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.

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.


6 thoughts on “How Dance Set Me Free

  1. I think he means “know you” in the biblical sense … If you know what I mean 😉 Does that make it more or less awkward??

  2. What a wonderful rendition of fun and adventure. Awaiting the next post with much anticipation. We are reading a magazine article that places a $1,000 cost on a sari with gold trim and faux gems at a shop on University Ave. Your post reminds Susie of younger days when she used to read Tagore.

  3. Wonderful to read this. My daughter also learns tradtional Bangla dance and has performed at festivals here several times. She writes her own blog: justathirdculturekid – do check it out! I’m sure she would give you any advice you might want to help you on your adventure. I think it is wonderful that you are going for it and trying out something new and scary! Well done! 🙂

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