Alma Guillermoprieto is a Mexican writer and reporter. She became a journalist in the late 1970s, writing about the Central American civil wars. Since then she has written extensively about Latin America, principally for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and National Geographic. She is the author of Dancing with Cuba, a memoir about her time as a dancer, and Samba, about the central role of carnival in the favela of Mangueira in Rio de Janeiro. Guillermoprieto is a MacArthur fellow and a founder of the New Journalism Foundation created by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Cartagena, Colombia. Most recently, she was the recipient of Spain’s Ortega y Gasset lifetime achievement award.

On November 13, 2017, Guillermoprieto presented “The Body Remembers: Memory and Dance” to a public audience at The Center for Ballet and the Arts.  The following is a version of that talk.

Among the things I missed most when I stopped dancing were the smells. The first time we walked into the studio of the Mexican modern dance company I would eventually join, my mother made a great show of disgust, waving her hand in front of her nose and going “phoo!” But I didn’t mind. I hadn’t been around enough people then to recognize the smells as feet, crotch, armpit, and, in general, pure undiluted sweat, but I understood without thinking that this was the scent of effort and achievement, and that it went with the dizzying perfection that made off with my heart from the moment I first saw dancing.

That took place in front of a movie screen, in Mexico, perhaps in the Cine Ópera, which was the one near our house. Or maybe the Palacio Chino, right downtown. The extravagant décor, the dress-up clothes everyone wore to visit this oriental palace, the gold trim on the red curtains, must have added to the impact of a movie that made me stammer as we left that I wanted to be a dancer and only a dancer, forever and ever and ever. I could take a long sidetrack right here about why generations of little girls lost their senses over a movie about a not very nice woman surrounded by really not very nice men, who dances herself to death wearing bewitched  toe shoes, but I won’t.   

But still, I mean, really! She dies! Dancing kills her! And that central plot line is what at age five, or six, or eight, we either chose to completely  ignore or loved to death.

I must have been five years old when I saw The Red Shoes. At the time, we were living in a duplex apartment in the San Rafael neighborhood. There was an enormous desk in the living room that my father had had made according to his own invention—probably inspired by some magazine illustration of mid-century Frank Lloyd Wright, now that I think about it. The desk had a top that could tilt to become a drawing board, although my father didn’t draw.

I remember it clearly because I used to play under and around it, and also because it was the only piece of furniture in our home, other than a large dining room table and some chairs. A couple of years earlier my father had won the lottery—a substantial amount—and the desk was the one surviving proof that this miracle had really happened.

For all his restlessness, extravagant spending and inability to cope with a 9-to-5 life,  my father was still the least bohemian member of his extended family. A floating population of aunts and uncles and cousins and friends  swept through the San Rafael apartment and stayed there whenever their funds ran out. Their comings and goings, violent outbursts and cooing affection for me kept me emotionally alert and engaged even during those weeks, or months, when I stayed home all day because there wasn’t enough money to send me to kindergarten. Among these relatives my hands-down favorite was my Auntie Yapa, who had, in the open universe that was Mexico in those days, somehow managed to transform into a flamenco singer—without any training whatsoever. She had become a real one, too, a professional; someone who came home late every night after her show in the famous flamenco nightclub Gitanerias, still with traces of pancake makeup, her long frizzy hair all mussed up from tossing it about in theatrical passion.

Years later, I was walking in Seville, in the Barrio Santa Cruz, threading through its patchwork of narrow streets and little plazas, when at the opening onto one plaza I was stopped in my tracks by the charging entrance of a great galumphing creature spilling all out of her dress, throwing her hair around, stomping and moaning, underarms and buttocks jiggling, and I gasped and cried out, “Auntie Yapa!” It wasn’t my aunt, of course: It was the prodigious gypsy, the gitana Lola Flores, in her aged decline, being filmed. And that’s when I realized that everything my aunt knew about throwing her hair in front of her face and back again, and stomping and kicking her skirt around on the floor like it was some man who’d done her wrong, she’d taught herself by watching Lola on a movie screen And,  god bless the woman,  my aunt was able to learn a lot not only because of her native talent but because, boy, was there ever a lot of Lola Flores.

