In the mornings at Los Martincitos senior center, before desayuno (breakfast), and before the oraciones (prayers) that precede desayuno, the abuelos must do their exercises. It is important for the seniors in the program to loosen up their muscles and joints, and to get their blood flowing. They do this to dance music, and the exercises are led by an incredibly limber older staff member named Raul. After a week of working here, it became obvious to me that the only three songs they had in their warm-up repertoire were the Macarena, the Conga and the Hokey Pokey. I am astounded at the fact that I have done the Hokey Pokey more times in the past four weeks than I did during my entire childhood. (This is not something I had anticipated doing much of while in a foreign country.)
My fellow voluntario Quinn and I decided one day that we simply could not go on any longer sticking our right arm in, and then out, and shaking it all about, so we decided to choreograph our own exercise routine for the abuelos. Quinn thought that “YMCA” would be the perfect song for the abuelos to get down to. However, since we had no means by which to obtain the song and play it on the ancient boom box they use at the senior center, we had to settle for one of the three songs they already had. So, one morning, after practicing our routine the night before (we took this very seriously up until we actually had to do it), we asked permission to lead morning exercises.
Upon hearing the first few notes of the Macarena, we promptly forgot everything we had prepared for our big debut. We managed to fake it, though, with each of us taking turns leading dance moves that incorporated various body parts. Our rendition of the “twist” was extremely well received, and it was hard for us to keep straight faces while watching the elderly abuelos try to gyrate their hips, something that most of them were clearly doing for the first time in their lives. Apparently, our “non-routine” was a hit, based on the applause we got after the song was over. I always knew that those aerobics classes I took last century would come in handy someday!