nos bailaron cuando niños
donde sea, y cuando sea. if the music is right, i can’t help myself. even when i’m exhausted, my calves are screaming, i can no longer feel my feet or my toes, my thighs are on fire, i’m a little dizzy, my clothes have melted onto my skin, my hips ache, everybody’s left me and i’ve been alone for hours, i must keep dancing. how can you not? this moment of perfect music, of complete exultation, won’t last forever, but it feels like it might. and maybe if i don’t stop moving, it will. that promise is so tempting and alluring, it draws me in. even when i’ve called it quits for the fifth time, the beat picks up again and i’m up too. i can’t let it dance alone. absolute joy. no alcohol. no ecstacy. no pills. no cocaine. your body. the music. the people.
my parents rarely left us at home when they went to a party, and we were never sent to bed when they threw one. we were there with all the adults surrounded by the sounds of drinking, laughter, and that beat. you’d get picked up and twirled around, and if you were old enough to stand you landed on someone’s feet as they taught your muscles how to do the steps. muscle memory lasts a lifetime. when your eyelids got heavy and your head started slouching, you got thrown onto a couch or a bed to sleep until the older folk were ready to leave. in this state, the noises filled your ears and you dreamt with rhythm and chatter woven in to your subconscious. muscle memory.
part of the reason i love living in the mission in san francisco is the music and the freedom of movement. if it’s nice enough outside, the people are out, music is playing, and it is loud. i’ve started realizing that latinos tend to yell because otherwise we couldn’t hear ourselves over the music. colombia is the same, and the caribbean coast is perfect. hard working class people fill the streets and when it’s time to rumbar, everyone is there. music is everywhere and the joy it brings washes away the litter, the dirty water, the poverty, the drugs, the everything. it fills every void in the most perfect way; without having to spend a peso. my neighbor next door starts playing cumbia at about 10am and turns it off at 12am every day. others complain, but it’s like a lullaby to me. like listening to the thrum of my mother’s voice through her chest when she carried my dozing body to the car late at night, it soothes me and lulls me to bed.
i went to santa marta’s first ever music festival this past weekend, and it was grand (as my irish friends would say). the expense and lack of vallenato deterred most locals, but those who could afford it, and knew what it would be like and what it meant to music on the coast were there. it was a great atmosphere and i danced a total of 12 hours or more. my calves are currently on strike and i sound like joan rivers, but it was totally worth it. i’m very used to being around folks who need more than music to dance. it’s not in their bones and blood. they get too self-conscious, they think too much, and their bodies tense up. but colombians, and many of those who come to visit, are ready for it. and they were with me for the full 12 hours. a few of my voluntourist friends asked for dancing tips and i tried my best to show them, but much like my spanish skills, i can’t tell you why it’s right or how to do it, i just know. they expressed a sadness at not feeling the beat like all colombians, young and old, seem able to do. but every culture has music and every culture has dance; it’s in the distance and isolation from younger generations where it gets lost. muscle memory must be passed down. don’t forget to dance your children.