As I sit down to write about and reflect on my life in Barcelona this summer, I have a few adjectives and superlatives rolling around in my head to describe it, but each time I try to put them into writing they seem far too trite and inconsequential. I often have this difficulty when trying to express my feelings about dance in written or spoken language. I suppose that’s the reason that I dance in the first place; I find that the language of movement is always the most honest and effective for me, and that I usually can’t convey with words everything that I want to convey.
But as I have been learning this summer, the two are more closely connected than I had previously considered. I’ll explain.
When I first arrived in Barcelona four and a half weeks ago, I spent the majority of my time and energy trying to keep up with the language and engage in conversation with my host family as best as I could. It was completely exhausting. There were times- more than I’d like to admit- that I would simply nod my head and say “Oh sí, sí, claro,” when I had absolutely no idea what had just been said to me. I was painfully aware of my out-of-place-ness in the culture, and frequently described my situation as being out of my comfort zone.
When I stepped into the dance studio at my internship for the first time, however, I felt the insecurity and exhaustion melt away from me as if it had never been there in the first place. Here, thousands of miles away from my family in the States, I was home. Regardless of whether or not I could translate every word said in my dance classes, I was able to really understand what was happening and what I needed to do. I began to believe more than ever that the language of dance is one that is powerful, universal, and (no pun intended) moving. And then, I noticed something amazing happening. Every day after my dance classes, I would leave the studio thinking clearly and effortlessly in Spanish. It was as if every new word that I heard in the studio stuck without the need of repetition or rehearsal. I started giving this phenomenon some real thought, wondering what it was about being in a dance class that gave me so much confidence with the foreign language that I was trying to grasp. After all, isn’t dance supposed to be an art free from the need of verbal expression?
The answer came to me in the middle of a contemporary dance class taught by the lovely, talented, and delightful Raffaella Crapio. She had given us several intense steps to try, but being a classically trained ballet dancer, I was having some difficulty getting my body to figure them out. To be frank, I was trying really hard to do them, but I think that fear is what was really holding me back. Raffaella must have seen me suffering through it, because she smiled at me and threw herself into the movements to show me once again how they should be done. I was so struck by her complete abandon and freedom, and how she was so confident that her feet would once again find the floor after she recklessly pushed them off of it. So, as I try so often to do in that class, I let go of my fear and really went for it. To my astonishment, my feet found the floor like they had known what to do the whole time, and my brain had just been holding them back. Instant epiphany.
It suddenly became so clear to me that in the studio, I had been treating language in the same way that I was treating dance—with the acceptance that it was new and scary and that I wouldn’t necessarily get it the first time, but with the trust that if I threw myself into it completely, I would come to understand it that much more profoundly. Now I just needed to use that outside of the studio as well.
With my new awareness, I now find it really beautiful that my languages have reinforced each other so effectively. I still sometimes nod my head in conversation and say “Oh sí, claro,” without understanding, but I am no longer restrained by fear, in or outside of the dance studio, which has opened many doors for me already. So now, as I look forward to my remaining weeks of living in this beautiful city, I will begin each day ready to throw myself—mind and body—into the culture so that I can feel more deeply and securely that I am a part of it.
Written by Bethany Green
Performing Arts Abroad dance intern in Spain