Day 1 (Wednesday) of the kizomba festival. I was prepared. There weren’t that many people – more of a warmup for the weekend parties (weekends in Dubai are Friday/Saturday; Thursday = our TGIF). Perfect: less reason to feel nervous. Workshops went alright. But then the open freestyle dance party started. I danced with 2-3 guys that I had trouble following, and my confidence wavered. After a dance where I couldn’t execute a basic cha-cha – my partner walked me through the move like I was a beginner – I questioned my presence at the event. More people arrived. They danced well. I missed Teacher, and his familiar brand of crazy. Nobody here was crazy. They were good, I was bad, I didn’t belong, I shouldn’t have come. Cue a full-blown anxiety attack. I disappeared to my hotel room, and cried/did breathing exercises for 30 mins. I considered calling it a night and going to bed. Then I imagined Teacher finding out – he would not be impressed if I quit. So back to the party I went.
I had so much fun. Unbeknownst to me, several of the artists crashed the party – suddenly I wasn’t struggling to follow as much. I found a few non-artist guys with whom I clicked. I was dancing. And then… the DJ put on afrohouse and one of the artists lead the crowd in one big group dance. I was in my element. As is wont to happen, mid-way through the song the artist wanted someone else to lead the crowd. He looked around, and pulled/pushed whiter-than-white Vanilla to the front. I lead the room for 10-15 seconds, before giving my spot to another instructor! I improvised Afrohouse! ME! And I did good: when I busted out one of my favorite moves (“pengua”) the artist ran up to me, gave me a high five and followed my steps. That was one of the coolest/scariest things I’ve ever done.
The party ended at 3am. An instructor, upon learning that I was staying at the hotel alone, voluntold me to host the afterparty. Just like that, I found myself with 15 strangers in my room, dancing, drinking and chatting until 8am. For someone who was scared of being alone at this festival, I sure seemed to be doing a good job meeting people.#socialanxietywin
After catching a few hours sleep, I messaged FroMan, an instructor; during the afterparty, my gut had decided this is someone I’ll be friends with, and luckily for me, he seemed quite ok with that decision. Easy-peasy: Day 2 afternoon spent with Froman and 2 other instructors, Energizer and Sunshiney, laughing/chilling/relaxing in the hotel pool, the sauna & steam room. (Incidentally, saunas are my favorite weight loss tool when travelling: I swear, I sweated out 75% of all my bloat caused by excessive eating on this trip. I felt SO much more comfortable in my body after that!) When it was time for us to go back to our hotel rooms to prep for the evening workshops and dance party, we opted for the lazy option of staying in our bathing suits, with the beach towels wrapped around us for modesty. #whatcouldpossiblygowrongintheshortdistancefrompooltoroom
My room key did not work.
Nothing is pleasanter than going down to a crowded hotel lobby, in one’s bikini and a beach towel, sweaty hair plastered to one’s head, face neon pink from the sauna. In Dubai. As I stood waiting in line for the front desk, the festival’s organizer noticed me, and dragged me to meet a bunch of 8-10 artists, recently arrived, “Hi guys! Meet Vanilla! She is Teacher’s student, and as you know, he isn’t coming, so she doesn’t know anyone here.” And like a butterfly, she fluttered away, leaving me to face them alone. There they were. Exhausted, jet-lagged, annoyed at having to wait for their hotel rooms. Also, beautiful, stylish, and y’know, clothed. There I was, a wet, red tomato wrapped in a towel. Did I make things better, with smooth small talk and witty banter? No. 100% of the noises coming out of my mouth were incoherent babble. #FML The hotel re-magnetized my key. I went back to my room. My key still didn’t work. Back down to the lobby I went (ignoring the amused glances of those artists). This time the hotel sent an employee with me to assist me. Turns out… I wasn’t turning the handle the entire way, which is why my door wouldn’t open. The hotel staff was very understanding. It took me an hour to stop blushing from mortification.
Recap of this trip so far: