Dance has always been my outlet. For over 11 years, I have been an avid bachaterx and salserx but it wasn’t until I moved to DC in August 2019 that I found my latinx dance community: Café Citron on Wednesdays, The Salsa Room on Fridays and Saturdays, and Green Lantern for QT Night on Sundays. It was the most inclusive community I’ve ever stumbled upon! Throughout my first year of grad school, I always had these salsa nights to dance the stress away. I remember vividly the last time I went dancing in the DMV (DC-Maryland-Virginia) area was at The Salsa Room during spring midterms. Who knew March would be my last time connecting with another body to the vibrant afro-latinx beats before lockdown?
Life without dancing was killing me. Every 5-minute dance washes away my worries and anxieties like the sweat on my brow and, every partner teaches me something new, which keeps me smiling (most sometimes, but we all have those dancer moments). How was I supposed to complete my 2nd semester of grad school, with having transitioned to online classes and having moved up to Maryland, and release all the tension while managing the peril we, as a society, were facing!? I don’t think there’s ever been a time in social dancing history where a global community had to cancel lessons, congresses, seminars, workshops, and gatherings for this length of time. Feeling defeated by the increasing barriers to people and movement, I relinquished social dancing, but only for a few weeks..
Enter in Bri Jones’ Bachata Challenge. Bri is a famous, professional dancer in the DMV area who posted an open challenge on her Instagram account. The reward? A free virtual lesson with her! Tired of not dancing, I decided to give it a shot. To participate, you had to upload your video to Instagram. I saw this as my chance to showcase, not only hijabis but, queer hijabis and our love for bachata and latinx dancing. I recorded my video, uploaded to the platform, and gained lots of positive feedback. My soul was ignited again, if only for a few days.
A few days later, Bri invited me to try out for her bachata-fusion, femme dance team, The Virago Movement, on Facebook. I had a lot of self-doubt, especially with my new graduate-level course load. Me, a hijabi bachaterx that just dances for fun, try out for a team? I messaged my friend Emmy and she encouraged me to, “Go for it!” The worst that could happen is I wouldn’t make the team, and that was okay. I messaged Bri my acceptance, attended the try-outs and, despite my nervousness, I made it!
Her dance team had begun earlier in the season, so I had to catch up on a bit of choreography. It took some time, but I did it! From then on, the rest of the semester was filled with learning new choreography, lots of laughs and goofiness, body conditioning, learning new techniques, brushing up on basics, and all of the technical follies that come with Zoom and virtual meetups. Luckily, my class schedule didn’t interfere with practices. Working with Bri was a serendipitous experience. She always knew how to make us feel included, accepted, and worked our booties off. My teammates were equally as amazing and became my little bachaterx family. Despite not being able to meet in person, I was able to find community with my dance family and keep the isolation at bay. Having choreographies to practice gave me a reason to escape the monotony of studying and going to the grocery store. I was able to move my body like before but instead of creating a weaving of two entities, I was able to focus on the center of my own movements. Even during Ramadan, I was able to make time for worship and dance.
Right around the start of summer, we started to record what we’ve had learned so far for a future team video. I was blessed to be able to purchase performance dance shoes, which were put to very good use. Being hijabi, I was also able to modify my outfit for my religious and spiritual needs. After many hours of trial and error, recording fumbles, and sweat ruining my perfectly-done makeup, I had many finished products that I was happy with. During this pandemic, I was also able to partake in a few of the online workshops and seminars other dance instructors were offering as a result of the Zoom boom. The most memorable was the Despelotex Queer Latin Dance Festival in June. Not only did I see my favorite queer instructors, I was able to have a latinx dance party with other fellow queer dancers! With my rainbow dance shoes in place, I made it known that this queer hijabi bachaterx was loud and proud.
I truly didn’t know how much I needed to be with a bachata/latinx dance community during this pandemic until I found it. For me, dancing is not only a physical and mental experience, but a spiritual one. As I feel the afro-latinx beats and vocals, it pierces my soul and allows me to become one with myself, with Allah, and with all of my fellow beings: expressing that feeling with the movement of my body. It’s similar to how whirling dervishes in the Mevlevi Turkish Sufi sect of Islam become one with Allah, by spinning, meditating, and falling into an ecstatic trance of spiritual bliss. When I’m spinning, I feel that same bliss. Allah is blessing me by allowing me to perform these moves, to feel the music, and to express myself. I couldn’t think of a better way to be myself and flourish during this pandemic. Through the virtual dance meetups, I’ve learned how to love myself more, to treat my body with much more respect and patience, and that we can still be a dance family despite the adversities COVID-19 has given us. I’m not sure when we can safely meet up to practice and perform but know that this queerjabi bachaterx is here to stay, slay, and cha-cha away.