where the writers are
Dancing with the Star
Yuichi

Dancing With the Star

Thanks to the efforts of our pal Leslie Levine, Sam and I spend a week each summer as guest presenters at Rancho La Puerta, a rustic spa resort in Tecate, Mexico. Rancho La Puerta is a soothing, health-enhancing refuge, offering an assortment of fitness classes, mountain hikes, yoga, meditation, and an “enrichment” curriculum, which is where we come in. We teach classes about writing and publishing all week—then on Thursday night (because this seems to happen anywhere you find Sam, me, and a piano in the same place) we host a talent show.

A typical day might include an early-morning hike in the shadow of magical Mount Kuchumaa, followed by a stretch class, circuit training, Latin Dance, and Yoga. We love our little private casita, the organic, mostly-vegetarian meals, and the respite from phones and email. Over the years we’ve come to know many of the Ranch’s long-time staff members, who welcome us as old friends.

As you can imagine, most of the Rancho campers are women of a certain age, taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a week toning up and slimming down. Sam says he sometimes feels a little out of place, but I think he looks forward to this week as much as I do. The Rancho La Puerta band (made up of staff members who are also terrific musicians) invites him to sit in on harmonica; he plays ping-pong with the staffers; he enjoys being put in various interesting positions by the cute Yoga instructors. Sam does just fine at Rancho.

My favorite class is “Dancing with Yuichi.”

“Who’s Yuichi?” you might ask. Silly you.

Yuichi Sugiyama is a Los Angeles-based performer and choreographer, a Japanese gentleman of indeterminate age. His dance class, always held on Friday afternoon, is forty-five minutes of Broadway routines, taught without Yuichi speaking a single word of English. (One evening a couple of years ago, Sam and I wandered off the premises to see the Rancho band perform in a club in downtown Tecate. To our surprise, Yuichi was sitting at the next table. We joined him for a night of drinking and conversation, most of it in big smiles and an absurd made-up sign language. The next day, everyone wanted to hear gossip about the dancer’s life—gossip I could not provide, due to the fact that I don’t speak Japanese.)

We enter the gym and clumsily follow Yuichi’s lead as he puts us through our paces: One-two-step-together-step-slide, to recorded music from Chorus Line and other familiar shows. I glance around and see twenty women in sweats and shorts—and one middle-aged white guy (guess who!), huffing and puffing to songs we sort of remember, trying to keep up. And then the magic begins…somehow, by the end of the class we’ve formed a chorus line, dancing in unison to “Hello, Dolly.” I look around the room again. We are still middle-aged women in shorts and sweats, but somehow in the mirror we’ve become the Rockettes, in sparkling top hats, tuxedo jackets and glitter tights, lustrous hair flowing, long legs kicking high. With the sole exception of Sam.

Many visitors to Rancho think the mountain has mystical, magical powers. Others swear by the transformative quality of quiet meditation, the labyrinth in the woods, or the simple pleasures of hot-rock massages.

But my magic happens in the mirror in Yuichi’s dance class, where I—along with everyone else in the room—become graceful, lithe, a dancer.