She fell flat on her butt (literally), dancing for Tonga after a cyclone. But she bounced right up in the blink of an eye. She was fourteen.
Fourteen years later, she fell flat on her butt (metaphorically), dancing with a Tongan--the second man to try to teach her the cha-cha. Some cha-cha. She didn’t quite bounce, but she did pick herself up. The show must go on, she’d always been told.
There were advantages to ballet lessons, apparently. Composure was one of them. In the most humiliating of circumstances a good ballerina stayed composed. Ballet is all about control. It looks soft, but it’s hard. It’s hard to look soft.
It’s also hard to be black in ballet class with white girls in Fiji. Her first ballet class was different. They were black girls in a black school with a black ballet teacher who ran a black ballet school in Washington, D.C. It was fun. It felt normal. Until they went back to Fiji where all the schools were black and all dance classes predominantly white. That didn’t stop her.
Her favourite dance memory was a concert at school. She and her eleven year old friends wore disco shorts and danced on a clay stage under monkey pod trees to Gloria Gaynor singing “I will survive!” Her next favourite dance memory was from a cousin’s wedding reception, held in the school hall. She was doing the “bus-stop” in a blue muumuu to, “Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door.” Even if she’d known, she probably wouldn’t have cared that she was applying funk soul moves to a rock ballad.
One boyfriend told her she had no soul, anyway. He was white. She was livid. The way you move, you have no soul, he elaborated. Some how, some way, in Fiji, she had lost it. She had developed her rhythm but not her soul. But she never blamed ballet.
Ballet and black are not contradictory. Black can be disciplined, Ballet can be funky. She’d seen it in D.C. and at the Dance Theater of Harlem.
He said she had no soul. She’d always blame her boyfriend. Not the white one. Unfortunately, he could dance. But the black one had been a disaster. Since then she’s found it hard to fall in love with men who can’t dance. What confused her was, while the brother had looked like a fool on the floor, he had been a virtuoso in bed. She realized, of course, that guys who look good when they’re dancing are just as likely to beat her, or dump her. But it’s not about men, at all.
It’s about her. And dance. And how dance moves her.
She dreams of dancing in the streets, like in the movie, “Fame.” Dancing in Suva’s Thurston Gardens like in the movie, “Hair.” If she was going to make her own movie, there would be a scene of dancing on the bridge between the library and the canteen at her university. She dreams of dancing on a beach at sunset by herself with only the sea, sky and sand as her audience. That dream is deferred while she dances with friends in nightclubs called “Traps” and “Birdland” in Suva, in Fiji. The fantasies wait while dance moves her.
She loves dancing. She loves watching others loving dance, too. She hates dancing for the sake of it. Once, that prick, the second guy who tried to teach her how to cha-cha, got angry at her because she didn’t look like she was enjoying herself while dancing with him. She said she was sorry. But she wasn’t. Life is not a mating dance, she thought. He thought he was cool, the way he moved. He went on to teach other women to cha-cha all the way from the nightclub to dark corners of rugby fields, and tavioka patches. Sometimes, into their beds, if they had beds. Life, for him, was a mating dance. Dance, for him, was a performance. She rediscovered her soul when she stopped dancing with him. She found her soul in the bottom of her shoes. And she went right on dancing.
--Teresia K. Teaiwa