This weekend was HonkTX, a marching and brass band festival in Austin. I'll talk more about that later. But, an experience at the show on Friday night at the Snack Bar got me thinking about an important lesson I've learned the hard way.
I am not a dancer, and pre-Peace Corps, anal-retentive Sara did not dance. Period. I wasn't born that way. I have distinct memories of blasting Amy Grant on the boom box in the backyard and creating my own imaginary music videos that involved a hair brush microphone and props such as a kiddie pool, bubbles, and a beach towel. But somewhere along the lines, I not only lost that inhibition, but I gained significant hibition (which, it turns out, is not a word).
I went to prom my junior year of high school and took Jenga with me. I had learned that no likes someone who is not dancing when everyone else is. They try to drag you on to the dance floor. They think you just need a little encouragement and then you will have just as much fun as they are having. They don't realize you're not going to have fun. You are going to hate every single moment that you are there. Not only are you under the impression that everyone will be looking at you and judging you, thanks to your dramatic fight against joining the dance floor, everyone is in fact staring at you by this point.
Proof of Jenga at prom. And also that my friends and I weren't too into bright colors.
So I brought Jenga. Now I had an excuse for not dancing.
The start of the change for me was the Peace Corps. Samoans (and as I later discovered many other cultures) are all about some dance (more so then say conservative Midwesterners). I couldn't not dance and still show any sort of appropriate gratitude and understanding towards my host community. But I could do it as little and as grudgingly as possible.
The Peace Corps didn't cure me entirely. I remember one night out at an Apia club. I was sitting by the bar, the other PCVs were shaking it on the dance floor, and a drunken Tim decided I should join the fun. First he asked, then he cajoled, and then he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me off my chair. I refused, I insisted, and finally I screamed "For christ sake, leave me the fuck alone." I immediately felt bad, and I could tell, so did Tim.
Dancers just didn't understand the overwhelming sense of dread and the debilitating anxiety non-dancers felt at the mere thought of dancing. For them, dancing is a fun stress reliever. For me it was a thousand little deaths.
But the Peace Corps did loosen me up considerably (just review Cale's blog entry on things that have changed with Sara in Samoa). Post Peace Corps, Cale and I continued to travel, and I soon realized that no matter where I went, people were going to want me to dance with them. AND as they were dragging me to the dance floor, they were trying to show me that they wanted me to have fun, that they weren't trying to make my life miserable.
And so, I started to make a conscious effort to dance, even when I didn't want to. When I took students to Kenya and we were going on site visits, I told them at some point, there is going to be dancing and you just have to go with it. And, I went with it too.
What's fun about choosing to dance because it really is the easier option and it is culturally appropriate, is that you discover that becoming comfortable with dancing can be learned. I started dancing in public because I needed to, but now I have been known to do it because it is fun.
So, on Friday at the Snack Bar we were watching the Mazel Tov Kocktail Hour perform and they launched into a hora. Jodi grabbed my hand and the hand of the stranger next to her and we started a circle around the band, turning backwards and forwards and skipping and jumping. And I articulated to myself an important life lesson. All the inspirational posters say to "Dance like no one is watching," but I say "Dance, even when everyone IS watching."