A Dance Lesson

Maria - Charlotte, North Carolina
Entered on October 22, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I’m standing on a wooden stage covered in a sheet of metal, nailed down with a number of screws, heated by the afternoon sun. My headdress is too tight, the stage is a skillet, and I forgot to introduce the Bolivian dance my dance group was about to perform. But the show must go on. I dance with a smile on my face, as if I don’t feel the pain of scalding metal and splinters digging into my bare feet. And I do it all for one reason, one belief: we must all be proud of our heritage.

Over two years ago I finally decided to join the community dance group my mother and a few friends had established. I’ve always been in the background, working with technicalities, burning CDs for presentations, maintaining costumes, but I finally decided it was time to move to the stage. Not just to perform dances from Latin American countries, but to let others learn of my heritage and where I come from. I have never been much of a performer and the last time I remember dancing in front of any audience was at Founder’s Hall when I was in fifth grade. Our Spanish teacher taught us four steps of salsa and with that we put on a small dance, but this was going to be more strenuous. Immediately, I began to attend practice sessions and learn different dances from my native countries. I practiced to the point I was almost too tired to walk the next day. I wanted to perfect the dances, or at least do my best. The day for my first presentation had arrived and what surprised me the most was that I was not nervous at all, considering I’m pretty bad at public speaking. But for some reason, my nerves were calm enough to let the performance run smoothly. I ended up loving the feeling of being in front of an audience and letting them witness a story of my heritage through something as simple or as complex as a dance.

As the dance group grew and expanded, we started getting invitations to many different events throughout the city. There was even a huge festival in Raleigh where we were invited to perform. Being on stage in front of so many people in a folkloric dress with music blasting through the speakers sends a rush of adrenaline throughout my body and I loved the idea that as I was dancing on that stage, I was also informing, demonstrating, teaching. I was teaching the onlookers about where I come from. I taught about my people, my ancestors, their customs, and beliefs. There are so many people out there who do not know a thing about other cultures and often if they do it tends to be a misconception. That’s why I dance: because I believe in being proud of my heritage.