Friday, June 15, 2012

OYE's 7th Anniversary...So You Think You Can't Dance?

If you were to ask someone who knows me well, or at all for that matter, or probably even someone who merely caught a glimpse of me as we passed each other on a busy sidewalk, you can bet that person would not immediately peg me for the dancing type.  They might say I’m too stocky and not svelte enough for the dancer’s build, lacking the proportions conducive to the intricate and fluid movement of choreographed dance.  They’ll likely say I look like an average American college student.  They might go as far as to say I look like an athlete.  And they might even be bold enough to call me a fútbolista, especially if my boss introduces me as such, which has become customary in this country where the game means so much.

But I have never been mistaken for a dancer.  At my university, I am a student first and an athlete second, but never a dancer.  In Honduras, I am a football player sometimes, and a gringo all the time, but never a dancer.  I am a brother, a son, a coworker, a friend, a stranger, but never a dancer.  Unless, of course, a very precise mood strikes and then I become the Chris Brown or Michael Jackson of the dance floor (perhaps the Fred Astaire for an older generation?), or at least that’s what I tell myself.  On June 8th, however, OYE’s 7 Year Anniversary party gave me the opportunity to showcase the hidden skills I thought I didn’t have. 

On a day that began with hours of set up as the OYE staff, volunteers, and students helped assemble the stands, which would later sell various necessities in the heat of the day ranging from soda to snacks to meat dishes to flan, and construct the tents blocking them from the blazing sun, many of the same people would soon transform into performers.

OYE staff and students set up stands and sell food, drinks, and portraits to raise money
Students became singers and dancers, and my boss, Michael, remained an artist, he just changed his medium.  He morphed from an illustrator, skillfully sketching portraits for a price, to an entertainer, fusing the poetic lyrics of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face” with original choreography to create an act only Broadway could fully appreciate, for free.  One might call it an eccentric gift to an otherwise dull world.

Michael Solis, a Program Coordinator for OYE, displays his many talents during the show

After learning my experience as a dancer, or lack thereof, would be put into use well   before I was ready to display such a personal expression of mind, body, and soul, I was reluctant to commit to Michael’s “choreographed” dance number.  Only after much coercion and prodding did I rather unenthusiastically agree and so I set out with my four comrades from the United States and an unexpected young local to show the city we would not be confined by the limitations of normal behavior. 

As the Honduran sun beat down on my pale, gringo neck and the heat of the afternoon made it evermore difficult to stay outside watching the performances of the talented young artists, let alone participate, it became difficult to determine whether the climate or the threat of my unavoidable routine was the greater contributor to my sweat-soaked t-shirt.   After Michael’s solo rendition of “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” was eclipsed by Oriel Díaz’s, an OYE student, acoustic masterpiece, he was determined to outshine in the only other dance performance.

As if a dance battle exploded between rival groups, my gringo team attacked first with a series moves to the song “Drive By,” primarily focused on upper body activity.  We framed our faces with wiggling fingers, we flew sideways through the air as if carried by Superman, we shook commanding index fingers, and we cruised confidently through the performance.  At some point or another, and often not in unison, we teased our audience and we taunted our opponents.  Whether or not they knew we were competing, we had victory within arm’s grasp.

OYE staff and volunteers steal the show as Michael Solis' backup dancers
Our squad retired to the sidelines, panting and dripping with the promise of victory, and awaited their retaliation.  The girls of OYE’s radio program struck hard, featuring a variety of suggestive movements in which they somehow managed to move their torsos as would the hypnotizing waves of the Caribbean.  While their complexity and harmony rivaled that of the Rockettes, we could tell their desire and drive faded each time the chorus of Souldja Boy’s “Crank That” boomed from the speakers, a common effect of this “song.”   OYE’s prima ballerinas could now rely on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to inspire the movements needed to be triumphant.

As we took our places and I wiped a drop of success from my brow, everything went black.  All I remember is gliding around the stage like a fish through water, trying to be the best damn zombie El Progreso has ever seen.  I remember clawing at the air and at the other dancers, trying to mimic what our choreographer decided to improvise due to our lack of practice.  I remember laughing.  I remember the amusement.  I remember making a fool of myself.  I remember not caring.  I remember an encore.

Team OYE dances to "Bad Romance," followed by deafening applause
Then I saw the video.  Alas, it turns out I was correct in thinking I lacked the skills needed to perform even a very unstructured and improvised dance routine.  And yet I didn’t lack the ability to lose myself in hilarity and delight.  In fact, I excel at dancing.  Perhaps I fail at entertaining an audience with the beauty of extremely precise and elaborate movements, but I’m the Babe Ruth of dancing for pure pleasure.  Analogies are a different story. 

Chris Benedict is a Politics major at Princeton University and a summer intern at OYE.

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