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8th February

Don’t you worry ’bout a thing

While working out at the gym this morning I heard Stevie Wonder’s 1974 song “Don’t you worry ’bout a thing”. It brought me back to Nice, where I had just moved that summer after finishing my secondary education in the Netherlands.

I had a small studio apartment close to the university where I was taking a French course for foreigners. It was sparsely furnished but it did have a record player. Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” was the first LP I bought and I played it all the time while dancing by myself.

Even though I longed to dance with others, I was hesitant to go out when I first arrived in Nice. In the gay discos I had gone to in the Netherlands, you could only enter the dance floor if you had a partner. I was often too shy to invite someone, so I’d stand by myself and wiggle just enough to make it known that I was eager to dance, almost always in vain.

I was glad to find out that the group of international students in Nice I had taken up with didn’t dance in partners, but rather all together. In the late evening, we would go to a cafeteria in the old part of the city. We pushed the tables aside, took turns putting money into a rickety juke box and danced until the early morning hours.

The way we danced showed a part of us that was hidden in daily life: virile Abdel Aziz from Morocco gently swayed into a slow twist, down-to-earth Katy from Iran waved her arms as though she were a mermaid under water, Vietnamese-French Minouche, who was normally rather bashful, swung her hips seductively. I might have been a bit uneasy in social settings at the time but on the dance floor I moved along smoothly, answering each of my neighbor’s movements with one of mine, a silent conversation ruled by the pounding of the beat.

I’d put franc after franc in the juke box so I could listen to my favorite song and we would all sing along. “Don’t you worry ’bout a thing, mama, don’t you worry ’bout a thing, sugar” was belted out in French-, Italian-, Farsi- and Arab-accented English.

My voice got lost among those of the others and I merged with the music, with the heat of the humid summer evening, with the people dancing and singing around me.

To be totally absorbed by something other than my own thoughts was a new and wonderful experience. Nowadays it happens when I see art. Good art allows me to step out of myself and become part of something bigger.

Writing is like that too: when I find the right words and the right rhythm, I become one with the dance that I share with my readers.

Don’t you worry ’bout a thing
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