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Category Archives: Identity

Keeping the rhythm

Something pretty miraculous happens when I get in front of a Zumba class and the music comes on.  My body becomes a drum and I am the rhythm keeper. The class gyrates, rocks, thrusts and pulses, using my body’s timing as it’s heartbeat.

Of course, it all starts with the music. The music gives us the tempo and the timing.  But not everyone in the class is familiar with all the different rhythms – salsa, merengue, reggaeton, cumbia, bachata, samba, salsaton, hip hop, coupé décalé, kuduro, champeta, and on and on – and how they are danced. I take my tempo cues from the music and the class responds to this by taking their cues from my body.

This is one of the things that most amazes me about Zumba.  The way you can let go inside of the rhythm.  Especially when you trust your rhythm keeper i.e. your instructor.

How did I become a trusted rhythm keeper for my fellow beat seekers?  It’s a wonder because I’m usually that girl in dance class that has to watch others do the moves the first couple times before I catch on.  And I’m still that girl in church that occasionally claps offbeat and has to glance sideways to pick up the rhythm again.  Embarrassing.  But I’ve learned to embrace my inner gringa. And have accepted that she’s not so much offbeat as on her own beat.

I’m also the girl who grew up in a family that would throw spontaneous music parties in our basement, my dad and I dj’ing for hours from the crates of his album collection.  Dancing with my dad, sometimes on his feet, was how I learned to salsa, old school Puerto Rican style, which means bursting into funky improv to the rhythm from time to time.  My brother and I spent hours downloading early hip hop songs from the radio on cassette tapes and playing them back to memorize all the lyrics and the beats.  We would also choreograph little routines to rock at school dances, but that’s a story for another post, lol. Family get togethers for us meant salsa, soca and everything in between.

Being a Zumba teacher has taught me to channel my inner gringa to help make the movements relatable and easier to learn. It’s also taught me to trust my inner time keeper, the one that has been honed by years of family celebrations and the rhythms that are part of my heritage.

The even more amazing thing is that once I learn a new flavor or choreography, my muscle memory kicks in and I can pretty much do the song any where any time.  My over processing mind politely takes a back seat and let’s my body do it’s thing.  I’ve gained a new found respect for and faith in myself – the body knows.  So when you see that girl on the subway with big curly hair and head phones on single single double’ing and doing the Beto shuffle, just wink at me cause you know the rhythm’s taken over.

 

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Where are you from?

Queens. No, I mean where are you from from? America.  I mean, like, where is your family from? Oh, you wanna know my chemical makeup…

Lamu, Kenya

In my lifetime so far, I have been african american, afro caribbean, black latina, boriqueña/dominicana, butter rican pecan/brazilian.  I have been all those things and many more, including my personal favorite: the check box on government forms that reads ‘african american (non hispanic),’ after which I proceed to also check the hispanic box on the same form, take that Uncle Sam!  I have called myself many things and tried to fit, more and less comfortably, into many boxes depending on my personal politics at given moments.  But who am I really?

I was recently in a workshop called writing through asanas (yoga postures) with the amazing Michele Medina.  And after 10 minutes of down dog (yes, we held each posture for 10 minutes), she asked us to consider the question: where are you from? In my notebook I wrote:

I am from a place of love.  I was born out of love, light, hope, laughter. I am from a hollowed out place in an old beautiful tree, protected by the earth and the spirits.  I am from a continuum of energy, love and light, which I neither created nor destroyed, neither began nor ended. I exist within it and it contains me perfectly, provides all my sustenance.  I am complete within it.

Imagine giving that answer to someone who really wants to know why your hair is curly like that (and no, it’s not a weave, and please stop putting fingers in my head to check for tracks) even though you “look black.” And why your hips seem to know that salsa rhythm so well.  And why you speak Spanish with such a “good accent.”  I should try giving that response just for tiffs and giggles.

But seriously, we – my brothers and I – are from so many places that it does boggle the mind and makes it very difficult to give a simple and concise answer in passing conversation.  With us, you have to really want to know and then dedicate the time to listen to the full answer.  My wonderful Dad was born in Puerto Rico to my Puerto Rican abuelita and my Brazilian avô (he may have actually been from Surinam, directly north of Brazil, we’re not a hundred percent sure).  My amazing Mom was born in Aruba and raised in Trinidad by her St. Vincent mom and Dominican father.  When I went to Aruba, a Dutch colony, with my grandmother to celebrate her 80th birthday a couple years back, I met my oldest living relative on that side of the family.  You would think she’d be speaking in Papiamento, the mix of Dutch, Portuguese and English with vocabulary influences from African and Arawak languages, preferred by the locals.  But no, she only wanted to speak in Spanish from her native Dominican Republic, although she did do all her own translation into English for those in the room who couldn’t understand, pretty impressive for a 93-year-old.

So, that’s the skinny.  We’re from all over.  And there haven’t been any boxes created yet that actually fit us, so in the meantime we’re busy creating our own.  I wonder what I will come up with next… Someone dear to me recently suggested morena as a possibility.  I am also loosely considering human, maybe even superhuman =)

Loíza, Puerto Rico

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2011 in Identity

 

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