Integrate. Integrate. Integrate. It’s all I heard during those glorious first three months known as training before shit got real and I wondered if I could handle this for two years. They say to never EVER say no to an invitation. If its for something you don’t want to do, suck it up sister, you have people to meet and connections to make. For me, this has meant attending funerals, a 95 year-old’s birthday party, a cock fight, countless masses, cafecitos at teacher’s houses, dance parties at school, and biweekly bailoterapia sessions with my host mom.

Dancing is such an integral part of the culture here. No surprise there. I’ve been to parties where instead of sitting out a dance with the babies, a couple will carry them and dance like its no big deal. On Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, random non-holiday days, classes are cancelled and the teacher’s lounge turns into a dance floor. Town fiesta? Let’s dance and drink whiskey at 10 am. Any group of people with access to chicha music? Dancing. A night out with friends? You better be able to at least fake it with some salsa or bachata moves.

So integration and dancing, that’s where bailoterapia comes it. Bailoterapia is literally ‘dance therapy’ but it is so much more than just ‘dance therapy.’ Picture a mirror-filled room with 25-30 Ecuadorian housewives in all their spandex glory breaking it down to every type of music. By every type of music, I obviously mean salsa, bachata, merengue, and rumba. Then picture an awkward blonde white girl, who is at least a head taller than any of the housewives, standing in the backbehind her 60-year-old host mom.

The music starts and its immediately obvious that I didn’t grow up in a culture where my parents danced with me as a baby or that my. hips. cannot. do that. The steps aren’t even that hard. I don’t look at the instructor though, instead I look down at my host mom’s feet since she’s figured out a way to simplify the steps. Just as I get one move down, we’re on to the next one. The cursing under my breath in English begins. After about 20 minutes, I start looking down at my watch wondering how many more moves I have to attempt before the hour is up. The instructor comes and stands next to me and I’m convinced this is how my students feel in English class when I get too close to them. I can’t do this! Somehow the hour passes and I hope I’ve improved just a little bit.

I definitely wouldn’t go on my own but I do it all in the name of integration. I’ve actually had ladies, who I never remember meeting, come up to me on the street and ask me where I’ve been if I miss a week. Plus, there’s always random people that my host mom thinks I should meet. Hopefully after two years, I’ll be able to do more than fake it with the salsa and bachata.

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