For my tenth birthday I had a hippie themed party and sleepover. It was a pretty big hit in the fifth grade. Everything was tie-dye, we played a ton of games, and made our own ice cream sundaes. I always said this was the best birthday I had ever had.
This year it was my twenty-second birthday-and I was in Brazil. I woke up, our first day in Brazil, and felt so blessed. It hit me; I am spending my last semester of college traveling the world and although I am growing up, I got to spend the day at Arte Consciente, dancing, singing, and playing as if I were ten again.
Arte Consciente is Portuguese for “Conscious Art”, a program in a favela, or slum, in Salvador, Brazil, that taught less fortunate children talents such as drumming, circus skills, boxing, graffiti, and dance. The program was chosen one of the best programs in Brazil by the UN, awarding them for the fact that their impact was powerful and positive for the country. I was a little nervous going in, wondering if I should bring my camera, afraid to get robbed, I was afraid that a large group of white people stomping through the neighborhood would upset the locals. But walking through the favela I was at ease. I was comforted by the smiling faces, the “ola’s”, and Alex, from Arte Consciente, guiding us and showing us his community. People were not afraid of us; they were welcoming. Then as soon as we set foot through the graffiti door of Arte Consciente I felt at home.
We all settled into our chairs, trying to see the front of the room, shoving our already sweaty bodies in next to each other. No one spoke the same language (I think Brazil had the toughest language barrier-the majority of people only really spoke Portuguese-lucky for us we had Sophia-the interport student there to translate). There was a divide between our half of the room and their half of the room, but that would soon change.
The show began. We watched, we laughed, they laughed, they performed with strength. It was hard to watch and not want to move. For the last four months there has been a spirit of dance within me, nonetheless a spirit of dance on the ship. These kids from Arte Consciente have had the spirit of dance with them for years. At last, it was out in both them and us. Once the drumming began, we could not keep it in any longer. The kids starting pulling us up to dance with them and quickly the chairs had to be stacked and put away. There was no room for separation. Languages no longer mattered, just dance. We were dripping sweat, but smiling. I haven’t smiled that huge in a long time. I haven’t felt that much positive energy flowing around in my whole life. We were chanting “Arte-Consciente-Arte-Consciente” and we all believed in the same things. We were together with rhythm, dance, and love.
There was energy pulsing in me. It was one of the best days of my life. Positivity was radiating and there was hope in all of us. I didn’t want to leave. Luckily we were coming back our last day in Brazil to paint the walls of their performance and practice space (which turned out to be a huge and beautiful success), but even knowing there would be another chance to play, it was hard to say goodbye to the kids who lit the fire in my heart with inspiration.
There was no way that my birthday could have been off to a better start. Except maybe with a shower-which was quickly arranged so that we could all fancy up before heading out for more celebrations. I am blessed with great friends, travel companions, and soul mates, who all spent the night with me. It gets busy in port and I never expected as many people to show up, but they did. I felt loved beyond belief. And I was eating Mexican food and drinking margaritas. What a life. Sophia again pulled through in the clutch with the dinner recommendation and then a dance club around the corner. Free cover for girls-love it Brazil. So we finally got to go dancing in our short skirts and small dresses (something we have been culturally forbidden to do in most other countries-which is a struggle due to the heat). Even though we danced all day, we danced some more. I’ll never stop.
Personal favorite: Brazilians don’t dance alone most of the time. So if you go up there to dance with your girlfriends, you will get approached by Brazilian men who will pull you tight, spin you around, and keep you on your feet. I danced instead with Toby-although neither of us knew how to dance like these Brazilians do. But we laughed hard and kept moving, kept swinging around, having the time of our lives. Toby is officially my favorite dance partner I have ever had.
All day and night I continued to say: “This is the best birthday I’ve had since my fifth grade hippie party!” And it was. I was a child again with Arte Consciente, and I was myself, dancing, eating, enjoying my friends and feeling the love.
Thanks to everyone who made it a great birthday and a great Brazil, even those of you back home who sent me an email. Seriously, it all meant so much to me. I can not stop repeating myself. I am SO blessed!