Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dancing My Heart Out

It took me a long time to admit it but I can finally say that dancing is my first and true love. I realize that part of the difficulty in admitting this is my deep-set insecurity about not being as good as I’d like to be, hence, I can’t make any claims to being a real dancer.

But I’m over that because I figured out that there’s no sense of my being continually frustrated over not having the regular and formal training I could have used to develop, it doesn’t really matter because I never dreamt of being a professional dancer anyway, I just always wanted to be, well, good. And just to keep dancing. It’s interesting that while growing up, despite not having the encouragement from home for me to pursue a hobby, nor the money to pay for non-school related endeavors, I always managed to find an outlet for dance that didn’t cost a dime, save for costumes for performances. Thank goodness for the student-organized cheer dance team in high school and the dance company in college. Then after graduation, when I eventually got this thing called a “job,” I could finally pay for dance classes to my heart’s content. I had a better idea of how I loved to dance when I was still living in Fairfield and used to drive 50 miles all the way to San Francisco on weekends just to receive a couple of classes. I was also fortunate to have found opportunities to perform and even for a short while, be part of a real dance company.

Looking back now, I’m more impressed with myself than sorry for having accomplished a lot in dance despite the little professional training or experience I have. In high school, I was surprised to have been able to learn some new skills despite being, as a dancer, being in the ripe age of 16 years old. In college, I was in the dance company for four whole years and in the last two, was in charge of the dance productions that were staged. These entailed more than just dancing. Then a couple of years ago, I organized a performance hip-hop key group in the church I was attending whose aim was to do fellowship through the common interest of the members. We had a pretty cool performance one New Year’s Eve that not only involved choreography, but a spoken word piece as an introduction and a multi-media presentation that was played during the dance. More than the coolness factor, the whole experience was special to and a breakthrough for me because it was when I realized that God really wants to use my dancing as a way to reach people. “Little ol’ me?” I wondered. “Yes, little ol’ you,” seemed to be God’s response.

Coming to Honduras, I always knew that I was going to keep dancing somehow. However, not in a million years would I have thought that I’d be giving ballet lessons…especially since it’s not my forte, having only received a few years’ worth of instruction and well, it wasn’t my cup of tea. Nonetheless, I’ve maintained my high regard and respect for it being the necessary foundation any real dancer must have. I always consider knowing ballet as being literate in dancing. To cut the long story short, for art´s sake, I eventually succumbed to giving classes back in February, not having a clue what I was getting myself into.

Lo and behold, November 3rd was the first ever performance and recital for Olanchito Ballet, the name which we would eventually call the group I’ve formed. Seven little ballerinas who’ve remained steadfast and committed to learning ballet, the art form that is as esoteric as the concept of punctuality in this country. In the recital, the girls performed ten (count ‘em) short dance pieces, to a combination of classical and Latin folk and Honduran folk songs. This is mind blowing to me because personally, I hate doing choreography with a passion. Let alone, choreograph to classical music, which I have never done, nor would have wanted to do. I always just wanted to be the one learning and dancing. But what was I to do? I found myself in a situation where the only way I could keep on dancing is to be able to be the one to teach it. So I went for the compromise.

I thought I already knew how much I love to dance, but I didn’t know to what extent. Being a teacher truly stretched my limits and brought about another experience I didn’t expect to have: being a parent. Thinking of my students as my own children was the only way for me to survive the classes without any bloodshed (spoken like a true non-mom) or losing my sanity. Sure, it was fun, but it was also like being a full time nanny.

Was it all worth it? Of course, everything looks better in retrospect, having survived the tempest. But I remember the evening of the performance where a good number of people braved the rains to witness what was to be the first ever full-length ballet performance in Olanchito. Days in advance, I tried my best to let go of all control and let the kids come around on their own and be there for them as moral support more than anything. I won’t deny that I felt like a true stage mom the whole time, proud of how all the girls (and two “special participants”) held their own even if it was the first ever performance for the majority of them. Also, I’d have to say that I was proud of myself for having accomplished something like that and overcoming everything that got in my way- my own issues included.

Dancing has also been my refuge as a volunteer. For someone who can barely stop working to rest, dance has been my playtime as much as it has been work. It didn´t matter how frustrated I got, because at the end of the day, I was still dancing. It also has given me my chance to get to know more youth in the community. Twice I was asked by a couple of high school groups to help them out with their cheering competition- and the sucker that I was, I readily agreed not aware of the headaches these two ventures entailed. In the end, I was only able to help them out partially, either they didn’t give me enough time to work with or only half the group was attending and I had to cut my “services” short. In the end, however, Honduran-style, both groups pulled things together last minute and managed to walk away with second place in their respective competitions. Pretty cool.

From all these experiences, I’ve gathered that my most effective and gratifying community work is going to come from doing something I love the most- dancing. My project at the cultural center is on the last stretch and when that is done, I will take advantage of the kids being on vacation and will be giving dance workshops (ballet and hip-hop) to all those willing. I will also be involved in preparing for various art, literary and theater workshops, all part of the project for the center. Art is life indeed.

I haven’t built any wells or roads, but I am helping build a children’s library with a mural and the works; I haven´t saved lives, but I have danced into the lives of people, in one way or another; I once thought that ballet was a part of my past and yet I have started a school here in Olanchito. I´m still a long way from the kind of dancer I´d like to be, but I know that if I can keep doing it, I can only get better. I think I should have faith in my talent the way it has been faithful to me, always giving me opportunities to keep dancing. I guess this little ol’ dancer has nothing to complain about.