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Article written by Pele Lim, Sep 98..................

"Italy Dancing Mama Mia"  - An Italian summer experience -

Ever wonder how the Italians, famous for their pasta, pizza & Mafia gangs flair in the dancing world?  My honeymoon trip to Italy (15 days) really opened my eyes to the Italian dance world & their intimate private family life which not many foreigners like my husband (Robin Chee) & me got to experience.

We started our tour of Italy from Viennese, moving to southern Italy and by the time we reached Sorrento, it was already the second week of the tour and we were due to stay there for 3 nights.  We were burnt black by the scorching summer sun of daytime temperature 39 degree Celsius, slight humidity, non-air-conditioned rooms which caused nighttime sleeplessness due to the warmth & noise, the many existence shops but not opened for business as the shop owners went for their summer holidays and basically, we were tired of the endless beautiful ruins of Italy. 

Our legs were itching to dance and familiar body muscles felt like fat puddings due to the rich food (fantastic variety of cheese! ).  The Tour Director promised us that the optional excursion titled "Evening Under the Stars" in Sorrento would be what we wanted so we rushed to book it and pay her US$38 (imagine paying this amount in Dynasty for 2 person!) for a night of dancing by the Bay of Naples. 

Later we were told that we could go there by ourselves & actually need only pay for the first drink costing approx. S$15 per person!  The "Evening Under the Stars" event was initially scheduled for the second night but because of Italy's national day, was brought forward to the first night instead.  And lucky for us too as that first night set the chain in motion for the subsequent 2 nights' actions!

First Night in Sorrento
First night in Sorrento, not knowing what the dress code and the kind of dancers nor type of music to expect, Robin put on a short sleeved blue floral shirt & dark business pants while I dressed in a danceable cap-sleeved stripped T-shirt & a floral below the knee flare skirt and we brought along our modern dancing shoes for the event.   Our Tour Director brought us personally to the place called the "Foreigner's Club". 

The place was wonderful as it was a big open piazza overlooking the Bay of Naples, numerous tables (each with a big white parasol) surrounding a central dancing area paved with smoothed stones and a live band playing in a sheltered stage.  We were the only "Chinas" (Chinese) couple in a sea of Caucasians (mostly Italians) but many thought us "Japon" (Japanese).  Throughout the event, we were served first with our choice of liqueur drinks with a piece of cake followed by a bottle of champion and lastly, topping it up with ice-cream.

For the first 15 minutes, we sat listening to the music (most of it in unfamiliar language), observing the dancers (the Italians were in smart casuals) and absorbing the atmosphere.  Plucking up courage, we changed our shoes and went to dance our first waltz and by the second song, we were able to relax & enjoyed ourselves.  Since we mostly danced the socialized International Ballroom style and the others mostly social, several times at the end of a song , Caucasians would come up to us and gave compliments of which we always replied with "Gracias!" (Thanks). 

The Foreigner's Club owner came up to us and offered to put our song requests for the band to sing it.  Our Tour Director was so happy with our dancing ability which she subsequently termed "her 2 famous star attractions in the tour group" that she stayed till 12 midnight with us! 

The Italians love line dancing and the choreography was individually tailored to each song, with multiple parts of the body moving at any one time (head, shoulders, arms, hands, torso, hips, legs and ankles).   Linda, Pele, Sannino, Robin & IllianaThe most famous line dance being "Bum Bum" and the leaders in most of the line dances were Mr Sannino Luigi (a school teacher), Illiana (his wife) and Linda (friend).  

Speaking in sign language & what little Italian we know of, Sannino insisted that we must go to a place called "Kalimera" tomorrow night.  When we replied "No Comprehendo!" (don't understand), he found a waiter to interpret for us in English and even offered us transport there!  Upon certification by our Tour Director & the Foreigner's Club Owner that Sannino was of sound character, we agreed to go.   We reached our hotel by 1am on the first night in Sorrento.

Second Night in Sorrento
The Infamous KalimeraOn the second night in Sorrento, again not knowing the dress code, Robin put on a multi-coloured short-sleeved shirt & I dressed in a sleeveless black short translucent dress.  Sannino & company came right on time at 9:45pm & we were whisked on a never-before-had-it hell ride.  Italy's famous for windy narrow roads with towering stone walls on both sides of the road, perching on top or beside the cliff which only an experienced driver like Sannino can negotiate at high speed with only 6 inches to spare on either of the side view mirrors.  

For a 5 km journey, we reached Kalimera in under 10 minutes!  Wow, it was a very big dance venue with a basement discotheque, an air-conditioned disco cum ballroom and a semi-open-air ballroom.  Each of the dance floor was large enough for ballroom competition.  The entrance fee with first drink was S$15 for man & S$10 for lady which was reasonable considering it was a public holiday.  Our gracious hostesses & other ladies on that night all dressed in long sexy gowns with the appropriate bottom splits for them to do ballroom dancing and I was very self-conscious in my conservative mini-skirt. 

