That same afternoon I’m at Torgallmenningen square, right in the centre of Bergen. It is crowded. Tourists from all over the world stroll leisurely through the streets of the touristic small city. The music of a group of Mediterranean street artists seems to speak to me. It’s the kind of up-tempo flamenco music that used to be played a lot during my summer holidays in Spain. As a child I always danced exuberantly to the music. There was no shame, only fun. How different dancing is as an adult. There are quite a few people watching the musicians from a distance. Some of them clap along to the rhythm. The rest stands there like constipated statues. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone started to dance spontaneously, like in a musical… here on the square, in sun-drenched Bergen on a Saturday afternoon?
“Why don’t you lead by example, neighbor?” a male voice sounds next to me.
I frown at the man. He is a bit shorter than I am, bald, quite sturdy and looks Arabic. He’s in his mid-fifties. The man looks back in amusement.
“Neighbour?” I repeat.
“Well, not currently,” the man grins. “But in mid-17th century Egypt, you were the best neighbor a man could wish for. We would often have drinks in the evening and sing songs together. You always knew how to create a good atmosphere!”
“It’s nice to hear that I was such a fun neighbour four hundred years ago,” I tell him politely.
The man enthusiastically extends his hand to me. My caution disappears. He seems friendly, with a good sense of humor. The type with whom you can spend a pleasant evening in a cafe, enjoying a beer or two. I shake his hand.
“I’m Omar, nice to meet you!”
“Well, Mackenzie… what do you think? Shall we shake things up a litte?”
His eyes twinkle mischievously.
“What do you mean, shake things up a little?” I ask carefully.
“Dancing!” Omar replies. “It only takes one person to get things started. Then at least half of the audience follows. They all hope that someone else takes the first step and starts dancing. Then they dare to do it themselves. Before you know it, the whole square will be dancing along!”
“Let someone else take the lead,” I suggest. “I don’t like to randomly start dancing by myself.”
Omar seems very disappointed.
“Come on, Mackenzie! Where is your sense of adventure? What are you so afraid of? You will probably never see those people again!”
I look around doubtfully as the musicians play the first notes of ‘Volare’. Damn. I love that song.
“I don’t want people to think that my dancing is terrible or that I’m weird,” I admit, embarrassed. The slight frustration in my voice is obvious.
“Even if they think that… why should that keep you from fully enjoying the moment? You want to dance, right? Then take your chance and do it!”
I bite my lip, still hesitating.
“The band loves it when people dance to their music. There is no greater compliment for musicians!” exclaimed Omar. “Do it for them!”
He gestures dramatically to the men opposite us, who clearly enjoy playing for us.
“Look, do you see that woman over there? With that red skirt and long brown hair?”
I follow his gaze and nod.
“She also wants to dance, but she’s a bit uncertain. Just look at her hips!”
Indeed, the woman seems to be holding herself back physically. She moves her hips slightly to the beat of the famous Italian song, but doesn’t want to stand out too much. Like me.
“Do it for her! As soon as you dance, she will join you. Come on!”
Realizing that his verbal attempts have made little impact, Omar decides to switch to physical action. He takes my hand and decisively pulls me behind him to the centre of the crowd. Unabashedly, he begins to move to the music. I stand around stiffly and look around, slightly embarressed. All eyes are on us, including those of the street performers. But contrary to my expectations, the looks are friendly. None of them are condescending or sneering.
“Come on, Mackenzie. Dance with me!” The Egyptian takes my hand again and twists his arms back and forth. I let myself get carried away on the uplifting rhythm of the song and gently move my hips and feet.
“Yes, that’s how it’s done, girl!” Omar exclaims happily. I laugh at his infectious enthusiasm. Suddenly I see the woman in the red skirt approaching. She smiles at us and starts to dance. Her partner quickly joins her. By the looks of it, he’s not exactly a born dancer, but at least he tries. A few seconds later, more people rush over to dance along. Here. In the middle of Bergen. On a Saturday afternoon. The singer beams at us and gives us the thumbs-up. Half the square is now dancing. While the other half happily claps along and looks on.
“I was right, wasn’t I?! People want to dance!” Omar seems delirious with joy. Shame is clearly not a word in his dictionary. It’s wonderful to see. He smoothly twirls me around. How I have missed this! This feeling of pure joy and freedom. I close my eyes and delight in the music. My body moves by itself. Then the band plays the last tones and the song slowly comes to an end. I open my eyes and clap for the band, just like most of the people around me. However, I notice it is remarkably quiet next to me. Omar is nowhere to be seen.
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