I’ve been wanting to dance lately, mostly in my room and whenever I bake late at night and have the kitchen and living room all to myself. Heaven for an introvert who hasn’t had a day alone at home in over a year. I play my “Happy Day Playlist” and somehow, my cakes turn out the best ever when I dance (and sing) while baking. No kidding.

But it’s not rocket science. Dancing is one of those things that makes me happy and instantly raises my vibration. And when good vibes + good juju abound, anything is possible. My instant happy dance song is “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. Whenever it’s on, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing (even when I’m in the middle of a grocery run), I can’t help but bop my head, tap my feet, and sway my hips–trying to be a bit discreet at the same time, to contain the rhythm and joy bubbling from within, but it never lasts long. It is pure electric energy that needs to be expressed in movement.

September always unlocks happy memories. The best one in 1999, the last year of my golden ’90s childhood–hearing this song being played over and over again from a boombox in the school podium, juniors in their P.E. class dancing the swing. I was a freshman passing by, and to me, they looked like they were all having fun. I wanted to dance too, and not just any dance. I wanted to dance the swing to September. When I heard their music play, I would pull a friend aside and tell her, “Tara, sayaw tayo!” Kudos to her for indulging me even though we looked clumsy mimicking the steps. I was always the more enthusiastic one. I remember being so excited for the time to come when I can finally learn the swing. But third year came and we got folk dance instead. My group got Chinese fan dance. As with everything I did back then, I gave it my best–all-smiles in my red cheongsam top, waving my fan to a rhythm in foreign language. But the truth was, I was disappointed I didn’t get to dance what I wanted.

Then college came and on the very first term as a freshman, I got Social Dance for my P.E. class. We didn’t just learn how to dance the swing, we got the whole package–boogie, cha-cha, waltz. It was a wish fulfillment for this frustrated dancer. We didn’t dance to September, but we did to another Disco Fiasco song on my playlist–Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Nightlife”. I was secretly happy I wasn’t partnered with any of the guys in class because my dance partner was just what I needed. She was sweet and patient and made me feel at ease. She never laughed or got annoyed at me when I made mistakes or couldn’t keep up. Her palms weren’t sweaty. And most important of all, we were almost the same height. We didn’t have to worry about adjusting to each other’s level. I felt safe to feel the rhythm and just dance with less self-consciousness and inhibitions. I wanted to get it all right even if I didn’t look like a natural dancer, so whenever everyone else was out of the dorm or cooped up in their own rooms, I would practice by the shower rooms where the mirrors were so I could see myself dancing. It was precious alone time savoring something that made me happy.

On practical exam day, we danced an entire medley of all the dances we learned including modern, and passed with flying colors. I was never so blissfully happy getting a 4.0 in a subject that wasn’t academic. And I learned not just 1 but 4 dances! That more than made up for my junior high school self’s yearning to dance the swing to September. To this day, I still remember the basic steps. And I still dance just like that classic Billy Idol song goes…

“When there’s nothing to lose and there’s nothing to prove,
well I’m dancing with myself”

What is your happy dance song? What makes your heart want to dance–what makes you happy regardless of what everyone else says or everything else going around you? I hope you can find the time to dance–to let your heart just dance and do things that make you happy, whatever they are. 💃


4th post in the series: Music / Film + Writing Heals 💖

Gypsy girl turned Queen of the night

For a kid who secretly enjoyed being scared out of her wits and playing “dress up”, Halloween presented a whole new world full of possibilities.

Obviously, it isn’t a local tradition, but little me during the 1990s looked forward to watching Magandang Gabi Bayan’s Halloween special and horror movie marathons, egging classmates and friends to tell ghost stories, and re-reading my Edgar Allan Poe collection. I was particularly thrilled with Fall of the House of Usher (What was the cause of Madeline’s mysterious illness? Why did Roderick feel as though his fate was entwined with that of his sister’s and their ancestral house?), The Cask of Amontillado (Fortunato being buried alive was really morbid!), and The Tell-tale Heart (the narrator/murderer and the old man with the “vulture eye” was REALLY CREEPY).

It was Halloween on my tenth year that I remember wanting to be a beautiful gypsy girl. To have smoky hypnotic eyes, dance as though in a trance, read tarot cards, and pronounce fortunes. That was around the same time I read Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits and was very much fixated with Clara Trueba and her mystical prowess. Clara was also a diligent writer and keeper of notebooks which she painstakingly organized and kept bound with ribbons. In fact, she inspired me to do the same–to keep track of my life and thoughts by writing it out in journals and notebooks. From the moment I read the first line in The House of the Spirits: “Barabas came to us by sea”, I was instantly mesmerized. It was also the same year my sisters gave me an illustrated children’s classic edition of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which I read before the happy ending Disney version came out). The image of Esmeralda, the gypsy girl, was so exotic and mysterious, I couldn’t help but be drawn to her character. (Spoiler alert!) I remember crying at the end when Quasimodo’s and Esmeralda’s remains were uncovered years later. Of course, they died tragically.

Back to being a gypsy girl wannabe, I had aspirations of going trick-or-treating. I raided my mom’s and sisters’ closets and found a peasant blouse, a long flowing skirt, a kitsch scarf that became a turban, bangles, and hoops. For my “bolang kristal”, my sister’s heavy angel snow globe served me well. I decided that I would go barefoot, for lack of matching footwear. But there wasn’t any costume party or trick-or-treat to go to. Still, I managed to entertain them at home with my resourceful prowess in putting up a costume from scratch.

It was only the following year when my friend Jens invited me to their village Halloween party that I was able to go all out on the trick-or-treat experience. And the best surprise of all: I won consolation prize for my costume! It wasn’t the gypsy costume, though. I was a queen in a scarlet dress robe with faux fur and gold trimmings. I had a crown of gold cloth with cheap plastic jewels stitched on it. My mom didn’t have as much imagination. She bought it ready-made from SM Department Store. For extra horrific make-up, my sister painted my eyelids with black and grey eyeshadow. Despite the costume not going my way, it didn’t stop me from having such fun! We were chaperoned by one of Jens’s older sisters while we went door-to-door around the neighborhood, expecting treats more than tricks. My plastic pumpkin pail was filled to the brim with candies and sweets of all kinds. But I also remember there was this older guy in a corpse costume we kept bumping into every now and then, which I thought was weird, and he would always mock me with a “Good evening, your Highness”, while letting me pass first with him making a bow. I just chalked it up to creepy-attentive vibes and hoped I never had to encounter him again for the rest of the night.

My friend Jens was Wednesday Adams of the night and won second prize. She did look the part with her fair skin, enormous beady eyes, and long and sleek black hair in pigtail braids. She even had a headless doll sticking out of her chest pocket! Knowing Jens back then, she was the more charming, nicer version of Wednesday Adams for sure.

I had such a lovely time being Queen of the night. And being the only one who wasn’t in a typical scary/monster Halloween costume. I took in every happy moment I could and committed them to memory. And as for my treats, well, they didn’t stand a chance against my sweet tooth. They ran out in a week or so. 🙂

Originally written: November 6, 2008