Lost in the Reggae House

I remember. I miss that glorious body heat, that social animal feeling. There we were, my so-handsome dance partner, and me, butt against the plank walls of the reggae house. We were wining away … move those hips. I’m the only white girl in the place, but I’ve been here so long, they have made me honorary West Indian. Plus, I’m one of the best dancers (so they say) … and hot. Gossip is too trivial a word. Too hot? Apparently, there is much discussion at The Lime, the island’s most popular bar. “To lime” means to have a good time. I lived next-door to the owner of The Lime, and greeted her adopted son every evening when the vegetable truck came by, while I purchased my dasheen, onions, and ground provisions.

Here, we lime and just get lost in time. There is so much smoke in the air you can get high simply by breathing. Bodies packed in space, nothing but rhythm: beat, heat, beat, heat. Ganja. Rastafarians. Hours lost already. Shabba …

Oh, my neighbor/dance partner is so nice … so totally male. One thing about West Indian men, they work so hard, their bodies are rock solid; they have back muscles American men have only dreamt of. Hands on, hips joined, let’s rock it. Let’s wine.

Another beer. I’m the princess. Princess of hips, breasts, shoulders. He is looking happier song by song. I’m still against the wall–I like this possessive approach. Not too many women stay until closing in the reggae house. Most of the dancers are committed Rastafarian men. I, being of here but not of here, can break many rules. Jah rules. I’ve never felt such joy. Such universal communion.

Nothing but spirit. Nothing but joy in the dance. Nothing but shared music. In truth the tapes are all pirated.  (I have a frequent buyer card at Castries’ most popular tape pirating enterprise.) The house is a wood plank shack with a tin roof–just the kind of home I am trying to build for my future.

Although future is not really a reliable concept any more. Nothing but present moment, present moment, beat, beat, heat, beat.

At least three times a week, I go to Indies, the island’s hottest night club. Ladies’ Night, Friday Night, Saturday Night. I brought a police chief in charge of Immigration, to everyone’s surprise. They let us in for free. It took me almost six months to break the race and foreignness barrier. What was it that changed? I already knew how to move, had been thrown out of a Seattle club for dancing “too dirty.” Nothing is dirty here. I, a student of dance, totally respect this. If you are wining away against a partner behind you, and something anatomically normal should happen, who cares? It’s just part of the dance. Respect, mon.

The reggae house. The timelessness. The peaceful waves against the wooden wall, against his pelvis, against his rib cage. At last, after so many years of working in a weird crunched American way,  I have become perfectly female. Forget yin/yang. This is bigger. I can both lead and follow, and the language is body. Rock wine. Bend. Unbend. Butterfly those hips. Tiptoe, rock hard.

I remember this feeling at the Trinidadian Karate Conference. Again, I was the only white girl. Woman. Studying shao lin karate in a small island gym. We all flew to Trinidad for the competition, our passports stamped “Sport.” We spent a lot of time trying to best the Bajan team as better partyers. Eh, St. Lucia? I ended up with the guy who next day won the entire championship, dancing some place in Trinidad, up in the mountains: that place, dance, and partner, I will never find again. We were so hungover the next day. But I had not yet earned my black belt; I was just happy to be there with my friends. And they all came to my birthday party, where my young bodybuilder boyfriend was D.J., and when my dishes ran out, my island friends cut plastic water bottles to hold the drinks, some with bottom sections as cups, some with top sections capped as glasses. That was the best party ever. Everyone showed up: the women at the magazine I wrote for, my entire karate club, the friends I had made dancing and trying to find a job, when the job I had moved there for turned out to not be real. I remember tripping in a ditch, walking some friends to the bus stop.  Laughter that lasted forever …

But who cares about real? We’re in the reggae house. I have no fears. Not like in America, where it’s nothing but bills and terror and staying alive. Here, I can live fearlessly just because I’m strong, resourceful, resilient, and open to change. And there is music, everywhere. On the minibus public transport. Every home, every public space. Beckoning from the horizon at night, when the heat keeps you awake. Live by music and you can stay alive–in an entirely vital way.

Bump and grind was the two-dimensional adaptation. This dance is in four dimensions. Beyond male and female, this is communion at some entranced, supra-human ecstasy. The reggae house has a back yard, surrounded by tamarind and coconut palm trees. Most of the smoking goes on there. The inside room is the chapel.

For the moment, I believe. I believe in the possibility of male and female connection. I believe in community joy. I believe in the resources of soil and sea and sand. I believe in an enduring destiny–perhaps not a personal choice–but which, because I have felt it, will change my life forever.

Relief. I am still young (younger?), and happy in the reggae house. All I have to do is hold up this wall and dance. I have never been so content. Contented. Afterwards, I realize this is a defining experience. I have spent my entire life moving my body to make people happy, changing my mind, chasing the spiritual spiral, and now I think back, and back, to the reggae house.

America needs a reggae house, a culture of generosity and music, a nonprofit future, and then we will be whole. Jah rules. I and I can prophesy. Believe me. Take me to the river.

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