It can take on an infinity of forms, but when one sees it, no matter the context, it's hard not to know what it is. The idea of dance appears inherent in most everyone's varied concept of life. Whether they actually do it or not seems irrelevant.
I realized yesterday that Patricio and I have somehow managed to shake our things on a daily basis. It's a rare moment that we don't have music playing in the house or in the car, and eventually, one of us gives in to the bass line and the impulse to move a shoulder, a hip or a head. Sometimes that's it. But sometimes we end up doing our adapted form of the running man as a finale to a good song's-worth of wild abandon and heavenward looks, our fists pumping around in the air. I was awfully pleased to notice that we're still so dancy, even if we did let those salsa lessons dwindle to the status of "er, well, not anymore."
It's just that I think dance is a world of languages, and though we can make our own up and not have others stare back at us with faces molded into expressions of non-comprehension, when it's official, it takes a good deal of practice to learn. Patricio and I have both gone that route before, rehearsing what we've been taught, mimicking footwork as best we can and hoping that, if we're not fully learning the language, we're at least memorizing some poems of classic fame. And in the case of Mexico, moving poetry could fill a hundred tomes. The country's wealth of regional dances, or baile folklórico, is as varied as Scheherazade's tales.
Having learned a jarabe and a good son jarocho, Patricio and I have barely covered a single page. We know just enough poems--or pieces of them--to appreciate the whole language in that humble and slightly terrified way most do after a few weeks of French. Patricio started in elementary school, signing himself up for the after-school, traveling, white-clad Jarocho group. He negotiated the outfit out of his mom's purchasing power, and began pounding the raised, wooden tarima dance floors with all the measured rhythm he could muster. There he is, pictured to the left. If you can guess which one he is, you'll be the lucky recipient of a prize. Just ask Lori, and you'll know I'm true to my word. Click on the image for more detail; you have a one in six chance, so the odds are good. Go for it.
Meanwhile, I went for the baile folklórico bit just after graduating from college. Five years of a conservative school's no dancing policy--and the consequent clandestine busting it at home--had left me craving creative history like nobody's business. A heavy skirt with yards of folds and the Jarabe tapatío later, I was in love. And then Allison taught me the Son de la Negra, letting me try the skirt-swirling faldeo once with her authentic, arm-melting garment of ribbon-lined magic. And then she gave us Oaxaca's jewel of the Guelaguetza: the Flor de piña, with it's eternal-regal introduction and fabulously mind-warping counts. Who was I, then, to resist the allure of a week-long workshop in Acapulco four years later? I wasn't. I signed up. And after five days drowning in the music of Campeche, Guerrero and Chihuahua, I knew I was in over my head. Those who dance, who speak this language, are some of the finest linguists on earth. Alice Abrams hit on the truth; grace truly glides on blistered feet.
Which is why, high up in the Majestic Hotel, we were wide-eyed with happy surprise to know that we'd be watching some of those linguists on-stage. Amalia Hernández dedicated her life to fluency, and her legacy of a troupe danced their way through jarabes and sones jarochos like the best of all medieval bards. For two rump shakers who know just how hard that easy-seeming choreography really was, it was a night worth commemorating with our own, homegrown jig. Grace can also glide on blissful feet.