The sun on the boat’s rooftop was powerful yet gentle. I only noticed its paradoxical presence when I reached the final step of the three flights of shadowy stairs. The wind’s unusual absence also made itself known as I crossed the large dance floor towards my friends. It was a perfect Sunday in Amsterdam, as if the event’s organizers had somehow tailored the weather to the Latin dance boat party that was about to begin. The atmosphere vibrated with rhythmic excitement, even though the music was not yet playing. I was about to embark on another journey into water, only this time it was in the very literal and tangible sense.
Latin dancing had recently entered my life like a hurricane, shifting my energy from stagnant to dynamic seemingly overnight. Five months earlier, on a grim February day, that looked nothing like this sunny Sunday, I spontaneously signed up for Bachata and Salsa classes. I had just returned from a two and a half month stay in Israel and was not willing to surrender to the gloominess of Dutch winter. Another Covid lockdown was lifting, rendering live dance classes a thing of the present once again. Google Maps revealed the identity of the school nearest to my house and, by the end of the day, I was equipped with a three month ‘silver’ membership. Joining the tryout classes did not even cross my mind. I was beyond ready to dance.
Returning to dance was not a logical premeditated choice. It was not a choice at all, but rather an instruction given to me by my body. After years of being moved by the winds of my intellect and the watery storms of my emotions, the forceful energy of fire returned, wanting to move through me and with me. Yoga was no longer sufficient movement. I spent the past three years in my mind, hunched over my laptop and books. My intellect had traveled long and far through the airy scholarly realm, but my body stayed put. The physical world of matter felt distant, and my soul wanted to return to earth. Any form of resistance to its call resulted in distressing restlessness. My body craved life and movement, and it would clearly not be silenced this time. It was my body’s turn for expression.
When I contemplated the ideal style of dance that would transport me back into the earthly realm, my body made another request: “Let me dance for fun”, it stated. Dance was always my first and greatest love, but professional ballet training can hardly be described as pleasant. Its memory alone strained my muscles. Despite being an art form, ballet is a highly left-brain activity. Its masculine form of logic borderlines the scientific, and its precision is reminiscent of mathematical calculations: one small mistake can collapse your entire formula. The strict technical training shaped my discipline and granted me control over my body, but the rigorous lines also confined it. My body called for a form of dance that would relinquish my mind’s hold over it and teach me the art form of surrender. If I was to return to dance, and thus to my body, I needed to find a different type of movement; one that is right-brained, receptive, curvy and feminine.
My mind wandered amidst past memories searching for clues. I wasn’t always restricted to the orderly lines of ballet. Many other dance forms had crossed my path as a dancer, such as contemporary ballet, jazz, hip-hop, flamenco and belly dancing, to name a few. But, for me, dancing for fun also meant that I would not have to scrutinize my body in mirrors. My body needed mental liberation from striving for perfection, whether that perfection was visual or technical. It wanted to just ‘be’, not ‘become’. Thus, a completely new direction was called for.
Subsequently, I allowed my mind to travel away from memories of choreographed dancing in studios, and search elsewhere in my past. I roamed through memories when dancing felt like play, where I danced at parties or copied silly moves from Bollywood films with my friends. But one series of memories prevailed. In those memories, going out to dance in clubs or studios was impossible due to a covid-19 lockdown. We had to get creative. But the weather was warm and the sun shined its fiery rays well into the late hours of the night. I remember laughter and lively Latin music playing in my old living room. And I was learning how to follow a dance called Bachata.
Those memories were formed a mere few months after I openly declared a new decade of dancing for myself on social media. I guess the universe decided to respond to my resolve. An unexpected turn of events had me cross paths with a magical soul who happened to dance for fun. He taught me the art of partner dancing; that the leader is the one trusted with the task of thinking and planning the dance, while the follower’s role is to enhance it and make it beautiful. He showed me that, as the follower, I had complete mental freedom to focus on my body and give it expression; my mind was allowed to let go. He told jokes and made funny faces while we danced. He showed me that dancing can be playful and liberating. And in those memories, for a magical moment in time, he taught me how to dance for fun.
Adrift within those recollections, the new direction became clear. My soul naturally gravitated towards Latin dancing, and my body happily conceded the return. From the restrictive linear lines of ballet, I found myself experiencing the rhythmic curves and swings of Bachata. It was a completely unfamiliar form of dance for me. Learning how to follow did not only require that I release my need for mental control, it required a physical surrender as well. Relaxing the stiffness and rigor that took hold over my body through years of ballet and yoga training, followed by years of sitting, was a weird sensation. Who thought letting go would be so difficult?
But more than that, Bachata required that I find a balance between maintaining a level of control over my body while keeping it loose enough to be led into different movements. Having to find the right harmony between control and surrender was, and still is, quite a challenge. Perhaps this is the biggest challenge we all face in life—finding equilibrium between extremes: between leading and following, between striving and surrendering, between controlling and letting go, between our head and our heart.
A whole new world opened up to me months after signing up to dance classes. It brought into my life a collection of experiences and magical people who also turned to dance in search of their own earth and fire. We gravitate towards each other like scattered voyagers in the ocean looking for connection and harbor. And now, we were all together on a boat, about to sail back into the open sea and dance our hearts out.
At a lively Latin dance boat party, dancing with new friends, I found myself surrounded by vast expanses of water once again. Yet out there in the open waters, far away from solid ground, I found the most stable footing I experienced in ages. Only then did I realize that I had misunderstood my craving for earth and stability. Isn’t it ironic? Dancing over water has shown me that the earth I had been craving was also a longing to return to my familiar physical body. And my true physical body, the one familiar to me from my life as a dancer, is most stable when it is moving; when the fiery force of life can flow through it in feminine curves and twirls unobstructed.
The music on the boat grew louder as the Amsterdam harbor faded in the distance. People in shorts and colorful shirts danced with joy in the fiery sun. Feeling the solid sensation beneath my feet, I quietly thought to myself that stability and security were never meant to be permanent in life. Too much of either will keep us stagnant. They will prevent us from venturing out to the open waters and expanding our souls into new realms. Movement seems like a far more natural state for us, and for me in particular. Maybe movement is what we should rely on, and our challenge, as humans or dancers, is to find our own balance and rhythm in the waters of uncertainty. Maybe stable ground is only meant to come in moments or periods when we grow tired on our journey and are in need of harbor and shelter to reignite our inner fire. In any case, it took two journeys into water, five months of Latin dancing and some magic for me to discover that I can return to earth and fire whenever I wish—I only need to dance.
*To the magical soul who taught me how to dance for fun.