Babies everywhere like to dance, right? They do that little bob where they bend their knees and kind of nod their heads. Babies here do that too…but by the time those toddlers hit two, they can already shake their hips and do body rolls that put all of my dance moves to shame. Costeños are just born with rhythm and movement and music in their bones. Most of them, at least; the few poor arrhythmic souls get teasingly branded as “cachaco” – from the interior (which has a few other mostly-negative connotations).
In one of my very early days in country, I went with my host-sister to a Carnaval event. Afterwards, I followed her to a discoteca, where we sat outside drinking beer. When I went inside to use the restroom, I was amused to see a solitary young couple dancing close together in the middle of the empty room. I assumed they had had quite a few beers that day and were enjoying a drunken moment together. On my next trip into the bathroom, another couple had joined them in dancing – but in a completely different corner of the empty room. Again, coming from a place where people only dance if there is a decent-sized group of people dancing in one spot in the room, I assumed this was the liquid courage moving their feet.
During subsequent discoteca outings, I began to realize that this is just what happens. People here love to dance, and they love to dance close, and it doesn’t matter how many other people in the room are or are not dancing. If the mood strikes and the music is right, folks will pair off, snuggle up, and shimmy their hips together. This doesn’t apply just to places where dancing is implied, like discotecas. At private birthday parties, held on people’s front porches or spilling into the streets, it’s the same. The music will be blaring and a couple will start to feel it and they’ll find themselves a little circle of flat earth to dance on.
I certainly am still not fully comfortable with this style of dancing, but I am getting there. I’m getting there.