Dancing Feels Like Home

He held out his hand and asked me to dance. My introverted self was screaming inside to say no, but my mom pushed me forward, encouraging me. I was 10 years old, and we were at a friend's house in Lima for a party. No party in Peru is complete without dancing, but my midwestern upbringing was not used to that—I didn't know the first thing about salsa! But we were in Peru now, and when I was asked to dance, I danced.

My introduction started with moving back and forth and clapping my hands, until I slowly picked up a couple of the steps. Years of stepping on toes and saying sorry to dance partners and my dancing skills have only slightly improved. Despite all this, I fell in love with salsa and bachata and every kind of Latin American movement.

Dancing is everywhere in Peru; it’s a way to share history and tell stories. The country is rich in traditional dances, and I grew to love this part of Peruvian culture. It didn't matter that I was never very good at it. No one cared that my hips were stiff like a board and that I had no sense of rhythm; they welcomed it.

I felt out of place when we moved back to the states, and nothing felt like home. It was at my fourth high school that I met a girl named Marie who invited me to go dancing with her and some friends. I agreed, and she took me to a restaurant I had never heard of. We walked inside and I was immediately transported home. There was a band playing salsa music and people were speaking Spanish. We danced all night long and became best friends. Marie is Russian, and I am American. Together we found every bar, restaurant and club in Minnesota that had Latin American music and went to them all. I may have been in the states, but these places allowed me to feel like I was back in Peru again: the home where I first discovered my love for dance.

Since then, I have traveled to many new places. I'm learning that you can find pieces of home no matter where it is you go.