CHARLESTON, W.Va. - If you need to know anything about Filipinos, I'll let my mom sum it up for you: We love to eat and we love to dance.
Get a potluck supper and a good collection of tunes and you've got a party.
For about 40 years now, the Filipino community in Beckley has been gathering for an annual Christmas party that has grown from a few families bringing covered dishes to someone's home, to dozens of them gathered for a catered affair in a convention center.
After supper and cultural entertainment provided by the evening's organizers, all these events end the same way -- dancing until the place closes down.
While the music selection runs the gamut from hip-hop to honky tonk, the good DJs will include what I'll call "ballroom music" -- swing, oldies, Latin and waltz -- in deference to the folks who started this local tradition and are now in their 70s, having come of age on the cusp of bobby socks and the baby boom of the 1950s.
To me, this is the last generation that really knew how to dance. Put on some Glenn Miller, Bill Haley or Perez Prado and they'll skitter out onto the parquet floor as the callow hip-hoppers scurry. There's no room for free-styling here; there is structure involved and you'd better know how to follow it.
They boogie. They cha-cha. They even hustle.
But what separates the pretenders from the contenders comes with some distinct syncopations born in Argentina: one-two-three-four-AND-one, two-three-four.
Only the people who really know what they're doing do the tango.
While a number of my parents' friends are most adept at this challenging step, I've always admired my Aunt Chit and Uncle Ely, members of our extended Beckley family.
It's not enough that they know the step, but it's the manner with which they carried themselves -- confident and regal as Uncle Ely led his wife through their paces with assurance and precision.