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The Limbo Stick

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [141] | Scholarship Entry

The dancer’s dark torso is slick with sweat, and he wears iridescent purple pants. His body curls and twists in ways that should be impossible, but for him are not, and as he moves and stomps his feet he yells and cheers, and so do I. The drums beat loud and strong, a driving heart beat to his dance, accenting every kick, every turn, every moment when he spreads his arms wide, the joy on his face radiating through his fingertips.

The girls are dressed in beaded bikinis, with ruffled skirts of pink and blue and headdresses with long purple feathers. They too coil and jerk their bodies with an all encompassing, guttural freedom that both shocks and delights me. Theirs is a raw power, and it is magnetic.

Two of the girls carry out a black metal pole, with a white material wrapped around it, and a lit match. The yelling swells, and my own cries are swept up with it; I feel as if my voice no longer belongs to me, but to the dancers, to be molded as they wish. The drums intensify, beating louder and faster, and the pole bursts into flames, the fire licking through the white material. The male dancer moves faster now, jumping and kicking, passing his hands over the flames. My heart pounds as loud and as fast as the drums.

Suddenly he stops, his stillness strange against the fury of the drums. He steps up to the flaming pole, suspended horizontally a foot off the ground. The girls begin to circle him, throwing their arms in the air, and then brushing the ground, chanting as they do so. I barely notice their wild and primal dance; I am hypnotized, my eyes locked on the male dancer, who has once again begun to move.

He bends his knees, twisting them away from his body, rotating his legs so that all of his weight is on the insides of his feet. He lowers himself down until he is inches from the ground, as flat and parallel as a plank of wood; slowly he begins to slide himself forward, underneath the flaming pole.

It is limbo, the game I played as a child accompanied by a silly song, but in Trinidad it is a respected skill, a cultural dance. Here it is courageous and passionate, and for me, it is unforgettable. It is inspiring. As the dancer passes underneath the flames, my heart swells with the desire to be these dancers: to face my fires with strength and ferocity. I feel ignited, like the limbo stick, whatever constraints I placed on myself burning away. I feel like they do: unstoppable. The dancer rises, unscathed, and I erupt in applause. He has earned it.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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