This excerpt is from an essay I wrote a few years back, modeled after Joan Didion’s Why I Write.
Of course this is based off a piece of advice from my mother. It is number one on her official list, composed orally: How to be a Brazilian. There you find dancing described in rhythm and soul, and without steps, like this:
In many ways, dancing is the art of discovering time, of turning beat into a movement, of saying nothing in the world is more important. It’s a mindless, even selfless art. Not in the way we understand mindless or selfless today, as intentionally without thought or an act for good, but mindless and selfless in the disappearance of consciousness and self. It is the art of disappearing, in spite of the attention the dancer draws to herself— the impromptu circling audience, the rapture, the apparent self-assurance— a girl dancing is a body enslaved.
I am not a professional who follows steps, and there is a difference between me and the ballroom dancer or the one who has had formal training. My classes were all at home, in a tan, carpeted living room that vibrated under speakers calling out the birdlike sounds of the cuìca over a samba rhythm, my mother informing me that I had to prove myself, that I had to move my hips, like this, to dance samba, to claim my Brazilian citizenship. All of this, before she lost herself in trance and was of no further help. My training was about feeling, and I was never any good with steps, and I can rarely dance with somebody else, because you’re supposed to follow. Unintentionally, I lead.
I am a Brazilian.
By which I mean there are impulses which I have no control over, and surrendering myself to them earned me my nonrefundable citizenship. My mother’s list: dance, kiss, and pray. Often, I can’t tell the difference between the three. Dancing is a prayer, and kissing is a dance. I must kiss bad bread in a prayer of thanks and repentance before throwing it out. Doing all of these things often and well is impossible without their complete acceptance into the sub-conscious. I dance entirely to be. That is, a meditation. Had I been trained in control and steps, I would never have learned to dance. Had I infiltrated Brazilianness, from the standpoint of American, there would have been no reason to dance. I dance entirely to forget who I am, and in the process of forgetting, to find myself.