"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Story of the Puerto Ricans that Danced Under a Bridge...

If you're my friend on Facebook or Instagram, you're probably wondering at this point what is up with Carlos and me dancing under this one bridge in downtown Frederick all the time.

And if you're not familiar with the bridge yet, you will be in a minute. :) Or fifteen, since I have to again tell the full story so you can comprehend what's happening in the present!

I grew up surrounded by music. My mom and dad were huge on music. My dad could play the acoustic guitar, my mother's brother played the drums and percussion, and my dad's brother was one of those gifted souls that could pick up any instrument you put in front of him and instantly be able to play it without ever having touched said instrument before in his life. My mom herself didn't play but it didn't keep her from appreciating the talents of those who could. Later while living on the island, her and my aunts would always play music on the weekends. All sorts of stuff: oldies from the 60s and 70s like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Carpenters (among so many others); popular Spanish rock like that of Puerto Rican artists such as Chayanne and Ricky Martin; Juan Luis Guerra's awesome Dominican merengue music; US Top 40 (I listened to the Casey Kasem show every Sunday), instrumental music like Yanni's...my taste in music is so hugely varied because of this upbringing! It fed into every other aspect of my life: I couldn't work out without music, I couldn't drive without music, and ever since the island, I have ridden horses to music as well. In fact, I bought my first Discman with its pouch for running, not for working out, but for riding! I love Spinning because it is set to music and the beat of the music determines your speed, gear and exercises on the bike. Carlos and I always play music while cooking at home. At work, both the old job and the new one, I've become the unofficial OR DJ when running anesthesia because everyone loves the stuff I play, and I play it with a purpose: to positively influence the mood in the room.

I have far more childhood memories tied into music than into almost any other of the senses. To this day, when I hear Bertie Higgins's Key Largo song, I am transported back to a beach side hotel room shared with my parents. It is early morning and the sun is shining through the curtains so that everything glows gold and white, and I can hear the roar and thump of the waves on the beach outside. The song is playing on the radio. Mom and Dad are awake and just getting started with the day. And I remember the love they had for each other. It was tangible in the air. It was their song.

I was three years old and I already understood all of these things. Because of music.

When you love music enough you want to BE the music. To have it pour into you and around you and be wrapped up in it until you cease to be a physical being and you are made up of wavelengths of sound and vibration. Playing music if you know how to play an instrument can satisfy this in a way, but for me, it's long been about dancing. Dancing until I forget I have feet.

Photo from here, and too incredible not to share! Apparently water dancing is a thing. 
I took ballet when I was very little but didn't stick with it. I think that might have been because we were always moving when my parents were married: my dad was in the Army. 

Music is a vital part of my culture and in school we were taught traditional dances like bomba y plena, which come from our African ancestors. One of my favorite school events was when my second grade class put together a bomba y plena dance we practiced long and hard for, and then performed in front of the entire school. I got to wear the big skirt that swung out when I twirled. Loved it. And that is when my love for clothing and objects that moved with me while dancing started. Remember that.

Bomba y plena dance. Look at the skirt!! This is why to this day I love twirly skirts and dresses!
Photo from here.
Going into my teens, I gained a lot of weight and became very, very shy. Everyone in school knew who I was because of my drawings and, while I knew when a boy liked me, they always happened to be shy types that wouldn't ask me out. Since I was shy too, I didn't think to ask them out myself for fear of rejection. School dances were hard during this time because I just wanted to dance, dance, dance but felt majorly self-conscious because of my weight. Which made it almost impossible for me to enjoy the music the way I wanted to. In 8th grade I begged my mom for dance classes in preparation for our junior prom, and I got my wish.

Ballroom dancing.

I freaking LOVED IT. And I realized that I really did have rhythm. I'd been born with that after all; I just needed to learn the steps with my feet. I also learned how to properly dance with a partner and follow cues. Ballroom dancing at the competitive level is a LOT like riding, except the girl is the horse: there are all sorts of little cues the guy will give you via touch on your back or shoulder blade to let you know what flamboyant move comes next.

I had so much fun. I wasn't able to stick with it because we couldn't afford both that and riding lessons long-term, but it gave me the confidence to go out on the dance floor at our 8th grade junior prom with a group of my friends and rock out. And the guy I liked at the time asked me to dance...and I was able to keep up. 

