Bachata and The Boy on The Roof
It was close to sundown as I boarded a bus leaving the capital of Santo Domingo to Boca Chica, a city just an hour East. It was a long day of interviewing some locals and international students on dance and culture with nothing to show for it. I felt lost. I felt scared that I would not be able to accomplish anything. I wanted to quit and go home.
I began to think who could benefit from my research and why would anyone care to read my work. At that moment the bus pulled over on the highway at an unofficial stop. I looked outside the window and saw a two-story building that looked as if it was about to collapse at any moment; and on the roof, I saw a small boy. The boy was wearing a faded red shirt and yellow shorts. He had no shoes and was covered in dirt.
There he was, a boy on the roof, smiling bigger than anyone around him and all he was doing was dancing. This sight captivated me. A boy, who quite possibly had nothing but the clothes on his back, was dancing bachata on a rooftop. His joy showed on his face as he laughed and cheered. In that brief moment as the bus passed his little castle, I saw how important the performing arts are to those who have nothing but the music in their hearts and feet that cannot stop moving to the rhythm.
My research this summer consisted of four week in the Dominican Republic (DR), one-week in New York City’s Washington Heights Neighborhood, and one-week in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. This preliminary research was initially intended to examine the world Bachata dance festival in the Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. However, it became a pivotal moment in my career.
Focusing on my time in the DR, I used this opportunity to lay the foreground for what will be my dissertation research. As such, I conducted a pre, during, and post analysis of the TouchIsland dance festival to gauge the popularity and importance of Bachata in the DR through this international festival. My findings showed many dancers from around the world dance to find a connection to a Dominican or greater Latino culture, their partner, and/or express one’s self.
What I learned from this trip not only re-defined my research but who I want to be as a researcher. Sure, I got great data, a structured plan for my future investigations, and contacts in all my field sites but I got something more that is more essential. I found my reason to continue my work; the fire that drives me. At the beginning of my trip, I was filled with anxiety, like many first time researchers. I began to question whether I want to even do research for the rest of my life.
I spent more than a month in the Dominican Republic. In that time I forged everlasting bonds with men, women, children, and even dogs. These people, who started out as informants, became family. Small sessions with a series of questions and my recorder turned into hours of laughter. This reminded me why I was really there. To be the bridge between cultures, the voice to the voiceless, the dancer showing how much can be seen in a single dance.
To be honest, if not for this trip I do not know if I would have continued my degree. I look back as I write this blog and see the faces of those who I now call mano (brother) or hermana (sister) and the experiences we shared. I think of the dances I shared with random strangers and how for a single song, I learned who they were and where they came from.
I have much to write and even more to learn. I know that my path from here on out will be even more arduous but, my trip in the Dominican Republic made it all worth it. I cannot wait to get back as a researcher, friend, and dancer. Who knows, maybe I will see that boy on the roof again and thank him for showing me what I needed to see.
Gabriel Escobedo is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Anthropology.