I was at the Center for Integral Attention for the Caribbean Woman, waiting for my appointment with the psychologist, when the director of the shelter for victims of sexual and domestic abuse looked at me for a moment and said offhandedly, "You could teach dance classes here, right?"
I'm no longer surprised when someone recognizes me for being in the dance group. Between our various presentations around the city, some of which I'm told get played on the local TV channel from time to time, I'm fairly well recognized around town as the gringa who dances. Not that people need television to know my business, or anyone else's for that matter.
While not surprised that she knew I danced, I was a bit jarred by the way the director jumped into the middle of the conversation, bypassing the typical pleasantries like, "How long have you been in Bilwi?", "Do you like it here?", and "What's your name?" In any case, I considered for a moment and said, "Sure, why not?"
And that is how I started teaching dance classes three times a week to girls and women in the shelter. We dance a little bit of everything: Palo de Mayo, punta, cumbia, merengue, reggaeton. I'm hoping to get some Miskito music soon so we can dance that, too. It's a pretty laid-back and fun hour which somewhat inconveniently leaves me unusually sweaty in the middle of the day. I was expecting women in their 20s and 30s who were going to be shy and not necessarily thrilled about the new activity thrown into their schedules. Instead, the four girls who attend regularly are very enthusiastic and very young. I don't think any of them are older than 15. I don't know what their stories are, nor do I ever need to, but I hope the class is a safe space that helps them feel more in control of and have more esteem for their bodies and themselves.
And then there's the issue of my own self-esteem. My psychologist gave me a survey to see how assertive I was. It caused me to reflect on how far my behavior has fallen from the strong, assured self image I had created for myself sometime in college. She looked over my response and reported summarily, "You are an insecure person." We then proceeded to review some basic principles of assertiveness, which I found helpful and will reproduce here.
1. Sometimes, you have the right to be first.
2. You have the right to make mistakes.
3. You have the right to have your own opinions and beliefs.
4. You have the right to change your ideas, opinions, or ways of acting.
5. You have the right to express critique and protest unfair treatment.
6. You have the right to ask for clarification.
7. You have the right to try to change what does not satisfy you.
8. You have the right to ask for help or emotional support.
9. You have the right to feel and express pain.
10. You have the right to ignore advice from others.
11. You have the right to receive recognition for a job well done.
12. You have the right to deny a request, to say no.
13. You have the right to be alone, even when others want your company.
14. You have the right not to justify yourself to others.
15. You have the right to not take responsibility for the problems of others.
16. You have the right to not anticipate the desires and needs of others and not have to intuite them.
17. You have the right to not be dependent upon the goodwill of others, or the absence of illwill in their actions.
18. You have the right to respond or not.
19. You have the right to be treated with dignity.
20. You have the right to have your own ideas, and that they be as important as others'.
21. You have a right to feel and express your own emotions, and to be your only judge.
22. You have the right to stop and think before you act.
23. You have the right to ask for what you want.
24. You have the right to do less than you are capable of doing.
25. You have the right to decide what to do with your body, time, and property.
26. You have the right to deny requests without feeling guilty or selfish.
27. You have the right to talk about a problem with the person involved and clarify it, in case everyone's rights aren't clear.
28. You have the right to do anything, as long as it doesn't violate the rights of others.
It seems obvious and simple as I type it now, but reading over it with the psychologist, it felt like a revelation.