I lost the extra weight in high school and stopped being so self-conscious. I started dancing more on my own, often at home: I'd lock myself up in my bedroom, blast the radio, and dance for an hour or more. It was my cardio! 

In my junior year in high school I finally asked a guy out myself and we started dating. Which meant I had a partner for school dances! Gus wasn't a huge fan of dancing but he loved me (aka he enjoyed spending time with me and was up for pretty much any crazy thing I suggested), had natural rhythm (most Puerto Rican guys do, even the ones that will tell you they don't dance. It's in our blood) and had enough of a sense of humor to not take himself too seriously, which made him an excellent student: I taught him all the ballroom moves I'd learned and we went to all the school dances together and, while we were shy about it, we still had a blast.

However, I always had this secret dream of being like Sandy in Grease and busting out of the goody-two-shoes shell with some amazing dance moves in front of a group of people that would be astounded by it. Even when I had a partner at school dances, we were always off dancing in a corner where we wouldn't attract too much attention.

I got into metal, hard rock and industrial music in college when I started playing the electric guitar. I got into ska when I started dating the bass player of a local ska band, and it was him that taught me to pay attention to the different instruments and layers in music.

Jamming with my brother in the living room of my family's house in PR. We had a band but we never did play in public.
And then, much later, I started the long distance relationship with Carlos, flying out to Tampa, FL once a month to visit him.

Carlos introduced me to electronic music. He was a former hard-core raver, a scene whose existence I was aware of but unfamiliar with. All of his Tampa friends were ex-ravers, actually. And they all still partied occasionally: electronic music in general is HUGE in most of the major Florida cities. 

I used to hate electronic music with a vengeance. Of course, I had only been exposed to what Carlos refers to as "wimpy techno."

I can still pinpoint the song that made me fall in love with the electronic music genre, and I remember the moment that I heard the song for the first time:  Dido's "Sand in My Shoes", Above and Beyond's UV remix.

I was already living with Carlos in our first home, the 2-story, 3-bedroom apartment that we shared with two of his friends. We were both up early for work and the bedroom was still dark, lit only by the light of our attached bathroom. Carlos flipped on his radio and "Sand in My Shoes" started to play.

This version of the song is really hard to find: it was on a MixMag CD from the early 2000's that came with the magazine. I was very, very surprised to find it on Youtube for you guys!

"Two weeks away feels like the whole world should have changed
But I'm home now and things still look the same
I think I'll leave it till tomorrow to unpack
Try to forget for one more night that I'm back in my flat
On the road where the cars never stop
Going through the night
To a life where I can't watch the sunset
I don't have time, I don't have time

I've still got sand in my shoes and I can't shake the thought of you
I should get on forget you but why would I want to
I know we said goodbye, anything else would've been confused
But I wanna see you again

Tomorrow's back to work and down to sanity
Should run a bath and then clear up the mess I made before I left here
Try to remind myself that I was happy here before
I knew that I could get on a plane and fly away
From the road where the cars never stop
Going through the night
To a life where I can watch the sunset
And take my time, take all our time

I've still got sand in my shoes and I can't shake the thought of you
I should get on forget you but why would I want to
I know we said goodbye, anything else would've been confused
But I wanna see you again, I wanna see you again
I wanna see you again
Two weeks away, all it takes
To change and turn me around I've fallen
I walked away and never said
That I wanted to see you again

I've still got sand in my shoes and I can't shake the thought of you
I should get on forget you but why would I want to
I know we said goodbye, anything else would've been confused
But I wanna see you again

I've still got sand in my shoes and I can't shake the thought of you
I should get on forget you but why would I want to
I know we said goodbye, anything else would've been confused
But I wanna see you again, I wanna see you again
I wanna see you again"

- Lyrics from Metro Lyrics

I was in the bathroom with the door open brushing my teeth. And there was something about the song that just went right through me, wrapped itself around me from the inside out and made every hair in my body stand on end. I had to stop what I was doing, turn around and walk over to the radio, as if by doing this I could see the music.

"What is this???" I asked Carlos.
"Trance. The group is called Above and Beyond."
"I love this!!!"

I was transfixed. The music...the combination of the music and voice were as if someone had extracted a piece of my soul and turned it into sound waves. The lyrics reminded me of the island and the life I had left behind for a life where I could watch the sun set. And take our time. Take all our time.

