Finding My Rhythm

This post comes to us from Blanche Froelich who is currently studying abroad in Bilbao, Spain. Blanche is a Visual Arts major at Bowdoin College. 

The blue light pulsed above the dance floor, reflecting dimly in my black faux leather ballet flats. I took notice of this rather mundane fact because, while being twirled around the aforementioned dance floor,  I was not gazing dreamily into someone’s eyes, but rather staring at my feet,  hopelessly praying to find rhythm or reason in the steps my partner was so valiantly trying to lead me through. To make matters worse,  a row of older Basque men stood to one side, clapping, counting out loud, and laughing uncontrollably. My dancing partner, another older Basque gentleman, flipped them off at various points in the song, but to no avail.

It felt like a scene straight from one of my middle school nightmares. To be honest, most of my middle school nightmares involved significantly fewer Basque grandpas, but believe it or not, they were even more intimidating than a crew of thirteen-year-old jocks. Thus began an evening not soon to be forgotten and infamous in certain circles: Salsa Night. It was not so much that I couldn’t pick up the steps in those first songs (not that I excelled at that either) but rather that, try as I might, I couldn’t seem to feel the rhythms. I could hear them, could see the bodies on all sides of me moving enticingly and in time, could even tap my foot convincingly while standing on the sidelines. But when the time came to start dancing, my brain and my body were determined to fight me.

The sensation of observing someone else’s timing, unsure of just how to join in, is one that seems to capture many of my experiences in Spain rather well. Sometimes, Bilbao seems to run on rhythm alone. The stillness of the streets before 10am, the steady heartbeat of the trains running from the city, the rapid fire of Castellano from locals, the long, slow sigh of Spanish afternoons, the incessant tapping of rain on windows. And I, try as I might, still struggle at times with Bilbao’s rhythm. I go for walks in the morning, always seem to miss the train I need, speak Spanish painfully slowly, unsuccessfully try to run errands in the afternoon, and resent taking my umbrella along for nights out.
It can be so lonely, to have your feet fight what your ears are hearing. And yet…
Every once in a while, there are those few brief moments, when my body seems to sync up not only with itself and the surge in my chest, but the beat of the music and the body across from me. It’s like the world makes sense, and I could move forever. I catch the train, keep up in conversation, relish the afternoon siesta, and the rain makes me feel poetic.  I’m salsa dancing. Those moments are beautiful, and they’re enough to keep me around for the next song.

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