You asked for it; you got it!

On the morning of our Bangladeshi dance debut, Heather and I sat in a decaying performance hall, waiting for our turn to practice on stage. As we waited, I watched a few of the male dancers attempt to hang a projector from the ceiling using rope netting and a huge ladder that was broken in crucial places. Every time someone moved, the ladder swayed from side to side more than any ladder should. A few guys stood around the base to add support, but as far as I could tell, they weren’t making any difference. Suddenly, one of those, “Oh, I need my camera!” moments struck. Not because I thought anything bad would happen, but because this was so typical of Bangladesh.

Setting up

In this part of the world, you take what you’ve got and you make it work.

I snapped my photo and scanned the auditorium, imagining what it looked like when it was new. The peculiarity of the situation sunk in. Instead of watching a Bangladeshi dance performance later that evening, I was going to PERFORM in one! And for the studio’s 20th anniversary, no less. Kind of surreal, actually. But hey, why sit by and watch when you can do, right?

In the weeks leading up to the performance, we spent lots of time and energy going to practice, getting costumes and finding jewelry. Our biggest stress, though, was hair and makeup. We were clueless about what to do, and we needed help! Thankfully, Bangladesh is full of wonderful people, and an entire family came to our rescue.

Two sisters from our dance class, Shima and Lima, invited us to their home so we could get ready with them. Their older sister, Poly, selflessly turned her bedroom into a parlor and spent several hours transforming all of us into stage-ready dancers. What she was able to achieve with my hair alone was magic. And the makeup! Never in my life would I have attempted to wear red eyeshadow, but it looked better than I expected (and took only five washings to remove from my face).

After a long day of preparation, we were finally ready! We all piled into an easy bike (sort of like a big golf cart) and headed to the performance hall. As we walked up the steps and into the auditorium, we were greeted with gasps of, “Shundor,” (beautiful), and we exclaimed, “SHUNDOR!” right back. Everyone looked amazing! But the little ones were the cutest of all.

Now, take a moment to imagine something: You’re about to perform in front of a large audience. A little scary, right? Now imagine this audience is in a foreign country where the culture and customs are incredibly different from yours, and you don’t understand the language, and you’re not exactly sure what’s going on, and you have to change costumes, and you can’t remember the steps to your dance, and you’re afraid your sari is going to fall off, and you’re pretty sure you’re going to make a fool of yourself.

A lot scary!

But then … you remember that everyone around you is on your side and no matter what happens, they’re just delighted you’re there to share this experience with them.

So you can breathe again. And you perform. And you make a few mistakes. But your sari stays on. And everyone showers you with compliments. And everything is great. And you’re so happy that you did it. But you’re in no hurry to do it again … well, that is, until your performance tomorrow night.

Honestly, I don’t know how professional performers do it. It’s exhausting! But I guess it’s a good thing that’s how I feel because, as you’ll see in the much anticipated VIDEO (!), I’m not exactly a pro level dancer. Try not to laugh too hard, ok?

OK. I did it, I shared the video. Now VOTE FOR ME to win a trip around the world! Please!

How Dance Set Me Free

If you’ve been following Untitled Adventure for a while, you might remember that, a few months back, I almost became a shut-in.

Well, thankfully, these days I get out of the house quite regularly. Oftentimes, I even stay out AFTER DARK—which probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to most of you, but imagine six months of keeping the sun’s hours. Then, imagine the liberation you’d feel the first time you ignored its orange-tinted warning to hide inside.

Trust me, it’s a big deal.

So why the change? Well, mostly, it’s because, after several months of asking and waiting, I am finally enrolled in a Bangladeshi dance class! Heather, a new intern who recently arrived, was also excited to join the class, so I’ve got a buddy to share all the awkward and humiliating moments.

Thanks to our impeccable timing, the potential for both is especially high … it just so happens that the studio is celebrating its 20th anniversary later this month, and we have been asked to perform in the milestone celebration. Oy vey! Err, I mean … Yay!

