13 February 2012
Dance Dance Dance
I used to do a little of this dancing-in-the-dark stuff with my father who — at least when partnering me — kept to the safe and easy steps, dipping just a bit here and just a bit there. He showed off his fancy footwork only when he danced with my mother. But whether I was good or not, whether I looked as much like Cyd Charisse as I imagined, I did enjoy dancing. I would waltz around the house with the vacuum cleaner and practice my cha-cha-cha while folding laundry. Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s I tried to learn every dance craze out there, from the twist to the hustle, from the mashed potato to the swim, from the watusi to the pony. I was also pretty good at the limbo dance, which was de rigueur at all parties back then. Wouldn't try it now even if you offered me fifty thousand shares of Facebook.
When I was in the 4th grade our class put on a show that included a spectacular — if I do say so myself — hula dance. This constituted my first public dance presentation. To this day, just start singing "I wanna go back to my little grass shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii," and a certain friend of mine (she knows who she is) will jump up with me and go straight into our number from all those years ago. Back then there was no YouTube, but I'm sure we nine-year-olds looked exactly like this:
And if it weren't for Mohammed el-Bakkar and his album Port Said, which my parents owned for some reason, I would never have fallen in love with Middle Eastern music, taken belly dancing classes in New York and ended up dancing at private parties and a couple of times in restaurants under the stage name Amira. That was a fun time. And I got paid for it! But what I'm coming to is this: with all my wiggling and waggling and shimmying and shaking, why, oh why, oh why can't I samba? This is the signature dance of my adopted country, you'd think I'd have absorbed it naturally by now.
But I haven't. This is extremely frustrating and embarrassing. I've tried and tried. I've tried slow, I've tried fast. I even took lessons for heaven's sake. I watch two-year-olds samba like veterans, and I'm amazed by my inability to come anywhere close. You'd think I had two left feet, which I don't. I'm not talking about ballroom samba, I'm talking about walking samba, which is danced individually, particularly during carnaval. Well, I've analyzed the problem every which way and I've centered my focus on the hips. The gentle, linear sway of the hula and the vibrating circular swivel of the belly dance just don't cut it in samba. Samba is more open, freer, looser, it combines both linear and circular movements with a fast bounce and wide-open arms. And even as I focus on the hips, I sense there's something going on in the knees, too, but I don't have a clue. Nine years of trying, and I feel I've let my Brazilian friends down. I'm sorry, I just wasn't born with samba no pé. But this ten-year-old — wow: