The Latin From Manhattan

She had fibbed to her friends. She told them she was busy, but instead had decided she would venture out solo and go dancing. Guided by her independent spirit, she was determined to have a good time. Excitedly, she chose her outfit carefully. Making sure the padded shoulders of her dress were adjusted properly, the line down the back of each leg was straight as she put on her hose and any scuffs were cleaned off her ankle strap shoes, she then carefully removed the metal clip that crimped and waved her hair in the front ever so slightly.

She barreled down the stairs and called to her mother that she was leaving. As she closed the front door, she smirked when she heard her mother’s usual comment “Don’t forget to walk near the street and not too close to the buildings.” It was July 4, 1948, and a young girl could venture out alone, as long as she remembered to be cautious.

She changed into her dance shoes and then checked her walking shoes and purse into a cubby, receiving a ticket from the coat check girl. As always, she remembered to fold up some money and hide it in the secret compartment of her purse, just in case.

“Do you wan to dunce?” He wasn’t sure why he had faked a Spanish accent. He had entered the army with it and then returned home without it after World War II. What was he thinking? He smiled to think that maybe he was channeling Cèsar Romero, the famous actor that routinely played “Latin Lover” roles.

He had decided to go out alone that night, bored with heading to the same places with the same crowd. He was restless, always eager to try something new. All these thoughts sped through his mind, when just a few seconds later, the beautiful petite blonde, with the soft waves of her shoulder length hair framing her face, turned and with a lovely smile said “Yes!”

They lost count of how many dances they had danced in a row. Known as the most famous dance hall in the world, New York City’s Roseland Ballroom was at its capacity crowd that night, as almost 3000 people glided around the dance floor. According to an article from The New Yorker, “People accustomed to nightclub life often find the atmosphere slightly phantasmal. The ceiling is hung with dark-blue muslin studded with tiny electric bulbs that give a night-sky effect. The room is lit by neon lamps, graduating in shade from deep pink to lemon yellow. In their dim rays, knots of patrons drift to and from the dance floor with a curiously delicate air, fluorescing a bit as they go.”

The marquee featured the word “Roseland” in script, all aglow in white lights. Underneath, the simple caption, “Dance in air cooled comfort,” reminded those fortunate enough to be inside that tonight they would be enjoying a luxury not available in most homes. Finally and most important, tonight’s bands were displayed: Tommy Reynolds and his Orchestra along with Stella Lopez and Her Rumbas.

He bought her a drink, and they sipped slowly and chatted, he captivated by her sweet smile and her spunk and she, intrigued by his swagger and good looks. This time, he spoke without an accent, hoping she wouldn’t notice the change. She did… and years later, they would still laugh about that night.

He asked if he could escort her home, not knowing she lived in West New York, New Jersey. He didn’t care. Being a “city boy,” he didn’t realize she was taking him the long way home via bus, then ferry and then, up the hill to her house. She didn’t want the night to end.

Hours later, returning back to New York, he walked down the middle of the quiet street, humming and dreamily recounting how, when the clock struck midnight on the ferry, she had said it was officially her birthday and how he had asked if he could kiss her on the cheek. It was brazen of him, but he was happy that, once again, she had smiled and said “Yes!”

I smile every time I recount the story of how my parents met and I say “Yes!” – to being independent, to going it alone and to seeking out new adventures. And, when all else fails, to go dancing!

Post Script #1:
The original Roseland Ballroom, located in the theater district at Broadway and 51st Street was demolished in 1956. It was then resurrected on the site of a former indoor ice-skating rink on 52nd Street and finally closed in 2014 to make way for a 62-story luxury apartment building.

Post Script #2:
According to my parents, the photograph that accompanies this post graced the cover of a Latin magazine that was popular in Manhattan at the time. Their copies were lost over time and after intense research, the cover photograph could not be tracked down.

Author’s Note:
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