You could say that I too was Lola’s pupil. When the stars aligned and everyone in the household was in a good mood at the same time, the dining room chairs would be pulled into a circle and my Auntie Yapa and her husband, a baker who moonlighted as her accompanist, plus my green-eyed Uncle Chucho, who had been drawn by his older sister into the cabaret life and taught himself to play the flamenco guitar beautifully, would start that slow, stroking, palmas warmup and go por bulerias. And my aunt with her hoarse shouty voice, full of rage and pain, spurned love and passion, would work herself into a frenzy and Zas Zas Zas! Pum Ba Cataplúm. Cataplúm. Y Za! Y Za! Y Za! And here’s me, overcome too, possessed by god knows what god of frenzy, running into the center of the circle and going Zas Zas Zas! Me, in the center of the circle. While everyone laughs and applauds.

Not long after we moved into the duplex in the San Rafael we were evicted—not for the first time—for missing the rent, and not long after that and without prior warning to me or anyone else, my mother—in an act that I’ve spent a lifetime explaining to myself—extracted me from my country, my native city, my family and my home, and absconded with me to the United States, to Los Angeles.

This was not, generally speaking, a successful move, and as a result of her guilt over it my mother would spend the rest of her life, and a good part of mine, in a tortured negotiation between her own complicated nature and her desire to atone for this and many other haphazard decisions. Are you happy? Are you sorry we’re here? she would ask, but I had learned the hard way that she was both well-intentioned and completely untrustworthy, and kept my answers to myself. Our tight-knit, two-person family nucleus had an artistic bent, and because of my obsession with dance my mother would drive me in our old Plymouth jalopy to the hillside Greek Theater, where one evening I watched Maria Tallchief do Firebird from the very last back row. More often to the Shrine Auditorium, where at a Saturday matinee I saw the Bolshoi with Maia Plissetskaya doing..was it “The Stone Flower?” Don Quixote, certainly. Our limited resources didn’t stretch far enough for two tickets,  so my mother would wait for me in the car, reading with the help of a flashlight.

I can only imagine the sacrifices she made to pay for my Saturday ballet lessons with the ancient Madame Footskaya, or Glaucoma, or Nevermindski, Maria something, in any event, formerly of the Ballets Russes, who dyed her page-boy hair soot black, wore black trousers and black embroidered Chinese slippers with white socks, and taught the children’s class with iron discipline and disdain, as if we were rejects from the Bolshoi auditions, such was the fate exile had condemned her to. I hated it, I told my anxious mother. I did? Well, then; she paid for pottery classes, and drawing lessons, and live-model drawing lessons, all of which I took every Saturday at an arts center near Hollywood and Vine, and thanks to which I discovered my real passion at last, because members of  Lester Horton’s company rehearsed and taught in a cramped studio near the entrance, and one day I passed by the open door while  class  was in session and was caught forever. Modern dance! Its expressive range! Its freedom! The fact that I could actually do the exercises filled me with delight.

How is it that I can remember the movement sequences I learned back then, imperfectly, more than half a century ago? Six decades ago, to be exact? My body, not me, remembered it, treasured it, treasured the calm breathe-in, breathe-out rhythm of the Horton exercises, treasured my achievement in doing them, while I, me,  treasured the atmosphere in the little studio, treasured even the name of my pretty, sensible, good-natured teacher, Lelia Goldoni, treasured every moment and stored it away, undisturbed—but who knows, perhaps active and alive and useful, restorative—until now.

