Luring la Vida Loca

On The Town | Philippe Schennach | May 2013

From the outside it didn’t look like much – I desperately searched the door for some indication of Latin America. Nothing. Not knowing what to expect, I ventured through the door: Colour! Motion! A delicious sense of raucous enjoyment so seldom sensed in this city swept over me.

The event was held at the OKAZ (Austrian-Arabic Cultural Centre) and the dark wood panelling and large rooms of what seemed like an Altbau apartment gave the impression of a well-organised house party.

An elderly Cuban woman approached me posing several questions – in Spanish. Never having studied this lovely language, I was immediately overwhelmed.

But she quickly adjusted and, in perfect German, pointed the way to the bar and where to get the tacos. I soon realised I was one of only a handful of non-hispanophiles.

As an outsider I stuck out like a sore thumb. Most of the guests seemed to know each other, and greeted one another heartily.

I on the other hand, was promptly seated just outside the performance room, with a few other non Spanish-speaking (and conventional-looking) individuals, commencing the night with a cuba libre and a shot of tequila. Go figure.

As my fellow gringos and I, watched the flow of performers, dressed in intricately embroidered attire, the lure of the vibrant music in the background began to take hold.

The crowd cheered as the dance group Bolivia Linda (beautiful Bolivia) took the stage wearing blousy gold and red crimson costumes. Next, to delight the masses, came the dance group Jeroky Paraguay with a performance of folk dances – including the "Bottle Dance", named for the bottles the dancers balance on their heads, stacking them up, one at a time.

The most experienced was able to tower five bottles on her head and still swish her dress back and forth. This seemed the Paraguayan alternative to teaching posture by balancing a book.

Things started to heat up when a fiery Brazilian Samba dancer excited the crowd. As she started pulling people on stage to join her, my heart stood still. Luckily, I was spared what would surely have been a disaster in the making, but to my astonishment, the innocent bystanders selected learned the dance moves with such swiftness, it could have all been choreographed.

Modern Vienna resurfaced when the police arrived and imposed a hefty fine – apparently some neighbours had complained about the noise levels – which was promptly paid and the party continued on as before.

Many of those organising the event via ASPORA (the Paraguayan Austrian Cultural Community), also doubled as performing artists and sous chefs. The kitchen quickly became another place to socialise and any hesitation about the quality or taste disappeared when the first plate arrived.

As the last performance whirled off, DJ Magic Boy opened the dance floor so everyone could samba away into the night remaining. Even for those practiced in Latin American dance, it was still intimidating to shake a leg with such a great number of professional dancers.

The crowd would cheer and make space, as seasoned hoofers put their talents on display. The party slowly wound down in the early hours of the morning, when the strength to "samba-on" collapsed in exhaustion.

As we teetered onto Gusshausstraße, the warmth from inside quickly melted into a brisk Vienna chill.


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