My First Marriage Proposal
Updated: Feb 13
There was a new lead at the salsa social one Tuesday. He was tall, dark, and handsome, well-dressed, and a fantastic dancer who preferred the Cuban and LA styles of salsa, over the mambo style from New York. This was a rare treat for me, as I prefer dancing on beat 1 over beat 2; and I'm a rather tall follow, who more often than not ends up dancing with salseros as tall as my cleavage. He was innocently charming and very easy to talk to, although his thick accent made him difficult to understand over the loud music.
His name was Ceyone, and he was originally from India, but ran away ten years ago at the age of 26 to escape an arranged marriage, and found himself settling in New Zealand, perfecting his English with a Kiwi accent. He worked in customs, regulating the importation and deportation of crops and plants, and now was in the U.S. on a long holiday to visit his brother-in-law, who was a student at one of the North Carolina universities -- and was also one of the few family members who hadn't cut Ceyone off when he decided to escape the marriage arrangement. While staying in the area, Ceyone was at the mercy of Raleigh's not-so-substantial public transportation, and anyone who'd be willing to give him a lift. To improve my own dancing experience, of course I was willing to help him get to the dance. Myself and Karly, a German blonde salsera bombshell, took turns bringing him to and from the salsa socials.
In the car he'd talk about his job, the culture he'd left behind in India, and his dream of being a Hollywood actor. He even had a short trip to LA booked for later that month, to do a couple of auditions -- casting calls he'd caught wind of on ActorsAccess.com.
"What kind of films have you worked on before?" I asked.
"Oh, none, I've never done any acting before," he replied.
"Have you ever taken a class or had any lessons?"
"No," he said. "It's just been a lifelong dream of mine."
"Well hey -- I have an open call audition coming up for a talent agency that casts in film, and they want to see any and all talents you may have, for marketing purposes. Why don't you come along? I'll email you the application so you can enter, and maybe we can do a salsa number as part of our audition -- they'll never forget that."
"OK, I'll go. I'd like that. Thank you."
I've always had a soft spot for anyone who's not American visiting in the U.S., as I understand how obnoxiously larger-than-life our culture is. I try to show them the ropes of our lifestyle. While I was abroad, I noticed how welcoming and accommodating people are to Americans -- much more so than we are to them when they visit us. To return the favor, I help our foreign guests -- it's fun for me to make their trip just a bit less stressful.
Ceyone flew to LA for a few weeks to do his audition tour, and was sorely missed by the ladies at salsa. Upon his return, he and I were going to work on our interpersonal salsa rapport, since we'd have only two weeks to prepare for the audition. When he showed up again, courtesy of Karly's carpooling, he was rather glum.
"How'd it go?!" I pressed.
"Awful. I never got a callback for a role I wanted. They only wanted to see me play Indian characters. Well I don't want to play Indian roles! I want to be like Brad Pitt and play his roles! And I'm afraid I'm not very good at speaking with an American accent."
"Well I'm sorry to hear that. Were those your first auditions?"
My teacher instincts wanted to be respectful of his pride and encouraging of his aspirations, but sometimes it's very difficult to not sound condescending in light of reality. Honestly, why do people expect anything different from Hollywood? People who succeed there sacrifice their whole lives for it, and spare no expense to obtain the skills needed to do so. No one just walks in and "makes it". It's difficult. If it were easy, believe me, everyone would be a movie star. Genuine success takes basic aptitude, tremendously hard work, and time.
"I see," I said. "Well it's disappointing, but that's the norm, you know. It's very discouraging but it happens to all of us."
"Did you figure out what else you'll present at the audition coming up with the salsa number yet?"
"No. I'm not going to do it. That's it. I'm giving up on my dream."
"You should still do it. No two auditions are alike, and at least this way you'll be on their radar as someone who has multiple talents."
"I'll only do it so you don't have to cut your salsa performance."
"OK. But...I'm pretty sure you still have to fill out the form or you won't be allowed to participate. And I can't really salsa alone."
He rolled his eyes and said, "OK. So we need to find a time to rehearse."
