A bit of me died inside when writing that headline.
Perhaps ’tis a sign that my powers of observation and critical analysis have been reduced to that of the shallow, formulaic lists of Buzzfeed. Those that have served both as fodder for dinnertime, ivy-tower smarminess on the vapiditiy of viral Internet culture and as my website of choice for late-night, early-morning, mid-day, and early-afternoon procrastination.
On the other hand, I think it’s the best way of quickly articulating the feelings of cultural weirdness I’ve been having, and the ways I’m thinking of overcoming them.
So, to begin with, I’ve been lucky enough to have taken Zumba classes in four states and two countries. Now, I’m (obviously) in Colombia, the birthplace of the high-paced “rumba” dance culture later appropriated/bastardized into Zumba, the Latin-infused, undeniably cooler grand-cousin of 1980 jazzercise a la Richard Simmons.
So maybe it’s only right I’m using a shallow, yet pleasing, method of analysis to discuss a similiarly consumer-drizen, yet undeniably helpful, mass faze.
I had a rather stressful time last week – one of my stories seemed to no longer be “a story” (a weird turn of phrase likely used too often by journalists), and I was feeling a bit lonely and weird.
After graduating from college this June and immediately moving into an apartment house in Georgetown, I often struggled to “find myself” and missed being able to text my best friends and hang out with them instantly.
By the end of the summer, I made more of an effort to make plans with other Dartmouth students in D.C., and I also developed a great appreciation for solitude, and its calming, self-actualizing (Hi Mia!) properties.
Still, coming (and at the same time returning) to a new (yet also my own) country introduced another set of challenges. I am at once able to physically fit in, and also noticeably different. Despite my ability to converse and interview in Spanish, my accent often gives me away: I am often mistaken for a Brazilian, Uruguayan and of course, estadounidense. But it doesn’t stop at my voice – I give myself away with my ways of dressing, of sneezing, of walking and of even looking around a café.
For the past three weeks, I’ve let myself constantly worry about “giving myself away.” One day this week, I felt particularly low, and just wished I could automatically “be” Colombian.
Then, I took a nap, had some food and went to Rumba class with a clear head, and I thought some thoughts.
So here’s how Rumba/Zumba helped me destress and re-evaluate my approach to living and enjoying myself in a foreign country:
1) It’s good to know the basics, but no one’s perfect.
Dance is a language all on its own, and I am so grateful to have learned strong ballet and jazz technique at a young age. Even though I was basically a back-row Nia to my own Miss Abby who loved to ask only me to do extra sit-ups, I know I developed a discipline and attention to detail that has helped me in a lot of ways – particularly dance.
But after not dancing for a year or two and then taking up modern dance, ballet and Zumba, it took several weeks of classes to get back into the mode of watching someone dance and internalizing it. The best Zumba teachers I’ve had get that this is a difficult foundational skill to acquire, and will either demonstrate moves or use the same routines for weekly classes.
Similarly, I’m glad to have the experience of a study-abroad stay in Mexico, language drills at Dartmouth, and practice interviewing in Spanish in Tucson, Arizona and Long Island, New York. But I still have areas to improve, and sometimes, I need to review the basics. I hope that being in Colombia will allow me to build off the solid grammar and vocabulary foundation I have, while also helping me internalize the colloquialisms and conversational pacing that will ultimately help me become very fluent.
I’m also going to be chilling out with the need-to-be-perfect-at-journalism-always and letting myself grow as a writer, story-teller and observer of the humons.
2) Pace yourself.
Like with any aerobic class, if you start off going at 85 mph, you will quickly fade.
For a good chunk of last week, I stayed up too late working on articles and watching telenovelas (Sin tetas <3). But then, I would oversleep and miss the overly strict iCal schedule I had made, adding to my stress. I’m taking it easier recently, going to sleep at 11 and waking up around 7, and setting more times in my schedule for breaks.
3) Just keep moving. Let yourself try something new to you, something foreign to your body.
Often in Zumba class, the teacher will throw something crazy at you, whether it be a Bollywood/step-dance fusion routine or an Afro-Latin jazz step that looks impossible. I’ve found it’s best to just try your best to get your body moving in a way that just makes you feel good. Refinement will come later.
When I first got to Bogotá, I sometimes felt myself getting “stuck”. That is, I missed some cultural cue in a fast-paced conversation, film, play, song or Spanish article I was reading, and it was really hard to get over that hump and keep following along. Bad example: when I first met my roommate, she used a barrage of slang terms – like chévere, maluko, etc – and I felt myself focusing in on what those specific words meant rather than thinking on the context of the larger conversation. There’s also less of a sense of individualism here in Colombia, with more of an emphasis on family ties – something else I’ve had a bit of struggle with internalizing. I’m learning, and trying to pick up as much as I can without worrying if I immediately understand every single word or cultural cue. And when I’m in doubt or want to learn more – I ask.
5) Sometimes, you’re just going to be doing your own thing in the corner, while everyone else is doing something completely different, and that’s completely fine.
Once in a while, I’ll get really into the groove of a specific move that the teacher’s throwing at us. So much so that when I look over at her, she’s moved onto something completely different. Or, when I really need a break, I’ll start grape-vining in the corner.. quite like the above gentleman.
And that’s perfectly fine. There will be ideas or concepts that really appeal to me, or that really trouble me, and in those moments, I’m just going to do my own thing and do what feels comfortable.
Zumba is meant to be fun.
Here’s to not taking myself so seriously, and making the next ten weeks as fun and enriching as possible!
Something to internalize: I am a United-Statesian. I can’t stop being American, no matter how much I want to de-Americanize. I think that if I work on accepting my own “outsider” identity, I’ll have a much richer cultural experience.
This week, I’m going to start going to Gringo Tuesdays, an ex-pat night of conversation and cheap drinks at a local bar. I’m hoping to find comradery among friends with similar moments of inter-cultural weirdness.
Another goal for the week: Making the necessary phone calls/interviews in order to volunteer with children at FANA, the orphanage from which I was adopted. I also want to spend time at Hogar Margarita, the women’s shelter in which my birthmother stayed at during her pregnancy. I’ll keep you all updated with my progress!