The universal language of dance

Coming from Brooklyn and two subway exchanges later, I arrived at South Bronx. It was my first time.

I identified from the sea of faces the young man I was supposed to meet: an African-American man with dreadlocks. I approached him and introduced myself. He said his name was Bless.

We walked together for ten more minutes with some small talk, before we finally stopped in a spot below the bridge by a colorful graffiti mural. I looked around, and observed some skateboarders practicing their tricks looking at us. They left after they satisfied their curiosity, only to be replaced by bikers driving around with loud Harleys and leather jackets.

I shrugged, but I was also sweating, my eyes darted left to right, trying my best (and failing) to act like I was from the ‘hood.

Bless opened his bag, to take out some biscuits, water and bluetooth speakers.

“So… this is my first time dancing hip-hop.” I admitted.

“That’s alright,” Bless shrugged as he offered me some of the biscuits. “Do you do other dances?”

Five years ago, I would’ve responded with ‘I don’t know how to dance’ / ‘I have two left feet’, / ‘I ain’t got no rhythm.’

Funny how things change. “Yes. Pole. And latin dances. Salsa, bachata, samba. Some belly dancing.”

“Perfect. Because we will do a lot of isolations.” Bless said.

I didn’t really take up any form of dancing until late 2013; just 5 years ago, when I started to do solo travel. Hmm, It’s funny how I learned a lot of survival skills since I started to do solo travel–swimming, surfing, skating, and even improv (e.g. art of B.S.).

Apart from drinking, the two other important social lubricants in are smoking and dancing.

I don’t smoke, but I do like moving bodies.

The value of dancing is more apparent once you are in a foreign land that speaks a different language. When you are lost in translation, you just let the eyes–and the bodies–do the talking.

¿Te gusta bailar?

universal language of dance.JPG

Dance is a language on its own–speaking with movement, and at the same time listening to the other person. It’s all about identifying the signals: the slight push of a hand to signal you to step back; a gentle nudge at the shoulder to signal you to turn; a slight motion to the direction you are heading towards…

In that sense, dancing makes you more intuitive in understanding people and their body language. What a one-second gaze vs. a three-second gaze means; when a nudge is friendly or when it is something more; and microsecond gestures that may help distinguish actual disinterest from just playing hard to get…

It’s learning to become more sensitive to changes: because a slight change in vocal tone, in frequency or in energy–these micro-changes always signal a change of direction; or attraction; or behavior.

its showtime nyc

Bless is really talented, and is actually part of It’s Showtime NYC! a New York movement that promotes street culture and provide professional development opportunities for the street & subway dancers and youth in the city. They teach and perform hip-hop for a social cause-– 100% of the proceeds goes to Dancing in the Streets INC.

Bless proceeded to teach me the basics of hip-hop–waving, locking and popping. It was challenging for someone so new to hip-hop, but we had an awesome afternoon filled with goofing off and some laughters.


When we ended, it was already late afternoon and starting to get dark.

“It’s not very safe around here,” Bless said, hence he insisted to walk me back to the station. He shared that he has known too many friends who already ‘got shot and stuff’. He then told me that dance probably saved his life away from the gangs and the streets.

I asked Bless what he does apart from dancing. “That’s all I ever do. Even when I’m not dancing, I’m thinking about it.” Bless responded. He listens to the music all the time, he practices his move when commuting to and fro, his whole life revolves around his craft. “In fact, I think I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life.”

And although my new friend didn’t have much in common at first, we ultimately got more close, bonded by the same zest for dance and music.


Why Do We Travel?

I had lunch alone again.

I was sat in a little Vietnamese restaurant in Paris, staring at my pho and contemplating why I keep on doing this. Why I continue to put myself into uncomfortable situations.

Coming from a country with strong social ties, traveling is done with family or friends. Traveling alone is unheard of–especially for a (gasp) young female on a quarter-life crisis.

Who’s going to eat lunch with you? Who’s going to make sure you won’t get lost? Who’s going to take your pictures?!?!?!

It all felt liberating, to be able to do everything on my own. Eating alone and mastering selfies were the easy part of the equation. But having the patience of a small bladder, I found bearing through long queues alone the hardest. To occupy my time, I often engage in idle chitchat with other tourists in the queue. I’m usually lucky enough to have an American in front or behind me, as they are usually the most talkative and do not hesitate in telling me their life story a few minutes later.

So, really, why do you travel?


I am chasing my dreams, pursuing my happiness, I tell myself. Traveling will enlighten me. Traveling will make me happy. I do not need superficial and material possessions to validate my being.

And yet I know this is not totally truthful. I, just like most travelers, am sold to the myths of travel. No studies prove that traveling makes any of us happier. Our desires are shaped by romantic consumerism–they are neither personal nor natural, but ideas shaped by modern Western thought on humanist, capitalist and romantic myths.

Traveling is the new vanity. Traveling entails cost, and thus, it is a commodity–the hottest in the market of beard-growing hipsters today.

If I was Lisa del Giocondo, wife of a rich Italian merchant, in the 14th century– which will make me adore my husband more– a trans-Atlantic cruise or my oil portrait painted by one of Italy’s greatest masters? Similarly, an Egyptian royal would never think of going on a holiday to satisfy his desires. He would rather dedicate his life to building himself a pyramid.

We are all in the bandwagon of experience-based consumerism and it’s so hard to get out of the fluff. The tourism industry ought to thank our new freethinking philosophy. The capitalists we hate so much are earning so much from us, as well.

After engaging in a ten-minute monologue, I am brought back to reality of my piss cold pho.