We did this often back then: drove 45 minutes to Clearwater Beach so we could watch the sun set over the Gulf. 
It's been 12 years since I heard that song for the first time. It's on almost every playlist I have, though I don't listen to it often because I don't want it to lose that which makes it so special: even after all this time, it still strikes me to the core and gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. No music prior had ever made me feel like that. And that's when I understood all of this hype with electronic music.

It was the start of a relationship. :)

Many years later I would get to see Above and Beyond live, at an outdoor music concert in Miami. They are still my favorite trance DJs. 

It was trance music that started it all. And then I fell in love with house music and dubstep. And so I went with Carlos and his friends to electronic music parties and was formally introduced to the rave scene, which was already dying at this point.

My favorite part of these events was the dancing with lights. Glowsticks in particular. Carlos and his friend Will (who is also Puerto Rican; ironically they met in Orlando, not PR) are two of the most insanely gifted glowstick dancers I have ever seen. Even after all these years, after seeing other people both online and in person, glow dancing, I can still say: Carlos and Will are the best. THE. BEST. They had learned to dance together when they both lived in Orlando and taught one another some crazy fancy moves. And of course, there is no video because back then phones still didn't have video.

Carlos and Will dancing without lights...to drum n' bass.
If you've ever heard drum n' bass, you will understand my never-ending astonishment that anyone can dance to that music!
I could have watched them dance for hours, not unlike a cat with a laser pointer. It was beautiful.

This girl is absolutely incredible. She has several videos on YouTube. Charles can do most of these moves.

So it was no surprise that anytime Carlos picked up the glow sticks and started dancing, the crowd of people around us would step back to give him room and stand transfixed to watch him. "MINE," I'd think, "He's mine. That's MY guy moving like that!"

It wasn't long then before I decided to give glow dancing a whirl myself (pun intended). As it turns out, once I figured out the correct string length I needed so I wouldn't give myself a black eye with the glow sticks, I was able to teach myself a couple of the fancier glowstringing moves. I had the coordination for it, but I still found it awkward.

This one is me.
One of our friends, Ali, had this awesome pair of glow maracas. They are battery operated and when turned on have an inner circle that lights up and spins. They are awesome. One day at a party Ali passed them to me. I turned them on and started dancing, letting the music dictate how I moved, without thinking about how I looked or planning the next move. I was simply one with the music, the maracas highlighting my movements. I was lost in the current of the music.

The crowd around us stepped back and gave me room, turning to watch.

I had just found my "thing."

Ali told me to keep the maracas and they have come with me to every outdoor electronic music festival ever since. I've also played around with regular glowsticking (sans strings: you just hold the glow sticks in your hands) and with other things like these gloves with fingertips that light up:

Dancing with the gloves.
We went to music festivals maybe two or three times a year. The rest of the time, Carlos, myself and his friends would take a radio and a ton of CDs out to the beach and dance with lights under the moonlight by the water. It was magical and there are no photos of that, because none of us could afford cell phones with cameras yet. We all split ways the same year: Carlos and I moved to Tampa, Ali headed to Massachusetts, and Melissa went to New York. Once a year we would all meet up in Miami for the Ultra Music Festival, and we would take music and lights out onto the beach and dance together again. It was truly special.

At the beginning of 2016, I hadn't touched a glow stick or my maracas since our New Year's Eve party in New York when we first moved to Maryland the winter of  2012-2013. Carlos and I returned from the South Florida trip this past January with the electronic music bug: it's huge down there but not so much up here.

I also came back with a raging desire to dance with lights again, for the first time in almost 4 years.

I woke up one morning with this idea of going down to Baker Park the following weekend and dancing by the creek with the maracas at dusk, and setting up the camera to film it. Because lights and their reflection in water! Carlos has gotten me spoiled with the idea of filming/photographing all the cool stuff we do in our daily lives that I otherwise would have only been able to record by way of drawings/illustrations.

So many of our Arroyo trips are remembered via sketches I did at the time. My brother and I were always up to all sorts of mischief that never was photographed.
Carlos is always up for anything and he thoroughly enjoys me being the one to come up with the crazy ideas since at the beginning of our relationship he was always the one with the crackpot schemes, so he was all for it.

