As I have said before, I am taking dance lessons from a Dominican peer. His name is Amaury and he is full of life and has one of the most awesome personalities of anyone I have met. He also helps me with Spanish and is always good for a laugh. But, besides all of that, he is one of the most amazing and passionate dancers I have met, and an excellent teacher. He is also a very wise individual and is helping to repair my self-confidence with each dance lesson.
For those of you who know me, know that dancing isn’t one of my strongest skills. I enjoy dancing, but do not believe in my abilities or myself (this may also be true in other areas of my life). Dancing for me is often a joke. Something I do to make others laugh. I often find myself apologizing, “oh, sorry, I can’t dance”.
But, lucky for me the Dominican Republic is filled with dancing. Three year olds in the street are dancing; women in the colmados buying the days food are dancing. Music fills the streets and everyone is moving to the beat. In the US young adults go out to “drink” and will occasionally grind up on one another in a hot, sweaty club (not to generalize or anything). But drinking is by far the priority, not dancing. At least in my experience. Here in the DR, you go out to dance. Sure you buy a beer or two and share it with whoever ends up at the table with you, but the goal is to dance, not to drink yourself into a coma. Dancing is what people live for, and everyone knows how to do it. Everyone except me of course.
So, I grew tired of not knowing how to dance. Of feeling like an idiot every time I was out on the dance floor with some hot Dominican man. So when Amaury kindly offered to help me dance if I helped him learn English, I accepted. What the hell, I thought, what do I have to loose?
My first dance lesson was at 5 pm on a Monday. As I walked to Amaury’s house, I began to get nervous. I started to think of excuses of why I couldn’t start the lessons today. I have a headache, I have to work in the home, I am tired. I almost turned around and just went home, wanting to pretend like I forgot. When I arrived at his house, he wasn’t there. I sighed in relief, wrote a quick note on his zinc door (to prove I came and didn’t flake out) and quickly began to leave. Only to run right into him. “Ready for your first class?” he said. Fuck, I thought to myself.
So thus began the dance lessons. I was self-conscious and that was evident. Amaury looked at me square in the eyes and told me “don’t have fear, fear will kill you”. He told me that anyone could dance; they just have to believe in themselves and not be scared. “What are you scared of anyway?” he asked. I didn’t know, looking like an idiot?
For our first dance lesson we started with the Bachata. Bachata music is filled with lyrics of love and heartbreak (a theme I am all too familur with). As he showed me how partners should position their bodies and hold one another. He told me “When you are dancing with somebody, you are sharing your talent. Making art. Your partner must respect you. If he does not give you respect, go and find a new partner.” He told me to not be afraid to demand the respect that I deserved out on the dance floor (and maybe in life too…).
By the end of the hour, I was dancing the Bachata with some confidence and actually having fun. On my way home, I thought about what Amaury had told me about fear and demanding respect from others. I realized that for far too long I have let fear run my life, fear or failure, fear of being alone, fear of being broke and this had lead to me not giving myself or demanding from others, the respect that I deserve. I decided there and then that I would not let fear run my life anymore. I didn’t want fear to be the cause of my death, by any means.
The next dance lesson was the following week. It had been a tough week for me in the DR and I was feeling alone and defeated. I was also feeling old. I began to complain about getting older, wishing I was younger. Amaury’s advice was simple and obvious but helped me immensely, “If you are old in your mind, you are old. You are not old, stop telling yourself that.” Then continued by saying “I am young. I am 23 years old. When people meet me and I tell them how old I am, they say wow, you appear so much younger, I thought you were 16. I tell them I know, thanks. Because I am young. And so are you Sarita, so don’t say that you are old.” That shut me up real fast.
The dance lessons continued and my confidence and abilities were slowly building. We made plans to go out dancing and test out my new skills. After dancing a few bachatas at Los Famosos (an outdoor dance “club”), he congratulated me on how well I had done and said that “no one was staring at you like you didn’t know what you was doing”. Thanks, I think. “Next you can teach me how to Salsa.” I said to him. “Teaching you Salsa…that will be a fight.” He replied, with a smile.
It sure will be a fight, but a fight worth fighting, because I will not be afraid or give up. When I leave this country, I will know how to dance with confidence. “When you go to the states, and you are dancing like a Latina, everyone will ask you, Sara, how did you learn how to dance like that? And you will say, from some poor boy in the Dominican Republic, who has nothing but who loves to dance.” Amaury may live in what most of us would consider a shack with almost no possessions, but he has more then he realizes and he has given me more then he will ever know.
** Amaury Martinez is 23 years old and works at Casa ENED doing both the gardening and working nights with the boys. He also lived in Casa ENED as a teenager after he was found in a run down and abusive boys home in Santo Domingo. Amaury spent most of his child hood on the streets of Santo Domingo, dancing and telling jokes to make his dying mother smile.**