Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dance, crossing the cultures


Iliana and Alex’s church met in the building. Owned the building, even. Why the new wing had a suspended floor and full length mirrors was never quite explained. The air conditioning unit worked only sporadically. Still, even dripping from the late afternoon humidity, my body immediately breathed a little between those walls. A dance studio. This was a space I could exist in.
I had been in Bulgaria two and a half full weeks at this point. I was feeling out of place and stiff, traveling to various cities, staying in different beds. My stomach and legs were covered in flea bites from the bed I had stayed in the week before. I felt in the way and burdensome even asking to attend this lesson.
They were going to drop me off at home after the trip to the market. I said I would really rather come watch their Bulgarian folk dance class. Iliana said I could run the sound for them. I said that would be fine.
When we arrived, I met a Bulgarian girl who spoke English with a Texan accent (she picked it up from movies and, inexplicably, a summer she working buses in Long Island). It was her first time at the folk dance lessons. We chatted about places we had traveled and how we really didn’t know about folk dancing. I had only seen it demonstrated once the week before at a camp by several high school girls.
The class was to be a casual one. The normal instructor was on holiday. Of course. It was August after all.
I watched jealously as Iliana introduced the newcomers to stretches. How long it had been since I warmed up in first position! But I diligently hit the play and stop button.
Then Alex said, “You know you can join us.” I said I would love that. She laughed at me. “Why don't you ask for the things you want?”
I joined the class. We skipped and stomped and pranced around the room. It was easy for me. Years of latin footwork were in my feet. I had danced complicated routines that professionals threw at us before. A dance that repeated itself for 6 minutes in a circle? I got this one.
By the end of the evening, I was flushed red and beaming. By the end of the week, I had mastered several of the harder routines that they had learned so far. Alex was thrilled. Iliana smiled approvingly. I couldn’t understand Bulgarian. That didn’t matter. I could dance.

This past weekend, we had an “end of the week” dance party at the golf course across the lake. It was supposed to be a swanky meal. We dressed up. I put on a full face of make up for the first time in several weeks. The music lit me up inside. Apparently, Bulgarian’s really go for latin music. There was merengue and salsa for much of the night. One of the other Fulbrighter’s danced a highspirited merengue to one of my favorite songs, one I used dance with RF at the Lion’s Den in SC. Several other folks invited me to salsa as well.
Then the Bulgarian folk dance came on, one I had learned a complicated form of the week before. I watched the Bulgarians eagerly link hands and start dancing, making sure I knew the steps. I jumped in and started going, shouting out instructions to the other Americans. A lot of them got it! The next time a song came on, I jumped to the head of the line and lead the group around the room. Maria, one of the Fulbright directors, came up to me afterwards, “I didn’t know you could dance folk dance!” The enthusiastic smiles from other strangers confirmed that they were equally impressed.
Bulgarian is hard for me. Languages (in abstract) have always been difficult. Please, let’s not discuss the trauma I sustained in my first junior high French class. But in dance, I find a sigh of relief from this strain of trying to communicate. Words are not necessary.

A smile, music, a few steps on time, and I am part of a whole dinner party, part of a whole country.

And in the same step, I am completely me, nothing left behind.

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