Some little miracles in life that I got from dance

“You can’t put this child on a stage this way!”, complained the director when he confronted a weird little character, maybe the weirdest of all. It was a seven-year-old girl who learned the whole script and all the lyrics without problems and happily recited it on request. She had no fear standing in front of any audience – but her ankles were so crooked and she walked so strange that adults felt worried. “You should send her to Auntie Lucy!”, the parents heard from the theatre people. It will be good for her, not only for the theatre play’s sake, but hers as well.

I was this little girl (I didn’t notice until now how hard it is to write, say, hear, accept this phrase “crooked leg” even after all this time), and this is how my relationship with Auntie Lucy started. It lasted for more than a decade, but obviously had lifelong impacts. Legends floated around her like smoke, as she liked to smoke a cigarette or drink an espresso between the ballett, tap dance, acrobatics and stage dance lessons. Then she returned and jumped through the dancehall for another hour, with an almost blazing energy around her. If we asked her how old she was, she didn’t give a straight answer (“until I could lift my leg to this point, I was sixteen, now I’m twenty”), but now I know that she was already around seventy-four when I started my lessons with her. And I returned and returned, slowly I learned how to switch out my ankle, my walking also improved a lot, there was no practical reason anymore to continue dancing (it was obvious that I can’t be a great dancer anyway), but I just didn’t give up. Auntie Lucy knew something that attached me to her even in high school, although I already gave up acting at this point.

After finishing high school, I moved abroad and couldn’t attend Auntie Lucy’s lessons anymore. After the first two semesters at university, bad memories of school PE started to fade and I searched for some sport that really fits me. It might not be surprising that, after twelve years of dance lessons, I ended up with Zumba. According to legend, this sport came to be when aerobic trainer Beto Pérez forgot aerobic music at home. To avoid disappointing his clients, he improvised a dance aerobic lesson with Latin American music he kept in his car. Following the great success, he developed the whole dance-gymnastics Zumba method. My first instructor was Jasmin, a sparkingly beautiful young lady with waist length blonde hair. Her childhood passion was ballett which defined her personal method. I guess she showed the most graceful and elegant Zumba movements from all the instructors I’ve ever known. Then some classes were cancelled, but Jasmin returned very soon, without her waterfall-hair and with colourful Zumba scarves on her head. She danced with such a big smile, one wouldn’t even have thought that she drops in between two chemotherapies.

Years went by, I had to choose a topic for my BA thesis, which led me to a Viennese Hungarian group. I wanted to map how they build a certain Hungarian identity as migrants and how they pass it to the further generations. At almost all events, there were the Sunflowers and the Little Sunflowers, an adult and a child folk dance group. It might sound strange, but back in Hungary, I never really realized the ancient power in the easy (or at least apparently easy) movements of folk dance and of the crying-laughing sound of folk instruments. I noticed this in Vienna for the first time. I liked to watch girls in big skirts, with ribbons in their hair, and the boys who embraced and twirled them. A world that never existed. An identity preserved, constructed, always reconsidered.

How could it be that my identity is also deeply influenced by dance? Dance, something that I had to do because my awful movements had to be improved? Auntie Lucy died last March – it just punched us all on the stomach, none of her old pupils could really believe this to happen, it seemed obvious that Auntie Lucy might live forever. I only learned her age from the necrology: she was ninety-three. Sometimes I look in the old dance school Facebook group to see how the others are, and once in a while I also check my first Zumba instructor Jasmin’s profile – it seems she’s fine, she and her husband visit awesome places.

Then I stand up and leave the computer to go for a walk, do something or have fun, and basically all of my steps remind me that dance is a miracle. It changed my whole life and I have no idea what could I have done without it.

#NoBabel – a concert and discussion series for Hungarian adolescents: #NoBabel 1, #NoBabel 2, #NoBabel 3, #NoBabel 4