I have short legs and skinny arms. My coordination and sense of rhythm are horrendous. I don’t listen to much music. The result when I dance is ghastly, to say the least, and while normal people are able to quickly pick up moves, I cannot catch on if my life depended on it. Being unable to dance well has always been my lifetime affliction–one that allows me to live normally until the inevitable awkward moment I hang out at a party. Dancing has become a stand-in for a typical teenager’s coveted characteristics–savviness in knowledge of pop culture and confidence in one’s portrayal to others. Throughout my adolescence, I never forgave myself for not knowing more about songs, artists, and dance as a result of not listening to music. I always felt secluded. I was a social outcast, and frankly, I always found myself embarrassed.
Coming to Ecuador, I was intimidated by being in a land known for its dance–everything from the movements to rhythm and music of indigenous people to salsa and marimba, and even to the Discoteca dance clubs dispersed around Quito. I was scared I would be out of place, make a fool of myself, and live with that acute memory as baggage on my back for the rest of my life, but I’m not so afraid for myself anymore. I have gotten past my fear, and if it weren’t for the love and support of my fellow Ecuador fellows, I would still be falling into the cliché I so often try to forget: being the wallflower and watching others dance to music I don’t know…trying not to humiliate myself.
Before parting for our Quito host families, my fellow Fellows and I went out to eat and eventually danced together to traditional Ecuadorian music. What particularly struck me was the fact that my fellow cohort couldn’t have been more accepting of each other. I, along with many others were self-conscious about our dancing, but still danced and had a great time. We were thrown into a cultural situation unfamiliar to a typical “gringo,” or “chino” in my case. We didn’t know any of the music played in Ecuador. Their way of dance was completely unknown to us, and all we could do was follow the leader. But even so, there was something so pure about it. I saw that there was no right or wrong, and it was in that moment I realized I spent so much of my life worrying about what others thought of me. I wasn’t being judged, and I didn’t feel like I had to live for the sake of anyone else. I couldn’t have been happier with where I was. I constantly think to myself how incredibly blessed I am to be part of such an amazing group of global citizens who have already touched my life in ways unimagined. My eyes have been opened to how close people can become by something as simple as dance. I feed off of the energy that always seems to be around me and have developed into a more confident individual.
My dancing skills are still atrocious, but I have so much fun. Dancing brings me together with others in a supernatural way. Dancing sets me free, and even though it might have been the last thing I would have done in my life back home, I have never felt more at home while dancing. There is so much culture waiting to be explored and so many things to learn here, and like dancing, there will be many moments I will feel uneasy. I may sometimes fail, but I will get back up and try again. Ecuador is my dance floor–a place for me to conquer fears, and I plan to make the most of it.