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Nadine KnowS

I’ve got a story for you

 Back to Nadine Knows

I happened to be in San Francisco visiting family and friends this weekend. Those of you who know me, know that I’m from SF and I first learned how to salsa in The City.  Every chance I have to return to SF, I make sure I pack in plenty of dancing.  This trip was different, though.  I flew into SF overwhelmed with thoughts of potentially seeing my grandparents for the first time since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.  I was also excited to be meeting up with old college friends who’d returned to SF after years at med school or working in the East coast or overseas.  I knew that on this trip, I would be seeing some of the special people who made an impact on my life.

So, I had no plans to go out dancing - at least no DEFINITE plans. On the last day of my visit, I told my friend Theresa, a salsa convert (yes, I am proud to have introduced my childhood friend to the world of salsa), to call me after she got back from her open water swim and 18 mile running event. (I am not kidding. She’s a bio-tech chica who is training to be an Ironman with the Leukemia society.)  I’d be hanging out with our mutual friend Irwin, whom I’ve known since we were about 4 years old. He recently returned to SF to start his medical residency. Later that afternoon…

“Hey Nadine. I’m back now. What are you and Irwin up to?”

“Hi Theresa! He’s on the other line. We’re about to head out for dinner. Let’s all three go!”

“Do you still want to dance tonight? If so, then I’d like to take a power nap. You two have dinner and call me later, ok?” 

“Ok. Bye.” Click. “Hey, Irwin, that was Theresa. She’s too tired to come out for dinner.”

Crushed. “What? Why?”

“Well, you know. She practically swam across the Bay and ran a marathon this morning.”

“She’s a booger,” said my bleary-eyed surgery-anesthesiology resident friend who just finished an 18-hour shift of being on-call at the hospital.

“Ok, you tell her that. Then come by and pick me up.”

“I will. Ok. Bye.”


Two minutes later.

“Hello, Nadine?”

“Yeah? I thought you were on your way?”

“Yeah. Theresa’s coming. I got her to come. Heh heh.”

After dinner, Irwin dropped us off at Theresa’s, where we yacked and procrastinated getting ready for the night. Bushed as both of us were, we couldn’t believe we still wanted to drive across the Bay Bridge to dance at Allegro’s.  But, it was THE place to be on Sunday nights. We decided to go super-casual. I’m talking athletic gear and dance sneakers. “They’re not gonna let you in dressed like that,” Armando said over the cell-phone. “Hmmm…maybe you’re right,” I responded. “But then again, you just want me to change and drive way over to your salsa club at the Concord Sheraton.”

Nevertheless, I went for a more dramatic look. Theresa, who also happens to be a make-up artist, went all-out on my eyes.  Would they let in two ladies in athletic gear if one had dramatic eyes? We would soon see. In the middle of the make-up session, Theresa’s friend Frank called and wanted to know if she was going out. He offered to come by and pick us up. Frank arrived just as Theresa put the finishing touches on my eyes.  Off we went, unbedecked except for a pair of bedazzling eyes.

At Allegro’s Ballroom, the throngs of people were spilling out the entrance to escape for a breath of cool air. This is a beautiful Sunday night salsa spot. You will find a variety of dancers there - from Newbies to professionals. Nobody is considered underdressed. Nobody is considered overdressed. The wooden dance floor is spacious, just slightly smaller than the floor in Century Ballroom. Two adjacent rooms are also available for practicing. Mirrors along the walls of all rooms let you sneak peaks of yourself while dancing. The lighting is excellent, and there are no annoying strobe lights to blind one on the floor. Free water, ice-cold punch, and snacks also keep up the energy of the dancers. Music selection is composed of an abundance of salsa, with cha cha and meringues thrown in for a break.

After a series of salsas, I stepped to the side of the floor for a needed rest. As the sounds of a merengue started up, a person I hadn’t yet danced with approached me, asking, “Would you like to dance a merengue?”  Those who read my column know that I rarely turn down a first dance. “Sure,” and I headed back out onto the dance floor.

As we began to dance, he asked, “Is your name ‘Nadine’?”

Puzzled as to how this stranger knew my name, I looked up at his face, arched my eyebrows, and answered affirmatively, “Yes? … How do you know? Have we met before?” I searched for any sign of recognition. I like to think that I remember faces of people to whom I’ve been introduced.  Yet at the same time, I tend not to look directly at faces when I’m dancing with strangers or people I’m not that comfortable with.

A big smile spread over his face. “I’ve got a story for you.

He led me deftly into advanced-intermediate moves and started in on his story. “Do you remember a night some time ago at Café Cocomo? You had just walked off the dance floor and happened to be standing by where my friends and I were standing. I complimented you on your dancing and bashfully told you it was my first night out dancing and if I knew how to, I’d be asking you for a dance. You told me to come ask you for a dance when a merengue came on.”

A hazy memory began to form in my mind as we continued to step-step-step to the merengue pulse.

“Well, a little later on, they played a merengue, and I asked you to dance. (Uh oh, memory lapse. Maybe I asked him to dance…) You told me to just march in place and let you do everything. I had so much fun! When the song was over, I was grinning from ear to ear. I walked off that dance floor euphoric. My coworkers teased me at work. But it didn’t matter. That dance motivated me to go out and take salsa lessons. I promised myself that if I ever saw you again, I would remember your name, and personally thank you! I can’t believe I finally ran into you again. Thank you!”

Midway through his story, I remembered the exact night he recounted. It was in April.  I had taken out my friend Vivian to Cocomo’s for the first time. (Theresa happened to be in Japan at the time.) I was speechless.

Sometimes you don’t realize the impact you can have on another person. It was a perfect way to end this weekend trip to SF. Thank you for the dance and the story, John.


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