“Aprendí a bailar con las olas del Somorrostro, a mí me enseñó a bailar el mar…”

–Carmen Amaya

(“I learned to dance with the waves of the Somorrostro (beach in Barcelona), the sea taught me to dance…”)




I went to the beach this past week—it’s been a few years since I’ve been to the ocean. I’m not a great swimmer, and the ocean scares me. First, I was scared, only going knee deep, holding back, cringing when the coldish water hit me. Well, that’s no fun. I went further out, but I fought the waves still; water came crashing in, and I just stood there, and no matter how much I stood my ground, they were still able to push me toward the shore. Then I figured out how to float with the waves, stopped resisting their energy. And they were far less scary. Then, I figured out how to surf the waves—to work with the waves to be carried forward without losing control, working with the water. And then, with a boogie board, after several tries and a helpful hand pushing me forward at just the right moment, I learned how to really ride the waves. And it all came down to not clashing with the water, but rather going with the flow, timing things correctly, engaging my body in a way that I could just glide. And it was a blast! That, for me, is compás (rhythm)—you can’t fight it, you can’t control it, you have to go with it, ride it, weave in and out of it, and then you can cruise, with a powerful impact when you choose.

Even heavy ships seem to glide over the water. Picture from the Savannah River.

I am in awe of the ocean—the waves that ceaselessly crash towards the shore, the ebb and flow, small waves that lead to big waves, a lull only to be followed by a large wall of water, the bubbles after the initial crash that scurry forward, and the top backside of the waves which look like fabric. I think compás in many ways is like weaving. Many different threads (the singer, dancer, guitarist, palmas) all have to come together, be in the groove or in the pocket for the fabric to come together. Once the fabric is there, it can create waves—ripple and bounce, like a flag being moved by the wind, but we all have to go with it no matter where it takes us, otherwise the whole thing unravels.

Boogie boarding at Hilton Head Island.

Like catching the wave at just the right time on the boogie board and getting carried all the way to the shoreline, riding the compás is exhilarating when it all comes together, and you don’t know exactly where you’ll end up.