I brought three pairs of shoes to Mauritius–dress shoes, tennis shoes, and flip flops. Apparently that wasn’t enough. Immediately upon arrival on this island, ripe with surprises as it is exotic fruit, I realized what essential footwear I forgot–my dancing shoes.
When I landed in Africa, I had no way of knowing what would happen during my first adventure through the sunny corridors of Mauritian public schools, where I ran into a group of smiley schoolgirls dressed in pastel blue. We shook hands and introduced ourselves. They were giggly, and I was ecstatic. I dove into an explanation of the Eli Africa education center, eager to invite the girls to our opening weekend. Loaded with pocketfuls of freshly-printed flyers, I excitedly announced the usual facts–we teach every day, it’s free!, we’re located in Pamplomousses, we’re all university students from America, it’s free!, we’re open all weekends, it’s free! And then I paused.
“What do you girls like to do?” I asked.
They exchanged smiles and fired back a unanimous response: “DANCE!”
Ever since, I’ve been a dance teacher.
Dancing with Mauritian youth is sort of like taking a ride on the Mauritian public bus system–unpredictable, loud, and full of adventure. In order to test the waters, we started last week with the basics–a simple line dance that I may (or may not) have learned on the dance floor of my middle school socials. The kids immediately proved to possess some pretty serious talent and graduated to real choreography immediately. Since then, we’ve been dabbling in genres like musical theater and hip-hop. I was instantly impressed by the kids’ sense of timing. I learned that most Mauritian youngsters have experience in sega and traditional Indian dance, which has equipped them with a basic sense of rhythm. This awareness has enabled us to focus on the often tricky physicality of learning to move in new ways, without getting tripped up with the basics of keeping a beat. (Though sometimes we work on that too.)
Eli Africa now sports a dance troupe of various levels–some are confident girls constantly ready to strut their stuff. Some are tough guys keepin’ it cool on the back row. Some kids are concerned with looking silly, while others struggle to believe that they are capable of dancing at all. But everyone so far–and I truly mean everyone–has been willing to try. Mauritius may not be full of dance classes, but it’s full of bright-eyed kids ready to move. And ultimately, that’s what Eli Africa has come to represent–positive, active, upward motion. With or without dancing shoes.