Baila, Bela | By: Abbey Gray | | Category: Short Story - Biography Bookmark and Share

Baila, Bela

Baila, Bela

Hola, mis amigos. Capasa? Yo estoy bien…

I have been dancing for as long as I can remember. I still had my thumb in my mouth when my dances shoes were being tied. Since Mama and Abuela both danced, it was of no question whether I would dance or not. Spanish dancing is a tradition en mi familia and since I am the only nina, it is up to me to keep the tradition alive. I started dancing when I was four.

The first year, I danced twice a week and then it was upgraded to four times a week. We did physical training three times a week and ballet training three times a week as well. We learned how to stand, hold our heads and how to hold our arms and our hands.

I would dance from 9:00am to 10:45am. Then I would go to school, come home, do my homework and then dance from 6:30pm to 9:30pm. I had the summers off from dancing until I was ten.

The studio did not put pairs together until the girls were eleven. That is when Mateo came into my life.

I remember the first time I saw him. He caught my eye because he was an American. He had pale skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. We must have looked like a sight since I had dark eyes and hair and tanned skin. His name was really Matt, but I called him Mateo, which is Spanish for Matthew. He did not mind.

As a pairs dancer, you have to learn everything you learned as a singles dancer over again. Even something as simple as a two-step is different because now you are doing it with another person and you have to align your body with theirs. We spent two hours every day for a week just practicing the two-step. Mateo had to learn how to spin me. He had to learn special steps so he would not trip and fall while we moved across the floor.

I never really believed Mateo and I would be anything special as dancers until we won the Junior Dance Competition. I was thirteen and he was fifteen. We had come in sixth at our first juniors. No one had expected us to win. We went on to compete in many competitions and won some medals plus three world championships.

After years of competing, Mateo and I made the decision to turn professional. Professional dancing is quite different from what we were used to. It is less technical and more theatrical. One of the biggest changes between being professionals and amateurs was in professionals there was not any organizational support. Mateo and I were used to having teammates, roommates and team leaders, who told us what to do. All of a sudden, we had to figure everything out for ourselves.

My favorite number of all time was the one we did to the music from Dirty Dancing. The hardest part of this number was the lift. Mateo had lifted me before, but this was the first time he would have to lift me completely over his head. I had to put total trust in him to kept this lift up since my legs and arms were supposed to be fully extended.

One time while practicing this number, Mateo tripped and dropped me when doing the lift. The first part of my body that hit the floor was my forehead. I did not feel the pain right away, but then my head felt like it was splitting apart. Then I blacked out.

The next thing I remember was waking up in the emergency room. I ended up staying in the hospital for six days with quite a serious concussion. He said, “I promise, I will never drop you again.” And he never has. I could always count on him to keep his promises.

One day at practice, Mateo said, “I do not want to dance anymore.” just like that. I was in shock. It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. He just wanted to have a normal life like everyone else.

I did not know what to do. With loosing Mateo, I felt like I had lost a part of myself as well. To find myself again I did the only thing I could think of. The thing I knew best. The thing I had been trained to do since I was four years old. I danced. At first, I tried to dance only my part to some of the numbers Mateo and I had done. It was impossible to listen to the music without thinking, “Here is where he lifts me, here is where he spins me.” It did not make sense to me anymore. My heart just was not in it.

One day, I found one of my old pairs of dance shoes. I do not know what made me put them on. I went to the studio where Mateo and I had practiced as kids. It felt good to be back on the floor. I had no idea what I was looking for, but it was good to see the coaches and young dancers working on their elements and smiling.

When I heard the song, “Music of the Night”, from Phantom of the Opera, the music not only touched my heart, it touched my soul. I called our old dance coach and told her she had to create a program for me to that music. When I asked her if she thought I could dance she replied, “Bela, please dance because I know you love to do it.“

As soon as I stepped out on the floor, I had a feeling rising up in me I had never felt before. When I would start a movement, it was like it would finish it by itself. The movements were coming from my heart. I was dancing for myself and only myself. It was then I knew I did not want to give up dancing. I could not. Giving up dancing would be like giving up my life. I knew I would be okay.



I am fine. My name is Isabela, but everyone calls me Bela. It is pronounced ‘bay-la’ though lots of people pronounce it ‘bell-a’. I like my nickname because it sounds like the word ‘vela’, which means ‘candle’ en Espanol. I live in Costa Rica con mis padres (my parents) y mis hermanos (my three brothers). Abuela also lives with us. She is my grandmother.

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