Another lunchtime, another sandwich and coffee in the park. Horton Plaza, where the sunken space is now strewn with Parisian-style park tables and chairs. It feels oddly underemployed, even though lots of folks are out here snacking, scrolling their iPhones, or writing a paper on their laptops.
But then music pipes up. “Volare!” and one man in black and four ladies in Moulin Rouge-style multi-colored dresses and bright headgear step out in sensible shoes and just start dancing their feet off. Not highly technical ballet, but easy swing stuff that you’d actually like to try yourself.
For a moment, you wonder if it’s one of those secret pop-up dance happenings that became the craze in railroad stations worldwide. But now the ladies are actually encouraging people to leave their laptops and join, with lots of yelps straight out of the Folies Bergère.
“Of course!” says Belle Martin, obviously the principal dancer, when I sidle up to see if anyone can join in. “That’s the whole idea. And anyone can join our troupe. Don’t need experience. I’ll teach them.”
I have to watch it, or one of her arm swings could lay me right out.
She hands me a large card. “Flavor Co. Cultural Dance Fusion.” La Mesa. They do everything from private events to theater shows. Even après race celebrations at Del Mar.
Meanwhile, Belle’s pulling up her skirt in mock flirtation to the suits in the seats who are definitely all watching, and tapping their toes, or at least their fingers along their laptops. And yes, one part of me, too, longs to throw my legs and arms and butt around as they are, in full abandon. A couple of the dancers aren’t spring chickens either.
“Belle gave me back my life,” says Rosa Burger, the one dancing nearest the upside-down skyscrapers painted on the western wall. “They call me Señora Hamburguesa. I’m a retired pharmacy tech. Worked inside, no view, all those years. With Belle, we’re outside, we’re dancing, in front of different live audiences, doing styles from everywhere, and I have learned that you can try something new and daring at my age, and show off your body. I am naturally so shy but once we face an audience, I become this other, sexier, younger, woman. My two sons love it. And we inspire other people. We go to weddings, festivals, rest homes. One place we go to in Rancho San Diego, La Vida Royale, we have a 100-year-old woman who dances from her chair with us. I think we keep her going.”
Then suddenly it’s one o’clock, and Belle’s packing up. Horton Plaza drops its fairy dust and returns to its role as a strangely empty heart of this town. But they’ll be back in a month.
I’ve got one question: can men join?