I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dance, and I can’t imagine a future where I don’t. Even as I write all that you read I am listening to music and dancing in my seat. When I listen to any sort of music, I find myself physically unable to stay still. Some have tried to chalk it up to hyperactivity, especially in my younger years, but it is truly more than that. Dancing for me is just as important as breathing. Whether it be for one minute or four hours not a day goes by that I have not danced.
My family is from Puerto Rico where the cleaning ritual takes a whole day and is always accompanied by loud music and of course dancing. My first lesson was at my grandmother’s house with my new dance partner – the mop. Moving the mop in large figure eights was very tiring, and by the end my arms did want to fall off. That is when my mom and her sisters finally told me if I moved my hips and back with the music, my arms would not be so tired and mopping would be easier. After having learned the basic step, I moved on to full dances which changed based on the “DJ” of the day. Grandma played music from the 1940s- 1970s, my aunts conquered the 1980s-1990s playlist, and my mother took over the 1980s to today which is how I mastered musicality. The beauty of it all was as we moved from place to place we still had to clean which meant we still were going to be dancing.
As I grew older I found that I became more anxious and full of energy I had to get rid of. I am sure you too can relate to this feeling. It usually begins with the thought of making it through the mess of exams that make up high school. After graduating high school you move into college and through a sudden turn of events or just the calendar, you end up contemplating career choices. I eventually went through all of these, but it wasn’t until college that dance moved from the kitchen to the dance floor where I discovered a new form of meditation.
Those who think of meditation as sitting in silence lost in thought most likely do not understand the thoughts of someone with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). In my case, my mind races constantly from thought to thought building connections and ending up at a million conclusions. This at times can be very helpful, but mostly it becomes tiresome. In college I constantly tried to concentrate on my class materials but found it difficult to focus on the enzymes and their cycles. This of course left me worrying about what my fate was to be in class. When I began going to the campus parties, I found it very relaxing, and I found I did not worry at all about what was going on. Nobody was worried about the exams or papers that haunted their future. There was no last minute cramming of important details to be regurgitated on paper minutes after. All thoughts of academia had been deferred. At the party everyone was enjoying the moment. It was a sensation difficult to resist as the music pulled me to the dance floor where I was enveloped by the crowd. The drum and bass reverberated off my rib cage and massaged my muscles. It soothed me. Dancing with eyes closed I was not bound by time or space. In that moment my future meant nothing, and it didn’t need to. I was a dancer in the DJ’s kinetic orchestra.
That night I slept very well, and the following day I found it easier to concentrate on my class. My thoughts had slowed down and allowed me the chance to process them.
After realizing the effects of dance, I made it my goal to be involved in as many dance groups as possible. I began dancing in the campus hip hop group and in cultural events. My favorite was the cultural events because I had the chance to learn dances from India, Germany, Nepal, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, and many other places. The beauty of it was the chance to learn everything that my body could do, and all my focus was spent on technique. Technique meant a lot for me because I was now sharing stories through body language. These stories were not my own but those of ancient peoples from distant lands. One day I could be learning how to express the story of an Indian goddess through Bharatanatyam making sure my eyes were wide enough to convey her emotion. The next day I could be dancing Eskesta of the Amhara people of Ethiopia moving my shoulder and neck as if they were independent of each other. It was not like my friends would hunt me down if I messed up, but focusing on mastering their traditional dances was a way for me to actually relax, and a way to connect to my friends and show that I cared about them and their history.
You see, there are so many facets to dance that I cannot become bored of it. There are a million styles and billions of steps to be learned. Although the majority of the dances I had done in the past were casual in nature, I now am practicing the more formal ballroom dances. Ballroom still has the meditative qualities I look for, but now it also includes a rush of adrenaline. I know one should not compare ballroom to skydiving but for a moment forget the preconceived notions you may have about it. Imagine yourself in a room full of strangers that are spinning and dipping in a crowded room but never bumping into each other. Now you have been invited to join the beautifully organized chaos in front of you by a stranger you did not even realize was there. How would that make you feel? When it happened to me, my hands were sweating and my eyes darted back and forth from my partner’s face to our feet. I would try my hardest to follow the emotion of the music and relax, but my body refused to listen to me. Instead my body hardened like stone, losing count while the heat rose from my feet all the way to my flushed face. I was a total mess and had more than wished my partner would not be a total gentlemen and end the dance before the song. The experience left my nerves completely frayed, but it was worth it.
Many people are drawn to the tango due to its seductive qualities. The partners exude an intense longing for one another through their gaze. The first day I practiced tango I was not at all a seductress hell bent on getting that man; instead, I was the awkward wallflower whose only longing was for the wall she was leaning on. In a moment I had to get over my insecurity. I learned to stare into my partner’s eyes and take in their features. But overall, I learned to trust my partner and their judgement. As my friend Mark would say, “Some women are not willing to let go of the control, and it makes it very difficult to dance anything with them.” I agree with him because I would have hated to dance with myself in the first few weeks of class. It was not missing the step itself that made the first weeks difficult, but getting over the fact that it was happening inches from someone who depended on my movement. I was constantly aware of the eyes of my partner on me as I frantically searched the walls for the correct steps. I also could feel the imaginary eyes of the dancers I admired watching me dance. I was completely convinced that the woman mid spin had seen me falter and that the man staring at his partner was only doing so to protect himself from my lack of grace. As time went on, I realized it was all in my head and all of these ridiculous ideas were fueled the lack of confidence I had in myself. Here the meditation did not revolve around learning a technique so much as it revolves around becoming comfortable in my skin.
I had to learn to find my strengths and own my awkward movements. Mark actually helped me become more confident by teaching me new steps and explaining my mistakes. I am now completely comfortable in almost any situation, and I am the one to ask the guys to dance.
I think my favorite thing overall about ballroom dancing is neither the theatrics nor the styles, but the fact that it spans various generations. My favorite dance partners are over fifty years older than me yet they move better than any other 20 year old I know. Moving across the dance floor, they exude strength and elegance as they waltz and demonstrate accuracy and precision as they cha-cha along the room. A gentleman in his sixties named Tom even gave me tips as to how to call a partner’s attention in order to ensure dance time. He explained I must wear a color or pattern that makes me stand out from the sea of neutral dresses of the other women. He also suggested that I should look alive and aware of what was happening since an alert partner stands out more than one lost in another world. Dancing has kept Tom and the others young and relevant preventing them from ending up in the forgotten halls of a retirement home. They are the ones that have shown that they truly know how to live and that age is just a number. They have inspired me not only to continue dancing but to attack everything in life with a passion and to do what makes me happy. And can you believe that this all started with my Grandmother’s mop?
Vicky studied Biology/Neuroscience at Jacobs and now is looking for the next step. Making the journey a fun one she tries various jobs and hobbies. She believes humor is the key to survival, and toddlers have all the answers.
Photo Credit: by Loïc Lagarde found on flikr.com