I can’t dance.
Dance offended me. As a chubby little kid, I used to have weeping fits before, during, and after ballet class. The ballet teacher would just scowl at me and tell me my ass was sticking out all the way out the door and across the street. As a teen, I was embarassed and self-concious about being a Latina with no natural rhythm. Being asked to dance, whether by a cousin whose fancy footwork I couldn’t follow or by my homecomeing date who wanted to bump and grind filled me with dread. In college, I took dance as my PE elective (because it was indoors and didn’t involve homework) and just about flunked out of Jazz-Dance for Dummies.
When I thought of dance, I felt rage. How could someone ask me to move like that, move my body in a way that was so vulnerable, embarssing, unnatural? I thought there was something seriously wrong with me….either that or I was an awkward white boy trapped in a curvy Latina body.
After college, I moved to NYC. One night, at about two am, I met a guy on a street corner (this kind of thing happens in NYC.) He told me he was making a movie, about a forgotten Pagan tribe in Eastern Europe. They were filming in the woods next weekend…it involved dancing around a bonfire, beautiful costumes and beautiful people. They were still looking for dancers. I thought it sounded fantastic, so I told him I was a dancer. Of course I was. He gave me his card. I made the call.
Two days later, I showed up at a bustling Brooklyn apartment-cum-production studio. It was full of impossibly cool actors and producers and make up artists gorgeous costumes–furs, feathers and headdresses. I spent a few minutes waiting, and a few minutes chatting with the producers. I forgot about the dancing part until it was time for my dance audition.
We crawled out the apartment window onto a huge rooftop. It was fall. It was cold. There couldn’t have been stars visible in Brookyln, but I always remember that scene in my head, with stars. The music started. Pulsing, earthy, liquid music. For that one moment, I forgot that I couldn’t dance, and I danced and danced and danced. I don’t remember what I did. I just danced, like I was possessed and nobody was watching but the stars.
When the music stopped, the producer said, that was good. We’d love to have you.
I spent that weekend shooting the River of Copsa Mica, dancing every night around a fire in a forest grove with a tribe of belly dancers and fire spinners and artists.
For three enchanted nights, I danced with them, not missing a step, or a beat, or worrying or thinking, even though I danced barefoot on frozen ground, and was surrounded by professional dancers. I just danced.
I didn’t dance for a long time after that.
(Photo is a still from the River of Copsa Mica.)