When did dance become such an important part of human culture? Throughout history, people have danced to express emotion, to tell stories, to honor their ancestors and create social ties. Ever since cavemen realized that they could impress cave women with their fancy footwork, somebody's been dancing. Unfortunately for me and my two left feet, the rhythm gene was somehow misplaced.
In my travels with Born to Explore, every culture that I've encountered celebrates dance. Some of the liveliest dancers I've met captured the soul of Chile in their vibrant Cueca Brava. The primal rhythms of South Africa. The sensuous and graceful folk dances of India. The exotic datsia of Cyprus, where I marveled at the agile performer who balanced fifteen glasses atop his head.
In every country, I'm invited to join in. Therein lies my problem: How do I engage with these cultures while not offending the gods of rhythm and blues?
Enter Jason Pharr and Ray Bryant, of Jay & Ray's Music for Everybody in Westport, Conn. Every week, I bring my twin toddlers to be introduced to different sounds as I play the drum, shake the tambourines, learn the two-step and generally get shown up by my 3-year-old sons.
While not in the typical explorer's handbook, this class draws upon some skill sets that every expedition leader should have. Namely, group dynamics, motivation, first aid, animal studies, and riot control. Another thing I learned from Ray & Jay: expect the unexpected. Don't get too comfortable as a spectator, because that will inevitably change.
Perfect example: my recent trip to the islands in Haida Gwaii, Canada. I thought I was going to be an observer of a beautiful and moving Inuit ceremony. As I sat in the circle of this spiritual ceremony, watching my new friends pay tribute to the earth, I was very moved.
Next thing I know, I'm being asked to provide a rhythmic beat on a gargantuan sealskin drum. While genuinely touched and honored to be asked, I was so afraid that I would ruin the magic of the evening because I am just that horrible.
I panicked. All I could think of was, what would Jay and Ray do? Images swirled through my head of the classes where I sat there with my drumsticks, bested by the 3-year-olds next to me.
Expectant Haida faces waited for me to give them the beat. I realized then that it was okay, and that I didn't need to be a superior musician to enjoy the moment. They were happy for me to simply share in their celebration. There is something so beautiful and wonderful in letting go. It's the difference between surviving and living, and that's what real exploration is all about.