It was winter. And cold but not freezing: around 40ish degrees. We arrived at the park at dusk but there were quite a few people around, playing in the park, jogging, walking their dogs by the creek...and I had a total shyness attack.

The baseball field was flooded so I stood by the giant puddle of the field, away from the crowds, and experimented with how the light of the maracas would look in the reflection in the water.

That little orange thing on the ground next to me is our little bluetooth speaker that basically goes with us everywhere...
Conclusion: it was too light out.

So we walked to Bushwaller's, our favorite Irish pub, and had a couple of pints while waiting for the sun to go down. We returned to Baker Park once it was dark.

The temperature had dropped at least 10 degrees now that the light was gone so the park had completely cleared out despite it only being like 6:00 pm.

We tried getting the view from the creek but now it was too dark. I was thoroughly aggravated and bummed out and still really, really wanted to dance.

Carlos looked around and I saw when the lightbulb went on.

"What?" I asked him.

"Let's try over there," he said, indicating the bridge.

The Baker Park bridge has the road over the top of it and three parallel tunnels underneath it with a sidewalk running through one of the tunnels, connecting the two sides of the park. At night, the three tunnels are lit with bright overhead lights.

"Really?" I asked him. My mental picture of what I wanted was so different from what was in front of me.

"Yeah," he said. He didn't explain what he was thinking and I didn't argue. He is the one with the film degree, after all. (Carlos is a classic example of the boy that didn't want to grow up, and thus didn't know what he wanted to be when he realized not growing up wasn't an option: he has a Biology degree, a Film degree, and his Nursing degree, and that is why we are student loan poor...but also why he has such an astounding eye for both photos and video. It is thanks to him that all of my social media is so full of...well, media!)

I had a couple of specific songs I wanted to dance to that I had only been listening to all week long while visualizing myself dancing to them...but we were having technical difficulties with both phones: Carlos's didn't want to take video nor photos but I had my music saved on my phone. We ended up having to swap: Carlos took the videos with my phone and used his to play the music. He has good music, of course (he's the one who introduced me to all this after all!) but I had to deal for a moment with the fact that we had planned this whole thing, and first I couldn't dance next to the water and now I wouldn't be able to dance to my music. I was super frustrated as I walked into the center of the tunnel and turned to face him under the lights.

He synced his phone to our little bluetooth speaker and said, "Here. Dance to this."

I picked up the maracas and waited for the music, expecting him to have chosen something crazy fast like Diesel Boy.

I was very surprised when the song that started to play was "The Hanging Tree" from The Hunger Games' Mockingjay movie.

I read the books. I loved the song, as I had become familiar with the lyrics through the books prior to hearing it for the first time when we watched the movies, and had been thrilled with the way the song was played IRL. I had completely forgotten the song existed until this moment.

A slow smile spread across my face, like the kind you get when recognizing an old friend you haven't seen in awhile, as the song filled the entire tunnel like a tangible entity. The acoustics under that bridge were out of this world.

"Wait," I told Charles, who had picked up the phone and was ready to film.

The music built up and I let it flow through me.

"Now," I said. You can hear when I say it at the beginning of the video: "Ahora."

I closed my eyes and let go. 

When Charles showed me the video afterward I was a little stunned...I had never seen myself dancing!! I had to deal with a moment of, "I want to dance like her!" combined with, "Wait...I AM her!"

And I also saw what he had seen: the lighting under the bridge was absolutely incredible for filming. Like, if we had tried to deliberately illuminate the setting that way, it never would have come out that spectacular.

In one of my most ballsiest moves ever, the video went on Youtube, Facebook and Instagram. I was astounded by the feedback I received on Facebook, especially. My FB had always been somewhat boring: I didn't use to post a lot on there. But people went nuts over the dancing video.

This one was also posted. Glowsticking (instead of with the maracas) to a MUCH faster song!

I got my wish of wowing an audience...thanks to Carlos and social media! There was so much positive feedback at work when I walked in the following week. Alexei, my coworker at the time, was humming "The Hanging Tree" for the entire week afterwards...

And so the bridge became a sort of hangout for us. The lighting and acoustics under there were so AWESOME for filming that we got a huge kick out of going there, dancing to whatever the hell we wanted and filming it for later.

The song was Dash Berlin 4AM Remix by Hardwell, featuring Amba Shepherd.
The beautiful thing about this particular video is that for the first time, I could see the way Carlos sees me.

