The Beauty of the Nepalese Dance
We’re running off our feet to find the right address. The sun has already gone down, but Barcelona’s sweet sweaty nectar still stains my skin.
“There!” my friend yells.
My eyes follow between two buildings to see a parade of beautiful Nepalese women. I wasn’t aware Barcelona had such a high Nepalese population, but I’m so glad that it does. The colours are still vibrant in the dusk air; not even the escaping of the sun could take them away.
We are meeting our Nepalese friend here. She invited us to have dinner and a dance, though I still am not sure what the occasion is. Seeing Sharmila for the first time dressed not in jeans and joggers, but what she feels right in, is completely stunning. She looks like royalty. The gold on her shirt and belt compliment the red trim all over her outfit. I can’t stop looking at her. Her smile is wider than I’ve ever seen it, to introduce her silly Aussie friends to what she knows best.
She takes us through the building and up the stairs so quickly I barely see faces, only a kaleidoscope of colours. There are about 100 people here, of all ages, dressed in traditional outfits ready for the night. I am in awe. I’ve never seen anything like this.
She takes us to the bathroom to dress us in what I thought were saris. Sharmila laughs and tells us these are not saris, because she doesn’t know how to wear those. The first hurdle is fitting our western shoulders into what she has brought for us. Women draped in gold jewellery and coloured sashes come and go from the bathroom, giggling softly in disbelief that we don’t fit these dresses.
Suddenly, I’m seeing the possibility of fun disappear in front of me. I stand on a bench and drop the dress over my friend’s head; she fits. The second gown won’t go over my shoulders; at a size 8-10, I’ve never felt so big. I put my clothes back on and sit on the bench, trying to make myself invisible.
Now it seems to be me, in my high-top converses and black shorts, who is out of place. Sharmila pauses for a moment, staring at my saddened face. She gives a few soft sighs, and an encouraging motherly look.
“We’re getting in a taxi”
The rushing begins again. Out of the bathroom, down the stairs and out the door. I can’t tell anymore if she is conversing with passers-by in Nepalese or Spanish. Somehow, she’s managed to grab us two glasses of soft drink and some plates of food. As she’s running left and right to find a taxi, I’m told to eat. Suddenly, my mouth is on fire from the medley of Nepalese spices, but I am enjoying every bite.
The taxi arrives and we all pile in. “Vamos, vamos!” she tells the driver. Before my mouth has time to cool, we’re at her place. It’s another whirlwind. All of a sudden I’m draped in a green-and-red, jewel-covered gown. She gives me sandals to wear so I don’t look like an idiot, and pants so my shins and ankles are covered. Make up is slapped onto my face, and with one soft touch, she places a red felt Bindi on my forehead.
As I step out of the taxi, the material draped over my shoulder gets caught under my friend’s foot, and I’m reminded that I have no idea how to wear this outfit. The beaded chest piece is digging in underneath my arms, but I came here to have fun. I’ll have fun.
We make our way back up into the hall where the festival is going on, and heat is felt immediately as the door is opened. The group of women near the stage move almost in unison to the live beat. Their bodies are moving up and down, to the side, and in all directions I am not familiar with.
Sharmila is so eager to dance she takes us by the hand and moves right into the centre. My eyes are darting all over the place, noticing how unfamiliar I am – kind of like a nun would feel in the mosh pit of a Parkway Drive concert. I’m so nervous. I try to pin-point exactly how many people are staring at the only two foreigners in the room.
A rock-hard lump forms in my throat and I’m breathing heavier and deeper than before. The women around me have smiles brighter than my future and continue to shake their hips. You’d think taking dance classes for 13 years of my life I’d be able to do this, but my body doesn’t register these moves – or this music.
Most of the men stand proudly on the outside of the gathering of dancing women. They are smiling and filming their wives, sisters, cousins and girlfriends. Everyone in the room is pouring with sweat, including the two Nepalese singers on stage.
I’m bombarded with thoughts of what this scene would look like back home. Skinny white guys awkwardly grinding on sweaty girls in tight shorts, all bobbing up and down to the same boring techno beat. I hate being a part of that poor excuse for dance culture, and I’m in love with what’s happening before me. I still can’t seem to move. I cannot help but feel like a passenger in all of this, like I have taken a back seat in my own head and the awkward arm flailing has taken over.
My eyes are kept wide, trying to find a girl dancing crap enough for me to be able to copy her. Sharmila tells me she’s a bad dancer, then proceeds to get down harder than Shakira in ‘Hips Don’t Lie’. Girls passing are smiling and pleased to see us there. One leans in with “Que guapa!” But I’m too nervous she has said something horrible, so I move to the other side of Sharmila.
“She’s calling you beautiful silly!” But I don’t feel it.
It’s almost comical to think that, back home, the western idea of an appealing woman is someone in minimal dress; when looking around I can only see these women’s heads, chests and arms. But they are outshining anything I’ve seen on the covers of our magazines.
Cover by Om Yadav
This story originally appeared on Femme Heroine