Dance, dance wherever you may be

Feathers, drums, silver heels, swingin’ rhythm, move your hips: it’s Carnaval!  Days and evenings of rehearsals brings the Austin Samba School closer to the grand production in February. No winter blues in this crowd; there isn’t time to get down, except to Samba Reggae. Drummers and dancers alike meet every Wednesday evening at the Austin State Hospital gymnasium to learn Samba drum rhythms and dance steps.  In September all (volunteer) participants are asked to make a serious time-commitment to a grueling rehearsal schedule necessary to create a tight, spectacular carnaval show. I made the commitment and am now in the midst of eating, breathing–living samba. Cautious at first, but curious, I started attending the Wednesday night dance sessions last Summer. Clark has been drumming with the Samba School for several years during which time he has repeatedly encouraged me to join the group.  Me? A 52 year old woman with only minimal dance experience? Oh yes–why not! I am in good company for I have discovered a rich, varied community of women, all ages, shapes, backgrounds, who like me took the samba plunge. In fact, it is astounding what an eclectic bunch makes up the whole Samba School. Our roster includes doctors, lawyers, nurses, counselors, artists, students, musicians, the whole gamut.  It is furthermore interesting how quickly we bonded over the immediate task of learning basic samba steps–and then the challenging choreography for the carnaval show. Considering that the whole operation is a volunteer effort, it is amazing that the school pulls off such stunning, crowd-pleasing performances.  Or is it?  The most infectious, irresistible part of the Samba school is that it is FUN. For those of us serious types, schooled in the Protestant work ethic which regards anything other than work suspect, the fun aspect is a challenge. Questions quickly arise, like: “shouldn’t I spend what precious time I have available volunteering for a more serious cause, one which helps people?” or “shouldn’t I use any extra time I have to work on my art?”

Regarding the first question, samba DOES help people. On a physical level, it gets participants in shape! It also brings me and my fellow participants great joy–and it infects everyone around us with joy. In a world continually traumatized by disturbing events, experiencing joy seems vital, necessary for our survival. Furthermore, Samba is inclusive: everyone is welcome regardless of level of experience, background, race, color, size, age. Any feeling of self-consciousness is quickly replaced by one of belonging and solidarity–that we are all in this together.  For an artist who spends a lot of time in solitude, the community aspect of Samba is most welcome. And, regarding my concern about samba vs. time for artmaking, I can say that my samba experience invigorates me, helps me feel alive, and  has inspired a multitude of  ideas for new art projects. Perhaps most importantly, joining the samba school has given me the valuable experience of being a beginner. When my own students express fear and doubt about the blank page, I can empathize, my blank page being the dance floor. And like my students, if I am willing to keep moving, the fear turns to fun, and the joy of feeling alive is worth the risk of whatever mistakes we make in the process of learning something new.

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