Dance and the body

Three years ago, I took dance classes at a local community college with my mother. Our classmates ran the gamut from college students to working professionals. In that class, we learned almost all types of popular ballroom and social dances– waltz, foxtrot, tango, swing, mambo, cha cha, and paso doble.

With an amazing teacher and a big group of interested students, we learned each dance style. Each step built on the steps and formations learned earlier; basic steps taught in conversational language (“slow, slow, quick, quick!”), pointed toes for the promenade to contrast with the basic, and stylized arm turns soften the firm upper body structure that dance partners maintain for most of the dance. I enjoyed the class and at the end of the session, I performed Paso Doble and Foxtrot infront of a crowd that filled the college auditorium.

I liken dancing to a prayer- it is a meditation, an expression of the design of the human body. It is wonderful to see choreography turn the different parts of the body in motion in such a graceful way. You learn so much about what the body can do with dance. When everything goes right in dancing– when you have a good leader, clear signals for movement are sent, and your steps are in sync, it feels as though the body was made for dancing. Dancing is really a celebration of movement– the steps are not merely invented by choreographer, but rather, inspired by natural movements that we make everyday- walking, lunging, turning, holding, extending the arms and legs. All of these combined and exchanged with a partner nurtures the physical and social connections between people, further making us feel that we are made intelligently and deliberately, that the universe creates no coincidence.

My Los Angeles summer this year

Although my entire summer in Los Angeles lasted only five days, and mostly spent inside the house, it was five days of summer joy.

My flight from Chicago to Los Angeles for my sister’s housewarming party took over 24 hours, thanks to the ridiculous overbooking and poor customer management of US Airways. By the time I reach our house, I was tired that the only thing I was able to do was say hello to my family, pet the dogs who were as rowdy as I had seen them last, and pull my pajamas out of my suitcase.

As late as I retired that night, the succeeding morning was about earliness. A quick call woke me up– my mother compelling us to prepare for the blessing and housewarming party that will ensue in a few hours. What normally would be a moment to complain about being woken up especially after the whirlwind of the last few days, I turned into a situation of quick responsiveness. It is my sister’s housewarming party, after all, a big milestone for a 26-year-old woman. I helped clean, cook, and coordinate to set things into place– the food, tables and chairs, drinks and the ambiance. The thoughts of preparing for a big party recalls Italian family parties, but this is no Italian family. My Filipino family is not just loud, and we also multitask– I cook the spring rolls as I make lemonade as I cut fruit and entertain guests. My mom was in charge of main dishes, making sure there is a pan, plate and space for everything that will be served. My sister set the decor and was careful about the final touches, that the ambiance and tone of her house is conducive to a warm, Saturday housewarming party.

Everybody lent a hand, from grandmas to grandchildren. Despite the high stress of the situation, setting things up and making sure the details are not just right but perfect, the preparation was just a celebration of being at home as the party a welcoming event for the new homeowner.

The party was beautiful, and what joy was it to see my relatives and closest friends. We filled our plates with scrumptious dishes cooked in various kinds of sauces, stir-fried noodles and chili rice from different Asian regions. Guests sat in multiple groups all around the house. We uncorked wine bottles and passed them around to fill modern, stemless glassware. A cousin arranged a DJ-booth set up by the electronic area, complete with a karaoke machine, a laptop as synthesizer and laser lights that filled the whole room with green and red dots that transformed into different shapes with the beat. The weather was cooperating warm outside, the a/c kept us cool inside. The smiles and laughter cannot be exchanged for other expressions, and the camaraderie only deepened as guests came and went.

Between multiple rounds of picture taking, some candid, some with more direction, we handed out even more food and drinks– fruits and sweets for after-dinner, lemonade, coffee, and poisons of choice. More people came later that night to share in the celebrations and to congratulate my sister. We made our way through uncomfortable questions and inquiries of family friends that their curious selves did not hesitate to ask. My sister responded to questions about marriage, since apparently a woman who buys a house of her own can’t be single, as they had implied, while I had to respond to questions about when is the time that I will buy a house. In many social situations, questions like these are not readily asked, but I am reminded that we are in a party with Filipino guests and I had long realized it is the norm. Some even mistook me for my sister, shaking my hand and praising the house and decor of the house. I insisted I’m the middle child, the one who lives in Chicago now, which at times sounded like I was a daughter that had been exiled to a far away place, or more interestingly, the prodigal one who had just come home.

When the sounds had died down and guests had gone home, some family members stayed in the guests rooms. My sister’s 4-bedroom house is quite huge for a single woman, and there was plenty of room for three families to stay and gather for breakfast the next day. As the sun rose in the morning, I heard the reemergence of sounds spoken in a mix of two languages and two dialects– English and Tagalog, Ilocano and Bisayan. The first two our native languages, the last two are my mother’s and father’s own dialects. I was still in bed, eyes half closed, and I imagine them passing around the bread basket and juice flowing through all kinds of glasses. I hear laughter and communication in words, but I also know that more messages are exchanged with gestures. I fell asleep and when I finally woke up an hour later, it felt like a different day. My parents and grandma had gone with my relatives to the Valley, while my sister sweeps the hardwood floors as the Olympics is playing on the TV in the background. I take a mop with me and a cleaning solution, and joined her in what is about to be her weekly routine.