I can’t explain why it happens. Perhaps it’s due to the novelty of meeting a foreigner or just a way of breaking the ice. Perhaps it just comes down to how honest my hips are. Whatever the case, for some reason, someone usually ends up forcing me to dance at some point during a trip.
The truth is, I kind of loath dancing. Sure, when the mood hits me–whatever, but I rarely go out of my way to get in a situation where dancing is inevitable. I just get forced into it. Take, for example, that time in Tajikistan after I’d just crossed the border from Kyrgyzstan. Stranded and suffering from altitude sickness, I somehow ended up dancing ‘Tajik style’ with the border guards. In Iran, a country notorious for being ‘dry’ and conservative, I figured I was safe. I figured wrong…
We bid the day farewell before we even saw the town. Overlooking an arid valley surrounded by hills tinged in hues of rose, we watched the dying light of the sun as we relieved ourselves and guzzled piping hot tea. By the time we reached the village, it was dark.
Our homestay was simple enough, as you’d expect a homestay to be. The house consisted of two sleeping rooms, a central area with a stove, and a kitchen. The toilet was outside, containing perhaps the cleanest squat toilet I’ve ever seen. I’d been prepared for a Mongolian-style pit with a little three sided fence, so I was pleasantly surprised.
Our tour leader, Yasna, was obviously familiar with and close to the family. The mother and father were immediately endearing, clasping our hands and welcoming us–thanking each of us in turn as we introduced ourselves. Their son, a university student in his late twenties, spoke a decent amount of English and took on the role of host. After talking about their daily lives for a spell, he brought up weddings. Suddenly, his eyes lit up.
“Come, watch this video of Persian dancing!” he beckoned for all of us to gather around his laptop. The scene he showed us was from a family wedding, the dancers twirled and flicked their scarves in time with the complex beat as drums pounded and a horn wailed a harrowing tune. The dance was interesting to see, but when our host suggested that the girls put on some of the costumes his family had in the next room, they were a bit apprehensive. Some took him up on the offer and soon came back bedecked in colorful scarves and glittering outfits. After a few tries at replicating the dance, more scarves were introduced to the fray, and I found myself in the thick of it.
The scarf flicking wasn’t too hard once I figured out the order. Right, right, left, right, pause, right; repeat. I struggled getting the rest of my body to move in synch (really now, are any of you surprised?), but I was soon spinning awkwardly as I twitched and lurched to the beat. Our hosts looked on in either amusement or horror, sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference. Luckily for everyone, I refrained from using the scarf as a prop for my go-to towel dance. That could’ve ended badly.
After what seemed like an endless amount of twirls and whirls, we put the scarves away and sat down for dinner. Before our eyes, a feast materialized. Barberry chicken, the freshest any of us had ever eaten. Disturbingly fresh. Deliciously so. We ate and we ate, and then I kept eating–earning the approving nod of the host’s mother. One thing that doesn’t change, no matter what country you’re in: mommas love a boy who knows how to eat!
After, a water pipe made the rounds and we rested dozily on pillows by the fire. Conversation slowed as energy levels plummeted, and eventually it was time for bed. We picked our blankets and spots on the floor; mine was close to the fireplace and toasty warm. Thoroughly tired and content, I laid down and thought about the night. Up to this point in the trip, I’d been struggling to enjoy being on a tour. I missed the flexibility and relaxed schedule of traveling solo. But somewhere between the twirling scarves and the passing of the pipe, I let that little bit of negativity go. This was going to be fun.
I smiled and closed my eyes, ready to pass out for the night.
Then, the snoring started.
Do you have any experiences or encounters which eased your discomfort in a new situation? Or any fun stories involving dancing? Let me know in the comments below!