"Oh..." I was caught off guard. We were already at a salsa dance, practicing -- or so I thought. "Are you not able to come to the big dance on Saturday? Need a ride?"
"No, I mean -- yes, I will be at the dance. But I meant time for you and I to rehearse, to put together a routine."
"Oh..." Like I needed anything else on my rotating schedule. But why wasn't improvising good enough? We had fantastic dance chemistry and together made for a very flashy duo. Why would we need to do anything differently? It would only be creating more work. This was a very informal audition as far as dance goes, performing for people who understood little to nothing about partner dancing. Why go through all the effort?
"Let's just continue to get used to dancing together, then pick a song that we both really like," I implored.
"No. If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right," he stated while staring gravely into my eyes.
Clearly I'd bit off more than I was willing to chew. But he seemed like he needed a friend and something to do, so I figured I'd give it a whirl. And so it began...
He took a bus to my neighborhood one evening, and once at my house, he pushed all the furniture to one side, rolled back the rug, and began putting masking tape on the hardwood floor for spike marks.
"This is our dance space," he explained authoritatively. "Salsa is a slot dance, so you automatically follow this line and only step off of it when I lead you."
"But Cuban salsa moves in a cir--"
"We are doing LA style!" he declared. "It's better for showcasing."
I stared blankly. "OK, whatever -- I'll just follow what you lead me through."
I plugged my iTunes into the stereo system.
"No music now," he commanded. "We have moves to learn."
I sized him up incredulously. "You...you don't even want to warm up first?"
"No! We don't have much time."
Are you kidding me? This was absolutely no fun at all. Ceyone felt the need to begin teaching me standard moves from scratch, which was pretty insulting, and he was such a stickler for detail that we never covered much ground. We didn't even have mirrors to see how we were doing, so I'm not certain where he came up with all his criticisms. All the while we were moving in slow motion, with his thick Kiwi-Indian accent counting firmly in my ear, "Whan, tooh, thrdee. Fhife, seex, sehvahn. Whan, tooh, thrdee..."
I know the counts!!! I've been proficient at this dance for at least five years! I can't dance well when you don't even count at a steady tempo! I did my best to keep my discomfort inwardly contained, so as not to insult him.
My saintly patience wore off after two hours of this misery. I had to give my feet a rest and eat some food. I drove him to the dance that night, then avoided him as much as I could.
Later that weekend, there happened to be no salsa dance one night, and Ceyone didn't know what to do with himself. I invited him to my jazz gig at a wine bar, and he opted to take public transportation and walk to get there. He arrived late, a brooding figure in a long trench coat peering out from under his hat. He sat alone at the bar without a smile, hardly even gestured a hello, watched my set for maybe an hour, then left.
Despite my irritation at his Debbie Downer tendencies, I texted him to see if he was alright.
"Yes, fine, I just have a lot on my mind."
"What's going on?"
"Another thing I wanted in the U.S. was an American girlfriend, but I don't know how to talk to American girls."
"Oh...yes, it's intimidating, but I can help you out."
Getting laid probably would do him a world of good -- but if it's anything like his dance "lessons", that would never fly in Western culture. But maybe if he got some, it would make my life easier.
After Sunday's salsa social, we decided to eat at Waffle House before carpooling home.
"So with American girls, you just talk to them like you have nothing to lose. Smile, relax, mention things you notice that you find interesting, or comment on what you have in common," I said over eggs and toast. "If you make it difficult, it'll never work. We like detached confidence, and fun."
"OK," he blinked, then swallowed hash browns. "In my culture in India, where I lived for 26 years, you never talk to girls, unless she's your sister or mother, or unless she's your wife and you have to learn to work together."
Clearly, I thought.
"But I didn't like who my family arranged for me to marry, so I ran away. And it was a huge slight to the bride's family, and it hurt my family's reputation in society. I thought it would be easy, that outside India, women wanted to talk to men and find a husband, but I guess there's more to it than that," he concluded.
"Have you ever had a girlfriend?" I asked gently.
"Oh yes! Twice! They were each dancers, and from Eastern Europe."
"How long was your longest relationship?"
"One month!" he exclaimed proudly. "I lived with her during that time."