Saturday mornings at the arts center were the gift the week gave me, but my mother, who talked to everyone and proudly came up with impractical and inappropriate schemes for everything, somehow met a young Japanese woman—let’s call her Sumiko, because I don’t remember her name—who was a serious student of flamenco. “Oh!” I can hear my mother saying. “Then you can give my daughter flamenco lessons. She would love that.” Accordingly, my mother dropped me off late one afternoon at Sumiko’s apartment and drove away, waving. Sumiko was sweet, gentle, and shy—it would have been better if she were assertive and mean—and she’d probably had never taught before, but she began by suggesting that I learn to count out a basic flamenco rhythm, por bulerias, a rhythm that I already had tattooed on my heart: Un dos TRES, cuatro cinco SEIS, siete OCHO, nueve DIEZ, un dos. Un dos TRES, cuatro cinco SEIS, siete OCHO, nueve DIEZ, un dos.. You are very good, Sumiko said, surprised, and wondered if I might like to mark out the rhythm with my feet: Step, please, very hard, with your foot. I tried, and instantly felt myself getting flustered, angry, confused, and I tripped all over myself when I attempted to count out the stomps.  Yes, good, one more please, very strong, Sumiko said, encouraging me. No, I couldn’t! I was making too much noise, I was losing count! Try more, one more, please, Sumiko said. Like you are angry. I stomped as hard as I could and felt sick. Oh no, thank you, I can’t. One more! Oh no, please. And an instant later  Sumiko found herself trying to contain a shaking, sobbing, weeping, unconsolable, unhuggable, ungainly child who would not be comforted, dialing my home number desperately, please to come for your small daughter, she is very not too happy, and me yelling !No! drowning in tears, terrified by a storm I could not control, by so much disappointment with life, guilt, sorrow, anger, loneliness, too much to fit into a single body, too much for any soul, so much so that I had forgotten long ago where my heart was or how it suffered.

But my body had remembered.

You can see how, when my mother and I eventually found our way back to Mexico, the all-surrounding smell of people in the dance studio promised the richness of  company, of companionship after so much emptiness. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but cities used to be fantastic repositories of smells, and now they’re not. Mexico, back then, population about six million, was a pure heaven of smells, from dawn to dawn. Soon after daybreak you could smell the resin-rich pine kindling, ocote, used to light boilers, and the smoking coal in household braziers. If you happened to be walking close enough to a house with a kitchen facing out, the acid/mellow aroma of coffee would greet you, and, soon after, you’d hear tortillas being made, or you’d smell the poisonous combination of kerosene fumes and cornmeal in the tortillerías; housewives and maids lined up waiting for the tortilla machine to produce a fresh stack.

A one-peso coin from your apron pocket paid for one and a quarter pounds of tortillas, and you could peel the top one off right there, still steaming, sprinkle salt from a dish on the counter, and carry the rest home in its little queshqemetl of pink butcher paper, to last throughout the day and perfume the kitchen.  In the evening, it was off to the bakery and its ravishing smell of rising yeast and goldening wheat to pick out—most carefully—which type of sweet roll you would have for supper with a mug of sugary café con leche, plus maybe a little rewarmed leftover from the midday meal.

The same coin that paid for a kilo of tortillas also paid for a ride down the Reforma in a pesero; six passengers crowded into a boat-wide American car painted along its sides with the official pesero forest-green-and-black triangles, and known everywhere and only as a cocodrilo, a crocodile.

The ride took you just past the monument to Benito Juarez to the grand Palacio de Bellas Artes, where you could head to the red velvet audience seats if you were going to watch Moiseyev or the Taylor company, or to the backstage entrance if you were performing—because I was. At the age of 13 I was the lowliest member of a modern dance company that had begun to train a few years earlier in Graham technique, taught by visiting company members. And I was there not because I was particularly talented but because more bodies were needed and they were scarce. Still, there I was, far too precocious for my own good, slathering on pancake makeup that hit you first with a slightly obscene, pungent smell I’ve never been able to identify, pinning a braid made of someone else’s hair onto my own, gluing on false eyelashes, transforming. A thrilling life!

Was the dressing room more exciting than the stage? The movement invention was not thrilling, certainly not in my parts, which were barely more than walk-ons, and if nothing in my previous life had made me feel unself-conscious, being onstage was a first-rate way to make me feel like a waltzing giraffe. And yet, to move was to imbue life with meaning, to express, to communicate, to be in service to the form, to serve the dance. I did love to dance. I loved the ambitious music we danced to, loved the mystery of the stage wings, where we in the chorus transitioned from our individual selves into a unified molten expression of sorrow, lament, or jubilation. Did we really take two or three curtain calls in the Bellas Artes seasons? I believe we did. I remember holding hands, smiling uncontrollably despite my braces—grinning, in fact—and bowing while the curtain went up, then down, then up again.

