Twenty heads ranged in a big circle turned towards me silently.
A wiry guy in a white vest sitting on a chair at the head of the circle gave me a mystified glance.
‘You here for the session?’ he asked me in Spanish.
The room was dead silence. I gazed into the pool of hair beads, lip piercings, tattoos. Twenty pairs of eyes stared back. Even for my try-anything nature, this was pushing it.
I nodded as confidently as I could.
‘Er… Yeah,’ I nodded, in my crap Spanish, lowering myself gingerly onto a floor mat. The scuffling of my clothes echoed out over the plywood floor.
Puzzled, the leader continued to glance at me.
‘So you know what this is all about?’ he asked.
‘Er…’ I began to sweat under their gaze, my already fairly crap Spanish melting into incoherence. ‘The thing is - I don’t really speak much…’
I tailed off. They were really staring at me now. I´m fairly used to this whenever I´m forced to open my mouth in public over here. People´s conclusions go in stages. Their initial thoughts form after I´ve said a few words (is he special needs? Does he have a speech defect?) followed fairly quickly with the surmise that I must be from somewhere abroad, as I could see in their look now. Everyone in the room looked positively amazed that a tourist like myself could be so unbelievably hapless as to find themselves at a transcendental dance session. In tourist terms, this wasn’t just getting lost. This was going native, or faking it at any rate. I was transcendally lost.
I was really starting to sweat now.
‘That could be a problem,’ the leader said testily. ‘I mean you need to be able to follow my instructions carefully.’
I swallowed, and nodded. ‘Right.’
‘You see, we´re trying to build an atmosphere of trust here, you see? So that everyone feels comfortable.’
I looked back at him warily. Well you´re not doing much of a good job so far, I thought to myself, but didn’t reply.
I tried to nod diplomatically.
‘It´s just…’ the leader looked at me doubtfully, weighing me up for a few long moments, ‘I´m just not sure you´re going to be able to reallty participate.’
Another guy cleared his throat.
‘Oh, let him do it,’ he chipped in. ‘He looks like a nice guy.’
‘But listen to his Spanish,’ the leader said. ‘I mean, he hardly speaks it.’
The room looked at me sympathetically, as they might look at a small toddler who was struggling with its potty-training.
‘He´s doing his best,’ the other guy.
Other people from the group joined in, and a small democratic discussion developed, concerning exactly how crap my Spanish was. Throughout I lurked shame-facedly like a guilty defendant in court, beginning to wish for a big transcendental hole to come and swallow me up.
Eventually the leader sighed and clicked his knuckles.
‘Oh well, I guess we can give it a go,’ he said. ‘Question is, are you really ready for this? I mean, you do know what this whole thing involves, don’t you?’
My confidence faltered a little.
‘Sure,’ I said, through clenched teeth. ‘I´m ready for anything.’
The leader raised his eyebrows.
‘We´ll see,’ he muttered beneath his breath, but loud enough for me to hear.
He clapped his hands together and switched on a ghettoblaster to his side. A smoochey number by Sade oozed out over the room. Everyone else readily got to their feet like they knew exactly what to do.
‘The first exercise is hugging a partner,’ the leader explained. He looked at me again, solo and partnerless, then looked around the room. His gaze settled on a beefy looking guy in a wifebeater on the shoulder.
‘Ignacio, you can pair up with our newcomer here,’ the leader said.
The guy in a wifebeater gave me a once-over. He looked like he ate a tree for breakfast every morning. Out of people who I´d gladly hug, I reflected, you could fit several thousand on the list before him. You got the feeling he could do press-ups with his face.
He didn’t look like he was in the mood for hugging.
‘Make him feel welcome,’ the leader said, clapping his hands along to Sade. ‘Alright, everyone, let´s go…’