"OK..." I searched for something positive to say. One month is your longest relationship from your ten years in Western culture?! "You've done it twice, you can clearly do it again. I'll wing for you."
"Wing for me?"
"Yeah. What you need is a female friend to validate you in front of the woman you are interested in. I'll show her that I'm happy to see you, and it'll demonstrate that you're cool, not creepy or clingy. Then you just be friendly and relaxed, and focused on her. Make a point to make a good impression on her friends, too. I'm an excellent wingman -- I have a 100% success rate."
"Yeah. It might take us a little practice but we'll get you there. You're handsome, intelligent, fun, and clearly hold a decent job, so it's only a matter of time."
"But I'm 36! Don't you think that's too old?"
"That's not old at all...especially not for bachelors in the States. You'll be fine. At Tuesday's dance, you point out someone you're interested in, and we'll give it a try."
Karly drove Ceyone to the dance on Tuesday, and they entered looking rather tense. I said hello to her, and she was curt but not rude, but distanced herself from Ceyone immediately. Ceyone looked frazzled and disappointed, but I decided to keep it positive and not validate his sulking. I gave him some space so he could get a few dances in before we set about this wingmanning business.
After a few songs and a few different partners, I approached Ceyone and said, "So! Anyone pique your interest tonight?"
"Well...no..." he blushed and looked down. "Not really, we don't have to do it..."
He smiled shyly, and paused.
"I love that skirt you're wearing," he said. "It shows off your legs. You should be a tango dancer."
"Aww, thank you..." I said awkwardly as I aggressively flagged down another lead.
A few days later our next rehearsal was scheduled. When Ceyone arrived, he remarked how all the trees in this part of the world are dead, and he wished he understood why. It was the end of February, and the leaves in our deciduous forest climate hadn't yet grown again to mark the beginning of spring. How could he look up at the trees in my yard and tell they weren't healthy at this time of year? I wondered. Horticulturalists must really know what to look for.
He kept talking, then remembered that trees in New Zealand don't shed their leaves for a season, like ours do -- and that explained to him why most of our trees had bare branches -- they weren't actually dead. He seemed embarrassed by his faulty expertise, and his mood dropped again. That boded strongly of another unenjoyable rehearsal.
He rearranged the furniture and peeled back the rug, refused to dance to music, or even to warm up -- again.
"You know the audition is next week and we still haven't selected a song," I stated.
"We will come up with a routine first and then pick a song," he said impatiently.
"That doesn't make any sense!" I challenged him. "We should get used to the song, and get used to dancing with each other so we can illustrate the song better through dancing."
"You have to master these moves first," he declared non-negotiably.
My brain shut down into survival mode right then and there, which turns me into an emotionless follow-robot. Any other sensible person would've told him to leave if he insisted on doing it his way without accepting any input from his partner, but confrontation stuns me every time, and the way I cope is by becoming distracted with introspection while merely going through the motions at hand. And he was still counting in my ear.
We stopped to eat, then I drove him to the dance. I felt no need to grace him with the wingman favor, and I avoided dancing with him whenever possible. But I'd already committed to driving him back to his brother-in-law's.
It was a tense, frosty ride back to where he was staying. He gave me the dancer-obligatory kiss on the cheek goodnight, and climbed the stairwell into the apartment building.
I sighed, alone at last, feet throbbing, ears pounding. I put my car back on the road, and began decompressing by singing softly along with my iPod. When I was halfway home, my phone rang, and it was Ceyone. What could he possibly need now?
"Hello, uh, my brother -- he forgot I was coming home, and he locked the door from the inside so I can't get in with my key. He's not answering his phone and he isn't hearing me knocking on the door. I'm afraid of what his neighbors might think. I don't know what to do!" he spewed.
"Do you need me to come get you?" I asked. "I have a fold-out couch bed you can sleep on."
"Yes, that would be good, thank you."
"OK, I'll see you in 10."
I rolled my eyes. I needed some space from him, but this poor foreigner stranded on his brother-in-law's doorstep in winter was a sad case in need of some help. Fortunately we were both too tired to be talkative on the ride back to my house.