The Studio
Picture this: Two fair-skinned women—aged 41 and 32—fumbling around a small cement room. There are no mirrors, except the dark eyes of the onlookers, 20 of them at least, watching intently. The other students in the class are mostly young girls—aged 6 to 16. When they dance, they move with fluid precision, unlike the new additions to their class.

It would be so easy for them to bemoan our presence, but they don’t. When they aren’t busy dancing, they rush over and crowd around us with eager smiles, and one by one it goes like this:

“Hello. How are you?”

“I’m good. How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Hello. How are you?”

“I’m great. How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Hello. How are you?”

“I’m good. How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

Until each child’s heart has touched ours.

There are male dancers, too, but they’re all a bit older and much more shy than the girls. Instead of trying to talk to us, they take videos and photos on their mobile phones from across the room. All of the teachers are male, too. The master teacher is a friendly yet authoritative man and perhaps the only person in the room, including the doting mothers, who is slightly older than me.

The Dance
On our first day of class, as we attempted our first steps, we began to realize that an entire dance was being choreographed especially for us. (Awkward moment #1.) Except, it wasn’t the traditional Bangladeshi style of dance we had hoped to learn. Instead, it was a mix of extremely basic ballet and ballroom (to match our skill level) with a few Bangladeshi folk moves thrown in … and the tone was overtly romantic. (Awkward moments 2 through 10.)

Despite the word, “maiden,” I couldn’t understand a thing in the song*, so we asked what it was about. One of the girls explained that it was written by Rabindranath Tagore, a nobel-prize-winning Bengali poet, and told the story of his love for a foreign woman. (Awkward moment overload.)

A few days later, a partner change was added to the choreography, which was … you guessed it … extremely awkward, not to mention rather confusing. If this was supposed to be a love story, why did we have to change partners in the middle of the dance? Again, we asked for an explanation. The girl with the strongest English replied, “I don’t know. It’s a very long time that a foreigner danced with us. Everyone is very excited.”

We were still confused but decided not to worry about it because we, ourselves, were excited about learning a second dance … an actual folk dance. We were even more excited about the ankle bells, called ghungroos, we will get to wear during the dance. (According to Wikipedia, a novice child’s ghungroos have 50 bells. Ours have 20.) I don’t care how many bells they have, I love them.
Ghungroos

The Performance
No dance performance would be complete without costumes, so about a week into our instruction, we went shopping with the master teacher and one of his apprentices (both of whom just so happen to be my partners in the confusing romantic dance). Due to our limited ability to communicate, the excursion was riddled with surprises—mostly related to fabric choices and the amount of money we were unexpectedly spending on items we’ll never wear again. It turns out we need two costumes: one sari, which, quite honestly, looks like a tablecloth, and one white taffeta princess gown. (Can you guess which costume goes with which dance?) By the time we were finished, we had purchased loads of fabric and ribbon for less than $50, including the tailor’s fee. I guess I can live with that. We haven’t seen the finished products yet, but I’m guessing humiliating moment #1 is coming soon when we try on our white gowns!

In addition to the costumes, we’re supposed to wear the traditional makeup, which is dramatic and heavy-handed. (Potential humiliation #2.) My apprehension about this aspect of the performance is eclipsed by only one thing: the unlikelihood that the sari will stay on my body the entire time I’m on stage. (Humiliation overload.)

It’s just a little over a week now until the big event, and we still have a lot of work to do, but I’m pretty sure this performance is going to be my favorite, if not most embarrassing, moment in Bangladesh.

If you’re lucky, I might just post a video!

*As I was writing this post, I listened to our version of the song (there are many, many versions) and suddenly realized that a good portion of it is sung in English. I must’ve heard the song at least 100 times but didn’t recognize the language as my own until just now. The singer croons, “I know you, I know you, you’re known to me, oh maiden of a distant Allah.” Well, that’s a little less awkward, I guess.