Growing up in rural Iowa, I knew a few Mexican immigrants. Another small town near mine had a meat packing plant that brought many Latinos to the area. Sometimes when driving, I would hear a stereo blasting accordion music or something similarly foreign to my Midwest ears. I never saw people dancing in the street when this happened, but it was obvious these energy-filled tunes were meant for that purpose. However, little could I have imagined just how much dancing could take place with these songs, and how inept it would make me feel when I couldn’t join in.

English teachers at my school here in Colombia love to see me dance - even if it’s only for a few moments. Their faces light up when they see my hips start shaking, despite that it’s only a joke to show how horrible of a dancer I really am. They alwaysl tell me I’m doing fine, but no amount of their encouragement has made me stop feeling like I missed a major life lesson during my childhood. I remember learning to tie my shoes, ride a bike, to read, and even to play a musical instrument. But I do not remember learning how to dance. Why is that?

After living in Germany, South Korea, and now Colombia, I’ve experienced a lot of different cultures and noticed many cultural differences. German teenagers can open beer bottles with their eyelids, Korean school children scream with delight at the idea of a day without homework, and every Colombian I’ve ever met can dance. . . really well. I mean REALLY well. All the time. Multiple styles. Everyday. You lay down some music in the street, someone will put out some plastic llawn chairs, and people will start dancing. It sounds stereotypical, but it’s absolutely true. And, it’s really, really cool. To say I’m jealous is an understatement.

And so you have me, in what appears to be the true “land of the dance”, surrounded by people who learned how to tie their shoes, ride a bike, read, play an instrument (phenomenal percussion players), AND dance better than most people can walk. The result? It literally feels like I was born with a disability that has only now begun to affect my everyday life. But, while some people can’t walk or do other things because of an actual injury or handicap, my body is perfectly able to dance. I simply just don’t know how to do it. And, I’m embarrassed as hell to try to learn.

While this was going on, yet another thing popped up to separate me from my Colombian amigos. After going on some medication, my doctor told me I couldn’t drink all of February, which just happened to be the same month as CARNAVAL (perhaps you’ve heard of it). At first, it wasn’t a problem. I just didn’t drink when I went out on the weekends. I didn’t drink a lot in college, so it was actually a bit refreshing to save some money. But as soon as Carnaval kicked into full swing, everyone had or was offering me alcohol as soon as the sun went down (which is about 6 pm here) and then just anytime of the day that seemed good for some drinking (which quickly turned into all times). It got to be a bit annoying to decline so many offers of cervezas and aguardiente (a hard alcohol I like to think of as Colombian Jägermeister), but I at least had a medical excuse. At the same time that I was shunning alcohol, I was also standing around watching other people dance their butts off. However, I lacked even the trace of an excuse to shake my butt with them. Even when a Colombian girl would grab me to dance, I would weasel my way out.

I get that some things are hard for some people, that not everyone can be a singer or athlete. But with the right encouragement, the vast majority of everyone could learn to sing or play sports. I’m not an athlete, but I can play baseball, basketball, or football at varying levels. I’m not a singer, but I can sing a few songs and learn more. However, I couldn’t dance to save my life. And I’m terrified to start trying because it’s something more foreign to me than Spanish. While I realize this is all in my head, it’s a damn shame.