It started out with glowsticks and the maracas and later turned into us dancing without them...

Like the night we danced to reggaeton, until Carlos got shy about the camera and decided he preferred to be behind it...
...and so I rocked on alone.
Yup, I was barefoot. I had been wearing a pair of high heels and decided they had too much traction for the kind of dancing I was trying to do, so off they went. Baker Park is set in the middle of a REALLY NICE area of town with half-a-million dollar homes on each side of it. There is some graffiti under this bridge...in chalk. There is no gum, no trash, no nothing under this bridge. Cleanest, safest bridge you will ever find. Hence why we go there so often!

We have since discovered that two of the bars in downtown have dance floors that are open on Friday and Saturday, but if we want to move to Latin music, we have to go out on Wednesdays. The likelihood of that happening with our schedules is close to nil, so we continue to visit the Baker Park bridge whenever we want to move to something we can't find anywhere else.

This past weekend was the harvest moon. I have the good fortune of knowing a lot of amazing people and so my social media feeds were full of pictures of the full moon in all sorts of settings taken from friends across the country and Puerto Rico. I was getting a kick out of seeing so many folks I love out appreciating this type of beauty. And so on Saturday night, Carlos and I went out to get ice cream at Rita's in downtown...and then decided to go to Baker Park for a stroll under the moon.

I was in house clothes. In a tank top and pajama shorts and had literally thrown on a bra just for the purpose of leaving the apartment. I had managed to get some Oreo ice cream on the tank top, which I had licked off unsuccessfully.

Carlos was playing his music in the car, with his phone connected to the radio, and this incredible song came on. I couldn't really tell what the lyrics said, other than "capsize" and "tides" as part of the lyrics. The music and the voices were like water pouring over me and I said to Carlos, "Let's go dance under the bridge! I want to dance to this song!"

He obliged.

He parked the car above the bridge and we ran down into the light. There were a few people walking on the sidewalk over by the creek but we were otherwise alone.

The phones were set next to one another, one filming and the other playing the music, and we danced. This was, obviously, completely unrehearsed since it was only the second time we were hearing this song ever.

The song is Capsize by Frenship, which I included at the end of my previous post. It is just achingly beautiful and if you've never heard it before, you need to push play on the video above or go here.

I kind of like our version better than the original video of the song!...And that white orb behind us was the full moon!

There is a full-blown amphitheater in Baker Park that I had been entertaining the idea of dancing at for the last week. On Sunday I wanted to try dancing there but it was too dark by the time we made it out after dinner.

However, right next to the amphitheater is a gazebo...that is lit at night. Except there were people there when we parked. So we went for a walk. Carlos suggested dancing under the bridge again but I wanted something different. We walked all the way around the park as it was starting to sprinkle rain, and as we came back up to the gazebo, realized that it was empty. Of course we had left the tripod in my car at the other end of the park...so we decided to improvise.

I was wearing a swirly dress for the occasion, with workout short-shorts underneath so I could twirl without worrying about people seeing my underwear. The phones got set on the bottom rung of the gazebo railing and we set a few of my favorite Latin songs to play.

Here's a bunch of stills from the videos we filmed:

And that is the evolution of the story behind why we dance under a bridge...and in a gazebo...and one day in an empty amphitheater...and who knows where else. It started because of electronic music and has continued because of Latin music. If we can't dance to it anywhere else, we'll dance to it on our own because it's in our blood. Or, as Carlos said, "because we're that cool. Because we feel like it. Because we can."

Because we want to be the music. ;)


  1. Wow! You can actually feel the love you guys have for each other in that video of the Frenship song.

  2. This may be my favorite of your blog posts. Love this! I love your photos and videos, and, of course, the stories behind them. I have not heard Sand in my Shoes in YEARS. I love that song. I also love glow sticking (though I have no abilities myself). I had a good friend in college. His name was Aaron, and he was half Argentinian (half Swedish, weird, huh?) He had amazing rhythm and long-ish blond hair that swayed and twirled when he danced. He could glow stick dance like nobody I had ever seen. One night after participating in some recreational activities (ahem) I spent HOURS just watching him dance in the dorm room. I swear, it changed my life.

  3. That is absolutely beautiful, both the storytelling as well as your dancing. And I love your twirly dress!