“It is always important to dance.”
This phrase recurs in my friend Jonathon’s book, as a life philosophy that merits reiteration. I had never thought of dancing as something that invites the adjective “important” until I moved to Guatemala, where Jonathon and my friendship was born.
My Guatemala was steeped in importance and imperatives, in trauma and injustice. It was an outsized kind of importance, the kind that shows you the limits of your knowledge and highlights the boundaries of what you can do to understand mass atrocities and serve their survivors. At no point did I feel qualified for the tasks required of me in Guatemala; and even if in some universe, I were qualified to perform the tasks themselves, no part of me was prepared for the emotional weight, vicarious trauma, and ceaseless heartbreak.
It seems curious, then, that Guatemala was where we danced. We danced with vigor and with no shame, with no reservation and with gusto—every single time, with gusto. We danced on beaches and atop volcanoes, in living rooms and on coffee tables. Perhaps that was the place that inspired Jonathon to posit that “it is always important to dance.”
In my homeland Greece, dance is barely a contact sport. Fingers may graze each other, but for the rest of it, you are on your own. You are fully responsible for wiggling your own shoulders, moving your own knees, swaying your hips, without the help of hips glued onto your own. Much of what I love about dancing in Latin America calls back to my original conception of dancing. While salsa and merengue inspire more affection than my native Syrtaki, they evoke jubilation and look like hugs in motion.
It is perhaps these preconceived notions of mine about dancing that made “grinding” an enigma when I arrived at an American college campus at the age of 17. My idea of dancing involved synchronized skipping around, jubilant bopping, wiggling and nodding along and smiling, endless smiling—and maybe doing all that atop a table or two, yelling Opa! for good measure.
Rediscovering that obscure genre of dancing in Guatemala felt like a homecoming—a realization that when the workday came to an end, others would wish to join me for a round of salsa or a wiggle on top of a table. Others felt, like Jonathon did, that “it is always important to dance.” The Guatemalan table-dancing marked me in ways that became impossible to forget, delivering another imperative: to continue dancing, with gusto, everywhere.
There’s been a little bit of wiggling in life lately, and a whole lot of whimsy. You can wander over to The Equals Record to read the rest of this tale. And maybe to dance a little, too.