My hair is gelled and super-sprayed all the way back. The wind chills me through the black fishnet shirt and flutters my slack black pants. “Number 163… The first dance: Rumba.”
Recognizing my cultural values as a Korean who went to middle school in Guatemala and started high school in Venezuela is a daunting task. Latin dance, however, could embody the values of the mixture between Korean and South American culture, the combination of the opposites.
“Hey, remember to lengthen four. And do two and three fast.” Yuna murmurs without moving her lips, since any lip motion is a point deduction. The music starts, and the beat is constant; yet I stress the movement on the fourth beats, stretching my torso and releasing the tension swiftly. The dance looks vigorous only when my partner and I dance fast in chasse, but slow in cucaracha – fast in two and three, slow in four.
I was born in a country where Chinese black noodle delivery takes about twelve minutes, where appointments are scheduled to allow only five minutes’ tardiness, where people close an Internet browser when the page doesn’t open in three seconds. Then I moved to a country where a pizza delivery takes an hour, where events start two hours after the scheduled time, where it takes two months just to install an Internet connection. At first, I couldn’t imagine myself ever adapting to Guatemala; everything was just so slow. But the obvious fact dawned on me after a few years in South America that fretting over hours wasn’t making time go fast.
Such an outlook was valuable in high school in Korea. While preparing for a school play, I ordered the props as quickly as possible, but did not get upset even when the materials arrived a few days later. While assigning parts of book translation to Spanish Honor Society members, I would praise the ones on time, and not fuss over the late ones. It’s the combination of fast and slow that soothes the mind and creates a better dance.
After the first round my coach takes me to the resting room and gives me the usual paradoxical advice: prepare the next move, and enjoy the moment. “The second dance: Cha-cha-cha.” I walk into position, thinking: How could I enjoy the moment while thinking of the next move? But I remember that it is possible in Latin dance; by shifting balance to the foot I am about to move, I can stretch my torso and extend my hands gracefully, still ready for the next step.
I was born in a country where parents plan their children’s kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school and university, where half of the newspaper advertisements are about insurance, where phones are full of fortunetelling apps. Then I moved to a country where people party even on Sunday nights, where vacations and holidays are more important than promotions, where people swim not to reach the end but to enjoy the water. In Venezuela I was concerned that adapting to this carefree culture would ruin my future; but I also realized that the present is what makes the future possible.
I came to value both future and present. My carefully planned timeline of life is pinched with many activities and sports I enjoy. I’m preparing for and stressed out about the school play; yet I also enjoy the present, the moment when actors make amusing mistakes on stage. There are set goals in the Spanish Honor Society, such as the book translation, but I make sure no one is obsessed about finishing the project, but rather takes pleasure in learning Spanish while translating.
The dance ends. I grab my partner, spin her around twice, and bow. Thank you for trying to understand my cultural identity. Thank you for watching my dance.