Where are you from?
That’s a common question if you live in Toronto where half of the city’s residents are born outside of Canada. If you’re like me — born in one part of the world and raised in another — your answer may depend on where you are at the time and who’s asking. In Canada, I’m from the Caribbean; in the Caribbean, I’m from Canada. But on the dance floor, I don’t get asked where I’m from. Instead, I get told.
The first time I was mistaken for being Cuban was at the now-defunct dance club, Six Degrees. It was a Saturday night, and I was dancing hard to Reggaeton, a dance that’s very popular on the Spanish-speaking island. A seemingly random man came up to me, declaring that I was from Cuba. It’s the way you move, it’s the way you dance, he said. I was thrilled; this meant that all the time I spent in Reggaeton lessons with AfroLatino Dance Company was paying off and granting me a more natural and authentic flair.
The next major boost to my dance ego was a few years ago at Kizomba Harmony’s Friday night social in Houston, Texas. I was dancing Kizomba with an Angolan who mistook me for being one of his fellow countrymen. He told me that once I started dancing, he knew the party had finally started. But if I wasn’t Angolan, he wanted to know, why did I dance like one? The art that is dancing Kizomba originated and is still growing in Angola. I realized, once again, that my dance classes at AfroLatino were paying off.
The very next night in Houston’s Club Tropicana, I was putting the very minimal Bachata skills I possessed to good use. The live band kept everyone’s energy high, and I barely heard when my Israeli dance partner told me he thought I was from the Dominican Republic, the birthplace of Bachata. Though I was extremely flattered, I knew my limitations; my Bachata skills weren’t that good. Maybe the Cuban movement I learned during my hardcore Salsa days translated into better Bachata technique, but I would still need to head back to bachata dance class to ever deserve a compliment like that.
And so that’s exactly what I will do — head back to dance class and learn the roots of the dances I love — so that the next time a dance partner thinks I’m from Cuba, Angola or the Dominican Republic, I’ll be ready with the truth. No, I’ll say; on the dance floor, my nationality is AfroLatino.