Yeah, so I danced

I went out to listen to music again Friday night at Malindi, a night club in Moshi. I wanted to drag Alfred down there because he loves African music, and I also wanted another serving myself.

The evening started with a conversation at Woodland with my friend Kelly and George Juma, one of the teachers at International School Moshi. George is really smart and has an interesting history as a teacher, broadcaster, and would-be politician. He taught me a lot about his home country of Kenya — politics, languages, cultures, schools.

Kelly and I went home to get Alfred, and the three of us took a cab to Malindi.

I couldn’t believe it when the Rasta who sings lead in the house band broke into “The Gambler” — a song that’s been following me around all week. After that he sang “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” by Don Williams, who looms large in these parts, for some weird reason. Fans of American country music here don’t know Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson, but they know Don Williams and Kenny Rogers.

When the African singer I’d seen last week took the stage, and there was just one woman on the dance floor, something came over me and I joined her. I was the only Mzungu in the place, with the exception of a few Europeans at a table far in the back.

If you’ve known me for a long time, you might’ve seen me dance once or twice, like when I took Rob to the Sadie Hawkins dance at White Bear High, or when the Bethel crowd celebrated Halloween in that empty house off Grand, and I danced around dressed as a Pall Mall cigarette. I even let Diane talk me into taking a swing dance class once, at which I failed miserably. I rarely dance anymore, and when I do I don’t enjoy it. Maybe I’m too empathetic and want to spare others the sight of me shaking my sagging 52-year-old booty.

But as I was sitting there, I just couldn’t control myself. My feet were tapping of their own accord, and my hands wouldn’t stop keeping time on the table, and then I was standing up and moving to the front of the stage and starting to do what some might have described as dancing. I continued for the better part of the evening, mostly with men, who outnumbered women on the floor by 5 to 1.

And let me dispel a longstanding myth that Africans have some sort of innate ability to dance that we white guys don’t have. The other dancers were as lame as I was, just shifting their weight from one foot to the other, raising and lowering their shoulders, moving their fists up and down and side to side. Weight on left hip, right fist up. Weight on right hip, right fist down. We could write a manual.

The women, on the other hand, have a remarkable ability to move their backsides in myriad ways, and the culture as a whole seems fascinated, maybe even obsessed, with the shaking, jiggling, rippling, rolling motions of ladies’ rear ends. During a 10-hour bus ride from Dar Es Salaam, for example, I saw video after video with shot after shot of bottom after bottom trembling, shuddering, shivering, vibrating, quaking, and convulsing.

During an instrumental break while the female lead singer was on stage, she turned around and exposed us to this Tanzanian art form. The woman I was dancing with (at a polite distance) seemed fascinated and impressed by it, and she encouraged me to check it out, opening her eyes wide and pointing at the ample, tightly-swathed hiney that was wriggling like her undies had been stuffed full of catfish.

I finally coaxed Alfred to the dance floor, trying to set him up with a cute shy girl who looked like she wanted to dance. I said to her “You should dance with that Rasta guy. He’s nice.” (Alfred wears dreadlocks.) She said in good English that she didn’t want anyone to laugh at her. She came over later and they had a conversation, but I felt kind of silly for trying to set him up.

But it was a silly kind of evening, when the old Mzungu not only played matchmaker but also found himself possessed and transformed by the rhythm of Africa.


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