Monday, May 17, 2010

A Very Un-American Wedding

"Have you ever been to American wedding?
Where is the vodka, where's marinated herring?
Nothing gets these people going, not even Gypsy Kings
Nobody talks about my Supertheory
of Supereverythings!

So be you Donald Trump
Or be an anarchist
Make sure that your wedding
Doesn't end up like this.

I understand the cultures
Of a different kind
But here word 'celebration'
Just doesn't come to mind."

-- "American Wedding," Gogol Bordello

I am spoiled by Orthodox Jewish weddings, which are marked by copious celebration, complete with skits, costumes, and tricks. The bride and groom -- who are likened to a king and queen for a week after their nuptials -- are seated together on the dance floor, and their wedding guests entertain and delight the couple. Collectively, this is all called "shtick." For example, people dress up in wigs and costumes and write messages on poster boards to the couple, or do magic tricks or gymnastics. My husband and a friend always find empty wine bottles, fill them up with water, clink bottles, and down the "wine" while the couple looks on. Occasionally, some dumb yeshiva [Jewish institution of learning] student will coat his black hat in lighter fluid and set it on fire. That one is not one of my favorite pieces of shtick.

Ironically, I used to dislike shtick: I found it annoying and less-than-classy. I thought that weddings should be tightly-scripted, formal affairs, and that anything with that level of spontaneity was untoward. It took going to several lackluster American-style weddings for me to see the error of my ways. Now matter how joyous, without the shtick, I found them boring, and somewhat soul-less compared to what I'm used to. Gogol Bordello's song "American Wedding," quoted above, captures this perfectly and is worth Googling and listening to if there's a remote chance you'll like a song in the genre Gypsy Punk.

With this in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by my dad's wedding this weekend in Phoenix. My dad loosely affiliates Jewishly, and his wife Maria is a Mexican Catholic, so I was expecting a yawner of a wedding. Luckily for David & me, this was most definitely not an American Wedding, but a Mexican wedding! The ceremony was short and sweet, and took place outside at a beautiful resort in Tempe. We had dinner inside, and then the crowd quickly segregated: Caucasians sitting around drinking, and Latinos on the dance floor. I knew which of these looked more fun, and I was completely determined to enjoy myself. One of the blessings of being so sick is that it has made me want to embrace all of life that I can, and participate fully whenever my body allows it (this is why I went down the water slide -- twice -- at the pool even though it scared me). So I hung out with the Mexicans, who quickly took me on as a protege, showing me how to do the dances, patiently encouraging me when I felt like I had three left feet. Forget pilates, by the way; meringue dancing makes pilates look like a vacation for your core!

The Mexican dances were really cool and most were choreographed group dancing, similar to the Israeli dances I see at Jewish weddings. One of the funniest moments was David and me doing the group dance to "Achy Breaky Heart" in Spanish! I was surprised to see three massive cardboard boxes full of shtick. There were masks, Elvis-style glasses, glow-in-the-dark rods, pulsating rings, Mardi Gras beads, crowns that have jewels that light up, and all matter of maracas (neon and plain)! One of the neatest things about this, and a way that it differs from Jewish weddings, is that much of the shtick was dance specific. For example, in one dance describing the bride/groom as kings and queens, the women put on the tiara-type crown, while the guys wore a more basic one. In one of David's and my favorites, a singer croons that you shouldn't call someone "dear," because of the association between deer and cuckolding. We all wore dear hats for that one (see above; thank you to David, my photographer).

I was grateful that I was able to get David into this, because we ended up both having a fabulous time. Neither of us knows how to dance all that well, but at some point in my adulthood I decided, "F-it. I'm just going to go for it and move to the music, and I don't care how dumb I look." Let's be honest: most amateur dancers look goofy anyway, so I might as well join them and have fun. We had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to make our flight, and planned to stay until 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. Every time we tried to leave, people started chanting "Stay, stay!" in Spanish. How can you leave with that fanfare? We partied until about 12:15 a.m. They went on until 2 a.m., and the partying continues tonight and for a few more days. This is another similarity to Judaism, where couples have seven days of parties thrown for them after their weddings.

So everyone won: the Mexicans were glad that David and I were interested in their culture, my sister laughed so hard she nearly peed herself, and we had a great time and killer workout. In fact, I got the greatest compliment: someone asked Maria, my dad's wife, who the white girl was dancing with the Latin contingent. She said, "Mike's daughter." They said, "Really? She looks like she belongs with you." Awesome.


elanit said...


Steven said...

Nice story about the wedding. I've been to some Orthodox Jewish weddings, including my sisters, but never to a Mexican wedding and would never have suspected the parallels.

Especially good to hear about you dancing. Great. I hope you'll continue.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a really good time. I am reminded of a scene in "Mad Hot Ballroom" where the teacher is working with the kids on the meringue. "Upstairs they are sleep, but downstairs is where the party is". In other words, the dance is all in the lower half!

Stef said...

Awesome, indeed. I'm happy to read you were able to "let go", and sincerely enjoy yourself. That's a great way to live! :)