Often female friends or people I meet while traveling, will say that they don’t know how I travel all by myself to other countries – that they’d be too scared to do that on their own. I can’t say that when I travel on my own I’m not nervous, I am, but I refuse to be held back from discovering the world because of fearing of doing it alone. And I suspect a lot of that comes from an experience, in 2002…an experience that was extremely scary but one that made me strong and know that I can stand up for myself, on my own – even when it’s really hard to do so.
To cut a very long story a bit shorter, I decided to take a year off after undergrad before starting grad school and was hired to work at a resort in Mexico to be a part of the “Sports & Entertainment team” with a primary job of teaching fitness classes. 3 days after convocation, I flew to Puerta Vallarta was picked up by new boss, Chava, and driven to Manzanillo where the resort, Karmina Palace, was located. Chava gave me a tour of the resort…a 5 star golf and spa resort that is GORGEOUS. He showed me where all the activities took place (volleyball, mountain biking, aqua aerobics, kayaking, etc) and explained that I would be expected to rotate each day through all the activities and be leading the guests in them. Oh, and the fitness part that he had promised me? Shrugging his shoulders and pointing, he said, “Oh, yeah, well, you could try leading a class at noon down there…”. “Down there” was on the dance stage that was in full sunshine and it was July…in Mexico. Right, perfect conditions to be doing an aerobics class. Red flag #1.
Then I was introduced to the rest of the staff. 2 other Canadian girls, 1 Puerto Rican and the rest Mexican. It was a cool welcoming from the girls (especially the Mexican ones) but the boys were VERY friendly. One of the Canadian girls came up to me and aggresively said, “Do you speak French?”. Her name was Marie-Michele and she was from Quebec city and was a hard core Quebec separatist (believes Quebec should separate from Canada!) – normally someone who I would stay the hell away from…but who, over the next few days and weeks, became my best friend out of survival needs.
By that afternoon, I understood that my job at the resort was not fitness and was not even really Sports…it was Entertainment. My days consisted of 4 hours of dance rehearsal with the team in the “studio” pictured below (that is Marie-Michele leaning against the mirror), 4 hours of playing sports with the guests, and then performing in the evening show and then dancing with the guests in the resort’s bar until at least midnight. 6 days a week. However, if they needed me to dance on my day off, I was required to do so. And I was paid $15 USD per day. PER DAY.
And, because I’m sure you’re wondering, NO, I can’t dance. Never told them I could. What seemed like my first night there (but was probably a few nights in because I actually had to learn the dance) I found myself on a stage, wearing the MOST ridiculous costume ever (see below and yes, laugh as hard as you need to), dancing in front of a soccer coach’s conference with hundreds of Mexican men in attendance.
I was terrified – I had never done anything like this before. And then at the end of the show, the men rushed the stage. I thought I was going to get killed. But it turned out (I need to pause here because this still makes me laugh out loud), they wanted our autographs…especially the white female dancers.
Because this story is so ridiclous, I’m not even really sure how best to tell it so I’m going to divide it into topics:
Dance Practice: we had a choreographer, Gil, who was the MOST flamboyant man I have ever met in my entire life. The first day I walked into the dance studio, he looked at me and said, “You’re fat. You need to lose 20lbs”. I snapped back, “Um, no, I’m Canadian, we need the extra weight to keep us warm”. Gil hated me at the start because I had never taken a dance class in my life, didn’t know any basic dance steps, and because I was “so big”, the boys (and I mean BOYS) struggled to lift me – and yet somehow he had to put me on stage at night. Here’s a pic of two of the guys (Carlos and Antonio) who had to try to lift the giant Canadian girl. Their arms would literally shake and their faces would turn purple! LOL!
Pipsqueaks, really. But every time Gil would lose it on me, he would rage at me in Spanish and when his rant was over I’d calmly say, “Gil, remember, I don’t speak a word of Spanish”. In the end, Gil and I learned to really appreciate each other – I was the only one who would call him on his BS which he respected – he knew he was a Prima Donna in the dance studio.
Performances: There were performances 6 nights a week – the other night our team ran a casino for the guests (try running a black jack table when you don’t really know how to play the game AND you don’t speak the language of the guests!!). The dance costumes were unreal. They were one-size fits all (and we’ve already been over the fact that I did not look like the other girls who were all dancers) and VERY skimpy to begin with. The only costume that wasn’t skimpy was the zebra one that I had to wear on Lion King Night (which was every Saturday). And really, while it fit me the best, it was the one I loathed the most. It was about 95F at night and I KNOW they never washed the costumes. So disgusting.
Ok, get ready to laugh some more. I wish I had pics of all the costumes but this was 2002 – before smartphones and before digital cameras…
I’m second in from the right. Do you see how high up mine goes compared to the other girls?
Again, I’m second in from the right and about 30 seconds after this picture, I would whip off the skirt and top and look like the girl on the far left…except…well, more would be showing on me.
And then the best one EVER. I hated my life. LOL! I literally had to prance across the stage.