I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
For completely misguided reasons, I never learned how to dance. I mean, I can shake my ass and passably groove at concerts and karaoke nights. But had I not been so obstinate growing up, things might be different. I spent years fending off pleas and arm-tuggings from practically every single member of my salsa-, merengue-, and bachata-adept family. On birthdays, holidays, and at pretty much any random gathering that involved beer, someone would break out the boom box and whip the masses into a hip-swinging frenzy — and I’d always skulk away. As a teenager, I couldn’t handle the idea of moving in even a vaguely sensual way in front of my parents. In retrospect, my awkwardness must have stemmed from some dark, sticky place of self-loathing.
This is how I stupidly opted out of a cherished family activity — and free, convenient instruction for a skill that adult-me would eventually come to regard with burning admiration. But it wasn’t an embarrassing night at the club or pushy relatives that changed my mind. What felt like a slap in the face was watching Colin Farrell (of all people) going at it in Miami Vice. That’s what got me thinking: Why am I not going to the club every damn weekend?
Michael Mann’s 2006 reboot of the classic cop show follows undercover cops Rico (Jaime Foxx) and Sonny (Farrell, sporting a handlebar mustache and greasy, slicked-back blond hair) as they try to infiltrate a cartel and plunge into a world of high-stakes drug trafficking. Contrary to how it may seem, Miami Vice isn’t really about taking down the big bad drug dealers. Like most of Mann’s movies, it has a powerful romantic pulse beneath its meat-headedness. The synchronized, brotherly intimacy of Sonny and Rico’s relationship is exhibit A. Exhibit B is a lot hornier. I knew before watching the film that Farrell and Chinese actress Gong Li played a couple, but knowing the shallow story lines given to most interracial Hollywood pairings, my expectations were low. Suffice it to say I was stunned and elated by their simmering, hot-blooded connection, which registers from the moment they first lock eyes.
They first spot each other during a tense meet and greet with the cartel’s higher-ups. Gong Li plays Isabella, the cartel’s beautiful money launderer, who steps in when her second-in-command rides Sonny too hard. Isabella soon becomes the duo’s main point of contact, and after one business meeting at a sleek beachside villa, Sonny intrepidly chases after her as everyone else leaves.
“In return for the risks we took in recovering your load, allow me to buy you a drink,” he proposes. Isabella whips around, observes a powerboat in the distance, and asks: “How fast does that go?”
Next thing you know, they’re on the boat zipping to Havana — Sonny’s a “fiend for mojitos” and Isabella knows a place for the best ones around. He may be courting the enemy for strategic reasons, but those pretenses quickly dissipate when the two realize just how much they have in common —mojitos, an appetite for danger, and salsa dancing.
At a rooftop bar later that night, Isabella looks out at the flurry of dancing bodies. “You dance?” she asks, more a dare than a question. “I dance,” he shoots back. With a glint of playfulness in her eyes, she nods her head towards the dance floor, rises and leads the way. Eyes and hands locked, they pause to get a feel for the rhythm before launching into the movements in perfect harmony, their hips gyrating, their torsos jiggling. Sonny spins Isabella and catches her with a swinging embrace, their faces practically nose-to-nose as they meld into each other like undulating waves. Who are these people!? I wondered.
Isabella is supposedly Chinese Cuban, so it makes sense that she can hold her own on the dance floor, but what about Sonny? He’s just a white cop who spends most of his time with another dude. Clearly I was in shock. They are, after all, in Miami, the salsa-dancing hotspot of the entire country. And a sizable chunk of Miami Vice does take place at the club — whether it’s the site of a stakeout, a business meeting, or genuine romantic outing. Given all the time he spends scouring clubs with a mojito in hand, Sonny surely must have picked up some moves to woo the babes, to deepen his cover, or maybe just for the sheer fun of it. At the same time, the idea of Irishman Colin Farrell being a skilled Latin–dance partner feels remarkable — but why should I be surprised? At least he had the guts to vibe with the local culture, whereas I had frittered away my chance at greatness.
After such long, quivering stretches of buildup and verbal foreplay, the salsa dancing was just too much for me to handle. And it’s not just a throwaway scene — the camera lingers and orbits around the couple as they twirl and grind like no one’s watching. Eventually they make their way into the bedroom, but seeing Sonny and Isabella dance already feels like an especially naughty type of voyeurism.
And then they do it again. Throwing caution to the wind, they can’t stop themselves from rushing to the dance floor after yet another business meeting at the club. This time, everyone’s watching and it’s plainly obvious that they are not only fucking — they’re also insanely into each other. Let Miami Vice go down in the books as the movie in which vigorous salsa dancing sabotages two star-crossed lovers. One of the cartel leaders observes from behind the scenes and realizes Isabella can’t be trusted, which spins the movie into a thrilling (and mildly confusing) final standoff. Isabella is taken hostage, and Sonny swoops in to rescue her — but he’s outed as a cop in the process.
As for me, salsa dancing has been transformed from an embarrassing family tradition I tried my hardest to avoid to one of my deepest, wildest fantasies. Going out on dates at sterile restaurants or stuffy bars feels incredibly dispassionate when compared with my new fiery ideal. And my family gatherings only deepen the hurt — if I part the sea of dancing relatives crowding my living room, will I find Sonny and Isabella within?
Desperate for more hip-thrusting Colin Farrell, I searched for salsa dancing in his other movies — to no avail. I did, however, spend absurdly long hours poring over a short clip from a Miami Vice featurette that shows Farrell and Li in the process of learning their dance (turns out they rehearsed for three months — that’s some footage I would gladly pay for). I also discovered that Farrell was part of an American line-dancing troupe as a teenager. Dressed in a cowboy hat and a sleeveless denim shirt, baby Colin looks adorable in these photos, but there’s obviously no comparison with the seasoned lover — the absurdly sensual Colin of my dreams.
What a terrible, terrible loser I was not to have realized the thrilling romantic potential of salsa dancing. Have my hips grown stiff to the point of no return? Will I ever meet my Sonny if I can’t figure out how to move them? I tremble at the thought of my gaping relatives crowding around me as I fudge the most basic steps. I’ll need to take classes while shrouded in anonymity — maybe then I’ll show up to the family function prepared to shock everyone with my feisty moves the same way that Colin Farrell shocked me with his.