Bailey Cheetham ’19 reflects on her experience during a traditional Oaxacan & Mexican cooking class and Latin dance lessons.
We arrived at a beautiful brown stone Oaxacan house and all gathered at a long wooden family style lunch table. For the next two days, we were getting ourselves into a traditional Oaxacan & Mexican Cooking Class and a Latin Dance Class called the “Bachata,” neither of which I could do well. A kind young woman comes out with 15 freshly washed aprons for us and we instantly become chefs-in-training. Sam offered to cut up the onions and Sim was selected to make our agua fresca of the day, Agua de Jamaica. It was a Hibiscus Flower beverage that we stirred for 15 minutes and boiled for 30 minutes. After, we drained the remaining flowers and all that was left was a delicious beverage with added sugar and ice.
For food, each of the chef-in-trainings received a tomato, chili pepper, and avocado in order to prepare our own bowl of guacamole and salsa. Onions, lime, and cilantro were also passed around. After the salsa and “guac”, it was time for the empanadas, commonly known as quesadillas. Unexpectedly, Molly and I were chosen to mix and roll the dough to make our main dish. We used this dough to make memelas and empanadas. We made memelas by flattening the small rolled pieces of dough twice and adding quesillo (type of cheese) y flor de calabaza (squash blossom) and closed it on the grill by putting water on its edges. We also cooked memelas by adding asiento de vegetales (vegetables), frijoles (beans) and crema (cream). Although it was a new realm for my taste buds, the finished product was amazing and the chefs-in-training completed their task.
Following the cooking class on Monday, on Tuesday we attended a traditional Latin Dance Class known as the Bachata. We all started out by awkwardly standing at least 5 feet apart from each other in a room with mirrors everywhere we looked, timidly watching the professionals demonstrate. With an “ocho” count, if you will, determining the rhythm of our talent, we were unsure of the afternoon we got ourselves into. Then we were told to find a “pareja” (partner) as we continued to follow the professionals’ lead. However, the atmosphere quickly changed when the mistakes were prominent and we all chose to embrace the frequent dancing errors. Whether it be stepping on Johnny’s foot or completely missing the “seis” count twirl, we were all making these mistakes but that was okay! Even though we didn’t have a perfect dancing pair, although Alexia and Sim were close to it, at the end of the dancing class, laughing and occasional high kicks contributed to our piece’s finished product.
After both of these classes, we had immersed ourselves into two more vital pieces of the Oaxacan culture, cooking and dancing. Prior to Monday and Tuesday, I had not yet mastered these skills. Now, at least I have the confidence to think I have mastered them. We learned how to prepare a traditional Oaxaca meal and perform a Bachata dance in Oaxaca and yet, two weeks lie ahead of us. We couldn’t be more excited!