Relieving the Coronavirus bogey with some Lockdown boogie

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As lockdowns applied the brakes on movement and travel, an aunt and niece thrived and jived by making a song and dance of it all and travelling across genres and time periods on the wings of movement.

Nothing like a jig to free yourself from your woes.

Is it now Unlock 2.0 or Lockdown Number I’ve-lost-count? Life outside may have resumed in some form, but with the virus raging on resiliently, those of us who have the privilege, continue to stay in. Routines are on a loop and the days have all blurred. Although being confined within my apartment should have made me feel like my world has shrunk, surprisingly it feels busy and borderless. The days brim with housekeeping, work, tending to my rambunctious pair of dogs, video chats with friends and family, heated games of Scrabble and exploring the depths of Netflix. But those are fillers, things that need to be done while the niggling uncertainty around interrupts my routine, cropping up mid-stir while cooking, leaving a sentence dangling while I write, eating into my concentration while I watch a thrilling drama, constantly rewinding to figure out what I missed. But there has been one time during the day when that uncertainty disappears, when there is an escape from news of loss and sickness, of deprivation and cruelty, of rising numbers and raging storms and seething insect swarms. A regular activity during lockdown, in the virtual company of a child, has unexpectedly proven to be the gateway to something larger, an escape that has me moving back and forth in time, between the realms of nostalgia and the present.

For the last five months, I have been dancing with my ten-year-old niece, an activity that has kept us connected even while we’re apart, bridging the thirty-year age gap between us and imparting a comfort and joy that has stood us in good stead, and continues to, through this time of isolation. It all started in February, when Cyra, my niece, was cooped up at home when schools closed. We both like to dance, and on one of my weekend visits to her house I introduced her to a song I had been listening to on a loop, an electro-swing piece by Austrian DJ, Parov Stelar. She loved it, bobbing her head approvingly. With her bunk bed as a backdrop, we choreographed a little routine to ‘Booty Swing’ over two visits, recording it and sharing with friends and family. They enjoyed our jig; we enjoyed the process and the appreciation. When lockdown was announced and my weekly visits stopped, we decided to keep going.

 

 

And without charting our plans, we now find ourselves nine routines old into our ‘lockdown boogie’. We are fairly democratic in our collaboration, alternating our song choices and working together to choreograph a routine. Everything fades away in the short window, usually just a brief twenty minutes in a day, when we get together on either side of a phone screen, turn on the music, and concentrate on learning the steps we have created, correcting each other, synchronising our moves, peering into the screen, perspiring profusely and breathless with nostrils flared, encouraging each other, laughing at the comical execution of a hip roll or a graceful glide turning into a clumsy slide.

My days are punctuated by a string of WhatsApp messages, usually instructions and decisions being conveyed to me.

“Shall we dance at 7:30 today? I have ballet class before that and then I have to eat dinner.”

“Reem, I think we should do a retro song next, you know like ‘Footloose’ or ‘Stayin Alive’? From the forties or fifties or whenever those songs are from!

“Check this step out, I’m sending you a video. Let’s learn it and practice it tonight.”

“People seem to like Bollywood, let’s do Bollywood for a change.”

“Mamma says to give her phone back, I’ll call you later to practise.”

We have shared and learned about each other and our choices in music, which are surprisingly similar.

I’ve learned to be patient when I see a slight furrowing of her brow and a listless rendering of a step, signalling for me to step back and tell her to think of something more to her liking. She in turn sportingly acknowledges that I should infuse some variety when she choreographs a sashay for 32 counts. When we are practising a routine to ‘Wake me up before you go-go’, she laughs uproariously when I tell her about how I danced enthusiastically to the same song at her age, kicking my shoe off in an enthusiastic move at a party, hobbling over to retrieve it from where it had landed in the middle of a group of chatting ladies. Or how her Nana, my father, was livid when he found out my sister and I had watched Saturday Night Fever when I was seven, even though I had little recollection of anything but the dancing. There’s a rebellious strut in her step when we practise ‘Stayin’ Alive’ after that!

Our lockdown boogie helps us escape to different times and places. From the frenetic swing dancing era of the 1930s in the United States, where we were drawn to the quirky lyrics mixed with the contemporary beat of ‘Booty Swing’, our steps reminiscent of the ones we had seen in the movies as nimble-footed dancers skimmed the floor in an exuberant Charleston or Lindy Hop; to the streets of Brooklyn in the 1970s where we tried to imitate John Travolta as he becomes one with the shimmering dance floor, hip-thrusting his mundane life away in the bold brilliance of disco. Our attempts to learn a samba routine, the rhythm transporting us miles away to the colour and pageantry of Rio’s Carnival, while Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t stop the feeling’ reminded us of the fantasy rainbow laden world of the animated film, Trolls, in whose soundtrack it features.

 

 

It has connected the rest of the family in an amusing way. My sister, Cyra’s mother, sits in the background of the screen, providing brisk feedback, outfit suggestions and scouting music choices. My nephew disrupts practice and bursts on screen, mimicking our moves, while my brother-in-law appears occasionally to trot out a few steps as a background dancer. Husbands and mothers help record the final videos, while grandmothers are the evergreen cheerleaders, helping with distribution and maximising visibility for the videos by sending it to everyone on their contact lists.

At the time we did not realise that this rather aimless activity would continue well past the initial few routines. But the dancing has become a regular part of our evenings, bringing us together in sway and sweat, in creating shared memories and evoking past ones, in teaching us patience, collaboration and a rhythm that has kept us balanced and steady in unstable times.

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