So we think they can dance

If you go out at night here you’ll find everyone dancing. Both men and women are excellent, but the men are especially noteworthy because, unlike at home, they move their feet. And their hips. If you make your dancing self-deprecating or ironic to cover your ineptitude people probably just think you’re dancing badly. And if you shuffle about moving mostly your shoulders, people won’t think you’re dancing at all.

Dancing in the street: girls from our neighbourhood celebrate on their patio.
Dancing in the street: girls from our neighborhood celebrate on their patio. They’re dancing to Serrucho.

We think we can at least partly explain how this comes about. Kids dance with their families from a very young age and at all sorts of family gatherings, in the same sort of way that we might pay backyard cricket. The parents join in with the kids and the kids learn from the parents. They all dance to the same music: whatever the top latin pop hits are at the time. By the time they’re all grown up they’re both casual and accomplished dancers. They dance for fun, and they don’t generally do a lot of drinking at the same time.

The rules about what dancing means are different here too. There’s no implication if you ask someone to dance. Advancing a style that would be strongly suggestive of post dance activities at home means nothing here.

If, when in Colombia, you try and dance as the Colombians do, but fail spectacularly, you’re likely to be offered some help. Colombians are very generous like that. Guys might sidle up to you and show you how they move their feet, expecting you to catch on. It’s roughly the equivalent of being asked to bowl a doosra when you’ve never touched a cricket ball.

Worse still, they’ll send over one of their female friends to dance with you. This is an experience that begins hopefully but becomes harrowing when the music is peppered with their imperative: baila, baila! (dance, dance!). And you thought you were dancing…

Worse still, they'll send over one of their female friends to dance with you. This is an experience that begins hopefully but becomes harrowing when the music is peppered with their imperative: baila, baila! (dance, dance!). And you thought you were dancing...

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