By ROLF POTTS
By the time I arrived at the Guacara Taina nightclub, it was just short of midnight. The club was mostly empty, though this is a relative term when the disco in question sits in a huge underground cave that can comfortably fit 2,000 revelers. The subterranean climate proved a cool respite from the smothering June humidity of Santo Domingo, and there was a certain charm in the occasional flutter of bats while waiting in line for the toilet, or the ever-present danger of stumbling over stalagmites while fetching beers. I had been in the Dominican Republic taking dance lessons for just over two weeks, but this was the first time I’d ventured out to try my new skills in public.
The nightclub was spread over several levels as the cave tilted its way under the earth, its various alcoves and pavilions flickering under the colored spotlights. A translucent white-glass bar halfway down seemed to hover above the dim surroundings; I stopped there and ordered a cold bottle of Presidente. About 50 people had gathered around the main dance floor, so I continued my descent and took a seat on the three-tier risers to view a small group of couples grooving to bachata, a melancholy, guitar-driven style of Dominican country music. In theory, a dance floor ringed by gym-style spectator-seating might sound intimidating, but I found it comforting: Shoulder to shoulder with my fellow clubbers, facing inwards, it allowed me to view the dancing as if it were a sporting event, scanning potential dance partners in the measured manner one might use to size up dodge-ball teammates.
Unless you enjoy yelling, it is almost impossible to carry on a conversation in a place like Guacara Taina. Robbed of the ability to charm, ask questions, explain yourself, or tell jokes, you are forced to live in the throbbing, visceral moment. There is no room for intellectualizing or good-natured self-deprecation: To communicate, you have to dance.
After three bachata songs, the DJ switched to the upbeat rhythms of merengue. Finished with my beer and bored at my own indecision, I scanned the risers. I caught the eye of a long-legged woman with black hair and an ironic smile. I stood up and started the long walk to meet her.
Rolf Potts is the author of two books, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There and Vagabonding.