Back in September, when I was but a wee fledgling Fulbrighter (a barely-brighter), I met the other just-arrived dewy-eyed ‘brighters for orientation outside of Cologne. That half-week is now just a blur of workshops, talent shows, and “networking” (still no idea how people actually do that), and when I replay it in my head it sounds a lot like this: wah wah cultural understanding wah wah wah English instruction wah prestigious opportunity wah wah Winter Ball wah wa – wha? Winter Ball? My mind jumped immediately to visions of dress robes and dancing with Viktor Krum to the melodious strains of The Weird Sisters, but then I realized with no small amount of disappointment, as so often happens here, that Europe is not Hogsmeade, even though there are castles here.
But as the hope that we’d dance in an enchanted hall alongside giants and wizards began to fade, a new realization began to dawn: I’d have to dance. And all I know is the Electric Slide and the box-step to a waltz. Crap.
I arrived in Heidelberg for the weekend, met up with a long-lost friend (by sheer chance, we shared a hostel room together in Cologne lo’ those many months ago, and decided this weekend would be a good opportunity to relive
our hostel-sharing glory days), and got a bit more familiar with the city. The night of the ball, our hostel was a flurry of too many girls to a mirror, sharing curling irons, and me begging for reassurance that no, my shoes don’t look dumb with my dress. Even though the night started out promisingly enough, I realized upon our fashionably late arrival to the Heidelberg Town Hall that this was no senior prom. There was a dinner with courses. And I may not have been at the Yule Ball, but I was definitely in the company of giants and wizards of a different sort: these people were neuroscientists. PhD candidates. Artists. The sorts of people who are consulted as experts and publish and speak and are presidents of boards and organize fancy-pants events like this one.
I’m a girl from Arkansas with a B.A. in English and extensive knowledge mainly of the Electric Slide. Crap.
The music started, and I stood respectfully (awkwardly) to one side of the dance floor as people infinitely smarter and more accomplished than myself glided gracefully around to “Que Sera, Sera.” With the next few songs, more people joined in, as did I when those happy sounds of “The Twist” began to play (hey! I can do this!). The bad thing about “The Twist,” though, is that it ends, and as the DJ begins again to play songs without dance instructions embedded in the lyrics, I’m soon reduced again to aimless arm-flailing, trying to figure out which muscle to flex to move my legs to the beat.
Then I heard it.
come on donga bonga donga shake that conga
music rhythms bonga donga gettin’ stronga
Those lyrics. Three words infiltrated my mind: That. My. Jam. (Actually, this is a song I’ve hated ever since this). Then three more: Must. Lead. Conga.
And so it was. For a few ridiculous minutes, I found myself leading some of the most intelligent, innovative people in Germany. No, not in research, not in inventive approaches to enhancing cultural understanding, not in outreach initiatives or scholarly journal publications. In a conga line.
I’m sure there’s something symbolic in there somewhere, but I really don’t want dwell too much on what it might mean.
longa bonga donga donga feel that bonga…