This time round, the dancers were mostly above our Singapore social level and they are mostly senior too.  Most of them were taught to dance with proper hold, body contact & footwork.  Their dance instructor seemed to be the student of a world ballroom champion.  We were so happy to have found the right place and crowd for ballroom dancing that we went for a good work out on the dance floor.  As in the previous night, a number of Italians complimented us on our dancing. 

The Italians love Viennese Waltz, Cha Cha Cha, Tango, Paso Double, Polka, Mazurka, Waltz, Slow Foxtrot and line dancing.  We managed to learn the Mazurka from our host and the Italian's Senior National Champions (modern & latin) who happened to be there that night.  Our host's friend who was very impressed with our dancing, was there and took the opportunity to invite us to attend their family & close friend gathering tomorrow night!  We were ecstatic! We stopped dancing by 2am but did not reach our hotel till 3am this time as Italian goodbyes were an hour long!

Third Night in Sorrento
Holiday Villa's host & hostessOn the third night in Sorrento which was also our last night, I put on a shimmery sliver long gown with bottom side splits, wanting to dress right this time round but was proven wrong again as most of the lady guests dressed in 3-piece suit with wonderful Italian embroidery!   At 9:45pm sharp, Sannino picked us up and put us through a hell ride again but this time, the journey took 15 minutes as the venue was further. 

On reaching, a few expansive cars were already there and we were greeted by the brother of our host & hostess who showed us round their "Holiday Villa" which cost them S$500,000 only!  It was quite a huge unit with 4 bedrooms, tastefully furnished all over with "Fontana" (fountains), sculptures and a large terrace garden with 2 grown full sized trees (15 meters tall) with each terrace corner lighted by several real fire torches.  The garden terrace not only can hold 50 guests comfortably but was also decorated with fabulous furniture, especially the exotic swing.Gigantic swing in terrace  The villa was built along the oldest/first road in Sorrento and they only utilize this Villa for their holiday!Sumptuous 1st course 

When it comes to food, "Mama Mia!"  --  undescribable.  We were told before hand not to eat any dinner but after the 2nd course in the villa, we could not take much of any other succulent delicacy due to our small stomachs.  The host & hostess started the dinner at 10pm, every 20 minutes there would be a fresh course (with various different dishes) being laid out served by waiter & waitresses on fine china crockery with all sorts of wine, hard liqueur and champion being offered at all times.Lavish dessert  The dinner lasted till 2am. 

We were treated like guests of honor and 75% of the time were never left alone as some of the guests would approach us to talk, either in bits of English, Italian, hand signals or body language.  We had a wonderful "conversation" with the Senior National Champions (they were invited too) & managed to pick up some tips in Tango (Italians are intense Tango dancers).Macarina dance  Two-thirds through the dinner, dancing was started & the infamous Macarina was followed by some line-dancing.  

To thank the host & hostess for the evening, the Senior National Champions performed a short Cha Cha Cha routine & we continued with our impromptu performance of our version of Cha Cha Cha too.  Consider the fact that we have danced latin competitively for 6 months but 3 years for modern, the Senior National Champions commented that our Cha Cha Cha was better than theirs but we have a lot more to go for modern dancing!   We managed to learn that their "Maestro" (Dance Instructor) was a student of the Blackpool modern finalist, Augusto. 

At a friendly gesture & nudge from the Senior National Champions, we danced mambo/salsa with the host & hostess for the honor in inviting us, total strangers & foreigners to their private family gathering.  Another important Italian etiquette we learnt that night was to say goodbye with handshakes, lots of hugs, kiss first on the left then the right cheeks and then say "Chaos!".  We reached our hotel at 3am and got up at 6am to start our next leg of tour.

We were greatly touched and promised to return the favour by exchanging our addresses with our various hosts & remind them to give us a ring if they ever visit Singapore.   Such warmth & friendliness from Italians were unexpected especially on a pre-booked tour.  We have never come across such adventure in any of our tours and it really was an eye-opener and the ultimate high light in our honeymoon.    Readers, don't you wish for such encounter too?

Last updated: 18 Sep 98.
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RpMerleon Studios' websites are to keep all dance competitors, ballroom dancers, dance enthusiasts & dance instructors up to date on the ballroom dancing and dancesport scene in Singapore & Asia region. To provide feedback or to publish any news/photos, do post in the Forum or send us an email: dance@rpmerleon.com. Copyright©RpMerleon since 1996 by Robin Chee & Pele Chee-Lim.