The Ultimate Compliment

My colleague told the taxi driver something I couldn’t quite discern. After driving through town, we approached a strip mall-esque structure and climbed the stairs to a Zambian nightclub, Chez N’Temba. We were greeted by an empty dance floor and rumba music playing too loudly. I looked at my colleague. “Later. The people will dance.” I was skeptical. We positioned ourselves on a couch against the wall, staring at the mirrored walls, watching the flashing red and blue neon lights scatter patterns on the empty room.

People arrived sporadically. Women, oh the women and their bodies. Beautiful strong women with jeans that hugged their ample hips and tops that showcased their strong shoulders. Hair in intricate dos, natural, weaves, extensions, short, long, braids, dreads, sculptures. How I wish I grew up in a culture that celebrated a healthy body. I flashed back to my junior high school years, during which I allowed myself only a pint carton of milk (non-fat, of course) and a Little Debbie oatmeal cookie for my daily nutritional intake as I starved myself to a size 6, a size 4, a size 2. Oh, how many delicious meals I missed out on. I returned to the present as more people entered the club. Handsome men followed the beautiful women, men tall and dark, with solid arms, laughing eyes and booming voices, greeting each other with strong handshakes and embraces. A few Mosi Lagers later, I noticed a few people on the dance floor. There wasn’t the frenetic energy of a Latin club, instead there was an easy-going meshing of bodies and music.

My colleague poked me, “Let’s dance.” These thoughts ran through my mind: “There aren’t that many people on the dance floor. I stand out. Will people laugh at me? I think I’ve got rhythm, but is that just like everyone thinks they have a good sense of humor? I’m dressed completely differently in my long sleeved blouse, loosely covering my non-comparable backside.” Out loud, I enthusiastically answered, “Let’s do it!” Once on the floor we shook, we moved, we thumped, we swayed, we rumbaed. More bodies joined us. We squeezed closer and closer together as the dj spun song after song. I threw my head back, laughing, enjoying, feeling the frustrations of the day disappear with each passing beat.

We took a break, laughing, sweating, holding hands as women do in other parts of the world, walking back to our now-warm beers that reserved our spots on the couch. We squeezed in next to the others, people talking animatedly in many languages. I watched the dance floor, happy to have come, happy we stayed. A Zimbabwean acquaintance of my colleague approached her. They chatted in a language I couldn’t understand then she introduced us in English. We exchanged unheard pleasantries over the thumping of the music. My colleague was pushing us together, saying, “Go dance. Have fun…”

I’m always slightly intimated when dancing with a new partner. Will we follow each other’s cues? Will we have similar moves? Will we trip over each other’s feet? Max’s calloused hands grabbed mine as he faced me on the dance floor. I followed the somewhat salsa, somewhat rumba pattern of his feet as he retreated, I approached and vice versa, our hips swaying side to side, upper bodies still. He nodded, a brilliant white smile illuminating his dark face. I returned the grin, watching his laughing eyes, feeling I was doing okay. His massive arms were suddenly around me, lifting me in the air, spinning me around. As he gently placed me back on the dance floor his voice boomed, “You CAN dance…”

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