How a Dance in Brazil Reminded Me That I’m the Leader of My Life 

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

An unexpected dance

My trip to Brazil was unusually fast in this slow journey I’ve been on. Several months ago I was in La Serena, Chile, and met Monica, a lovely woman from Sao Paolo, Brazil, at my hostel. We were instant friends, and she asked me to come visit her in Sao Paolo. Unlike many people, Monica stayed in touch, and kindly took me in for about a week when I came to Brazil. Every person I have met from Sao Paolo has been unbelievably lovely, and Monica is the shining star. 

Monica and I at our hostel in La Serena, Chile.

I didn’t spend much time in the proper city of Sao Paolo, but what was most impressed on my memory are all the homeless in the streets. Rio de Janeiro, however, impressed the hell out of me. First of all, that song “Samba!…Rio de Janeiro!” now has actual real street images in my mind to accompany the lyrics when I think them. My tour guide TAUGHT me to dance the samba inside a church! The city is amazing. I still don’t understand how (or why!) people carved through literal mountains to make it. It’s indescribable and awe-inspiring. I felt like a fly on mound of paradise. Whether on Copacabana beach, standing by Christ the Redeemer, or taking in the views of the city after a Capirinha, I had my jaw hanging open most of the day. I had only a day there, and did the perfect tour to take in all of the major sites, and definitely want to return. We passed the colorful favella in our tour bus, and discussed how Rio is thought of as a dangerous city, but, in fact, most of the danger is outside the center.

A fabulous way to see the world, one city at a time.

Back in Sao Paolo, I learn that Monica loves to dance Forro. So, the Saturday night I’m with her, we go to her favorite local dance club until about 4am. We stand by the dance floor and wait for a nearby man to choose us for a whirl. A live band begins to play after midnight, adding to the energy in the room.

Sometimes I sit on the sidelines and watch, other songs I am invited to participate. The dance seems very easy, but somehow I struggle to complete the steps. I’ve always felt I’m better at dancing alone than trying to dance with a partner. As I change partners, I begin to self reflect, finding it comical that this dancing should become such an analytical  experience!

Each dance partner is different. Even though those steps seem so damn easy I can’t seem to follow anyone’s lead. I tried many partners. Some are awful (either we just didn’t fit together right or they were not a strong enough leader….for me.) Others try to help me learn the steps, but I don’t seem to have good rhythm with any of them.

While trying to find a dance leader I can follow, it suddenly hits me that I’ve been trying to follow other people’s leads my entire life. The problem is, I’m not a follower. I’m a leader. I have never been a good follower, even though I tried my hardest. (Though why I tried is now bafflling to me.)

I had the same experience in corporate. Whenever I tried to follow someone else’s steps (direction) I felt like I couldn’t quite figure them out and felt foolish trying. I like to dance my own dance and tend to naturally lead where others want me to follow.

I watch Monica and other women perfectly execute the steps of this dance that is so simple but unfamiliar. I love seeing her happiness as she spins and steps in tune with her partners. I admire that she seems to be able to perfectly dance with any partner, so it’s not about them, it’s about her joy and her experience.

In many ways, this journey I’ve dared to embark on, I now realize, has been about me re-learning my own dance steps to be the leader of my own life. My song may be a bit out of tune for some, but it’s my song. My feet naturally dance my own rhythm. But now, instead of trying to change my tune to dance to someone else’s music, I get to let my heart be my song. Instead of trying to force my feet to follow someone else’s steps, I get to pave my own. I smile as I realize the world is my partner and traveling it is my own joy and experience.

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