On a Friday night this month, I was shopping at the Food Emporium on Sixth Avenue in the Village. The store was largely empty, and a group of Hispanic women, cashiers whose checkout counters were free, were joking with a younger colleague as I approached.
“I can’t believe you don’t know the cha-cha,” one said to her. She responded defensively, “It was before my time.”
Impulsively, I chimed in, “I can do the cha-cha!” They all looked at me in astonishment.
“Prove it,” one said, as the group began spontaneously singing Tito Puente’s theme song, “Oye Cómo Va,” clapping the classic five-stroke clave beat. I began doing the steps I’d learned at Catskill hotels and at Latino dance halls in New York in the 1950s. Two of the cashiers started dancing with me as passing pedestrians stared through the supermarket’s windows at the impromptu dance session.
My groceries paid for and bagged, I started dancing out of the store.
“Where did you learn to dance like that?” one shouted to me.
As I exited, I shouted: “Where else? The Palladium.”