First thing I did once through the front door was unfold the couch and grab a set of sheets. He stood there and watched, with a smile of childish excitement growing on his face.
"Do you need anything...?" I asked quizzically. "A drink? A toothbrush? A towel?"
"All of the above would be nice," he grinned. "Could I have a glass of milk?"
"Sure." I stopped what I was doing and walked into the kitchen. He followed behind me, eyes wide with anticipation. He was becoming visibly aroused. I opened the refrigerator door between us to obstruct my view.
I pushed the filled cup into his hands and dashed away to find a toothbrush and towel. I returned with the supplies and resumed making his bed, standing on the other side of the mattress from him. He stepped closer anyway. Was seeing me executing household chores turning him on? Is this how women seduce men in his culture, by domestically pampering them?
I tossed the freshly covered pillow onto his bed and showed him where the toilet was. Then I turned to give him a quick, impersonal hug goodnight, and he refused to let go.
"Oooh, who's sleeping in there, with you?" He had spotted my king-sized bed over my shoulder.
"My cat," I answered flatly.
"Would you like...company?" he whispered seductively, giggling.
"No. That's why I made you a bed in the living room."
"Oh please, why not?"
"Because I don't like intimacy." In my younger years I had great difficulty rejecting people. What that actually translated to was: "Because I don't want intimacy with you." But I didn't have the heart to tell the truth.
"Intimacy isn't so scary!" he pressed. "There is so much I could teach you, I've been with two women!"
"Yeah...I don't think so." Translation: "I'm not sure you realize that compared to me, you're still a virgin. And I've had more than enough of your 'teaching'."
"But it would be so beautiful!" he continued. (After all, he did originate from the country that brought us the Kamasutra -- I wondered what sex ed was like during his upbringing.) "Don't worry, I won't hurt you. I'll marry you! You can move to New Zealand with me, and you'll be my American woman!"
"Absolutely not." Translation: "My first marriage proposal and you didn't even ASK? I'd love to go to New Zealand but I'll be damned if I have to be cock blocked by YOU for the rest of my life."
He took a step back and leaned against the wall. "All you American girls are the same. I tried with Karly--"
"She's from Germany," I interjected.
"--and it's the same. Actually it's the same in New Zealand too," he admitted. "And I tried what you taught me on you but it didn't work."
"OK, first of all, you can't use the techniques I taught you on me, I can see it coming from a mile away," I started. "And second of all, you have to be able to convince the woman you're after that she's the only one you're after. You can't get all googly-eyed at me in front of Karly, if you decided you're going to try to get with Karly. It won't work!"
I was straightforward that time, nothing lost in translation there.
"Oh," he said dejectedly. "Well, goodnight then."
He turned and shuffled down the hall. I stepped into my room and locked the door behind me.
The next morning he was awkward and sad, and decided to find his own way home.
Later in the week I texted him concerning the audition. I knew he still hadn't filled out the paperwork, and we didn't even have a routine, let alone a track to dance to.
"Hi Ceyone, I'm anxious about the audition coming up. We don't have anything selected or prepared, and it's later this week. If you don't feel confident we can put together something fun in one rehearsal, I don't think we should do it."
"You didn't show any interest in learning the moves, so we don't have a routine," was his response.
If I needed more moves, I have plenty of instructor friends I'd hire for lessons, I glowered. I wouldn't go to you, with your knowledge of this art being equal to mine.
"Then the dance routine is off." I responded. "You're welcome to still attend the audition with me if you're interested, but we won't dance."
"No, I won't come," he texted. Then he continued, "And I don't ever want to speak with you again, you have hurt me very badly."
And I left it at that. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink, as they say.
I drove solo to the audition that week, about an hour away. It turns out they were recruiting for a talent development agency -- one where you pay them to represent you and pitch you for gigs. Sleazy organizations like these are prevalent everywhere, always lurking just beneath the surface of what's well-known in the local industry, preying upon innocent people who are ignorant of the field of entertainment but looking for a way to get started. They offered me a position, I said, "Thanks but no thanks," and drove home.
All that hassle for nothing -- par for the course in the life of a musician.
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