I went salsa dancing tonight, the first time in a year or so, with my best friend. Thank goodness she likes to dance as much as I do, and doesn’t need much convincing to go out. It took me a few minutes — and a few good partners — to get back into the swing of things, but there it was after I’d warmed up: the sometimes-awkward but swirlingly fun language I had learned to speak by taking salsa classes a few years ago. Just the same, just like I remembered it.
It’s fun to dance in Boston; you get quite a mix of partners, ranging by color/ethnicity, language, country of origin, profession, age, socioeconomic class, and probably sexual orientation (though in a traditional room if you’re female you dance with men). I danced with a professor at MIT who’d spoken at the World Health Organization; a young graduate student who’d lived in the forests of Brazil and was studying shamanism; a philosophy student-cum-software programmer who made me laugh so hard I couldn’t dance; and many others.
Though I chewed people’s ears off (I tend to talk a lot while I dance, which I admit may be a nervous/neurotic habit) and drew in new ideas while cutting a rug, the primary joy of dancing tonight was quite simply freeing the self from the self…relearning a most basic part of humanity: connecting to another person through touch, and spending a few minutes in shared rhythm. Mothers and their babies know it; lovers revel in it; massage therapists and prostitutes are paid for it; and most of the rest of us don’t get enough of it. It’s not getting sweaty with people that means anything; it’s knowing that you’re alive because another person is holding you, even if just by the hand. And the music makes the conversation you never need to have. For those of us who like to think we use our brains to noble ends, it’s particularly important to remember that the fact of being human giving meaning to the work we’re doing and connects us to the human world where we hope to do our greatest good.
Basically, dance is there to free me from me. And come back to me. Kind of like spinning on the hand of a partner; you’ll come back to center once you’re done with the turn.