I have always been a dancer. I don’t remember a moment in my life when I haven’t danced, even as a baby. That may sound crazy, but I remember being held by my Mom or my Dad, not sure which one, while he/she danced. I’m not sure if was to calm me down for sleep, or just for the fun of dancing but I have a vivid memory of the room, the light, and “feeling” the sound of the music all around me.
I was recently invited to a party to celebrate Father’s Day. It was a great party, lots of friends, food and music. We all danced and had a great time. The DJ played all types of music, mostly Latin Salsa and Merengue, but he also played Rock in Spanish, Disco, Rock and Roll, the Twist, Jitterbug, and of course the party favorite YMCA. I was having a blast changing my dancing style to the type of music playing.
When the twist, swing and rock and roll of the 50’s and 60’s came along, something magical happened to me. While I was dancing and doing the steps to Jailhouse Rock… l was magically transported to the old kitchen from my childhood home. I saw the unique electric light on the ceiling. I could see the light from the fire peeking thru the discs on the metal top of the wood stove, and could feel its warmth. All of my siblings and I were gathered around a small old radio while my mom, in a dark green pencil skirt, a light green soft sweater, hair to her shoulders, and sharp pointy green leather heels, was washing dishes at the sink.
The electricity at that time was provided by an old diesel power engine located at the center of the city. This big, loud engine had difficulty providing strong electric current for everyone in my hometown of San Marcos, Guatemala. It gave us just enough power to give out a soft flickering light as bright as a candle and to power some of the appliances, including our small radio.
All of the same elements that were there on the dance floor had suddenly set my memory alight to recreate that scene, complete with the cozy ambiance that I remembered when I was a child.
I looked forward to this time in the afternoon. Always between 5 and 6, it was a time I treasured, not just for the music and dancing we did, but it was Story Time for children on the radio too. I believe it was the same for my brothers and sisters. We all sat together to listen to classic fairy tales, narrated by a girl our age, that later on, in our college years at the capital of my country, she became our roommate.
Before the stories and after there was always music.
As I danced on the floor a few nights ago, in this beautifully vivid memory, I saw a 4’10” woman, in her early 30’s…a fit, beautiful, fun, dancing woman…my mother.
However, most of my memories of my mom when I was a child were of her sadness, anxiety, and depression. My father and mother had their issues, as do most married couples. Mami often worked 12 to 14 hour days, if not more to help my dad support all six of us, on top of raising us. Sometimes, she would be washing dishes with tears in her eyes, which saddened me.
But when the music came on the radio, the magic happened every time. It didn’t matter how sad she was, if Elvis came on the radio my mom’s tears were replaced by a beautiful smile. She set aside the dishes and dropped everything. She transformed before my eyes into the most amazing dancer there ever was. She grabbed our hands and we all would dance. She did the twist, the bop, the Charleston, the jive… everything. She would even do the Elvis salute at the end of the song when she would slide on her knees. She taught us every dance move she knew. She’d make a circle with all of us, and instruct us on how, when, and where to jump. She taught us the steps to every song. She turned all of us into her own little dance troupe there in her kitchen. My mom gave me a gift that I’ve treasured my whole life. My love of dance.
At the party, while dancing and doing the jitterbug, I saw my mother reflected in me. My Mom, a tiny woman but a giant to me. Her courage, her determination to provide, to create, to make sure her kids had everything they needed, made her look like a Wonder woman… especially in my memory, but a tiny dancer, now that I am older and look back to those times.
I thought about her, and about the many times I have danced away my sadness and my troubles.
I thought about how many times I have grabbed my three boys, and made them dance with me! I hope they will remember me dancing with them as I remember dancing with my mom.
I’ve not always known the best way to express my love to my Jovi, my wonderful Mami. It was easier for me to express love to my dad, I don’t know why. However on this Father’s Day, even though I did think of my dad and I was grateful for the years that he was alive and in my life, at the end of the day, I was thinking of my Mom. I have always admired my mother’s strength, her energy, and her creativity.
Her passion for dancing has blessed my life in so many ways. I use music to meditate, to relax, to work out, to unwind, to express… and while I was jitterbugging on Father’s Day, I realized that I am my mother’s daughter… I am glad and proud that I am.
Photos of flowers… para Mami.