck shit damn. Sit back down, hit the joint.

Google “how to cumbia.” Read a how-to article. Watch a video. Google some more. Learn that Selena Gomez is not the Selena who only used a first name. That Selena was murdered by a fan. Google pics of her legs.

Give yourself a rousing speech like in sports movies before the great comeback. Emphasize how dancing will help you to better know Mexican culture and meet…