Dance life is the body’s life intensified to a high-pitched, almost keening degree, and for someone like me, who had been living in the land of the dead and was now returned,  it was simultaneously the most real reality and a waking dream. I don’t mean a sugary, pink tutu kind of dream, but an experience lived with all the stripped-down intensity of dreams. And this was particularly so because with membership in a modern dance company there came the acquaintance of artists, and through them, the approach to Art with a capital A, with a G in there somewhere for Grandeur. Circling the everyday life of the studio in a kind of secondary orbit were painters and musicians, writers and hangers-on, magical men—for they were all men—who could sit for hours in the downtown cafes and recite Octavio Paz or Huidobro or, of all people, St John-Perse to you, or take you to visit their studios, which smelled so excitingly of turpentine and oil paint, or walk you around museums, pointing out small treasures and explaining the major ones, or simply let you sit in on their conversations about death, and the death of muralism, and the importance of Schoenberg.

It was a time for walking. The city was much smaller and far safer, the air  crystal-clear and invigorating. None of us had cars—in fact, most of us didn’t even have phones—and after class and rehearsal we would walk. Sometimes we would only walk as far as the Prado cinema, which showed sexy, brooding, European movies—I saw L’Avventura, Breathless, 8 ½  there. Sometimes we would walk home, dropping each other off along the way. Sometimes we would say; Let’s go visit so-and-so, and we would walk there, whistling underneath their window so they would look out, greet us, and lower the key in a little basket, or throw it down, knotted up in an old sock. And then, hours later, we would walk to our separate homes—my home being, as far as I was concerned, a barely tolerable place in which to sleep and have breakfast.  

I was an overgrown, overread, moody, socially awkward fourteen-year old, tearing my way through the Alexandria Quartet, in a state of permanent exaltation at living the life of Art, scorning happiness as a coarse sentiment and looking for ways to present myself in the most dramatic light possible, all of which helped me to overlook the fact that I was, already, the unwilling product of a fairly dramatic life, and unavoidably unhappy.

In this sense, and this sense only, I was perfectly suited to Graham technique: I was  not pretty, and Graham had nothing but disdain for prettiness. I had important, intense emotions that I’m sure would have overwhelmed me if I hadn’t been caught up in the drama of Graham gesture. I too had statements I needed to make about life. I was at odds with it and the world, and the jangled angles of Graham technique suited me.  It was my language, it spoke for and through me. I’ve forgotten every word of the reams of Neruda and Vallejo  and García Lorca poems I used to recite to myself aloud—Me moriré en Paris con aguacero/Un día del cual tengo ya el recuerdo—and the pages and pages of David Copperfield and Lolita I knew by heart, but I’m pretty certain that I could sit down on the floor right now and, starting with the bounces, hobble my way through the entire Graham floorwork, fifty years after I last did those exercises.

In the Ballet Nacional none of us talked about our backgrounds much, dance practice being all about the present moment. And this must have been a relief for those among us who were not, like me, self-absorbed adolescents gooping our suffering all over the place. Because no one’s story was happy and it was best to take that as a given and move on. My best friend’s mother had hung herself from a beam in their house in Veracruz. All but one of the men were gay—in Mexico, at that time. All the women were seen as wanton. I think that we carried the weight of those facts around with us not as offenses committed against us but as our very own original sins. Maybe by dancing we were all trying to turn our bodies into vessels for holding pain, or maybe it was simply that dance was  for each of us an open door.

My sin, in that ultra nationalistic time,  was that I had spent half my childhood in the reviled United States. So an intense curiosity about history—pre-hispanic history, revolutionary history, the history in Mexico of the art I practiced, was my way of growing roots, and of understanding, or trying to understand, what role my I played in this history.

I had arrived late enough to be spared what is called the Golden Era of Mexican Modern Dance, but I did get to see many of its signal choreographies performed by the official Mexican modern dance company. Looking back on them now they seem to me the product of a massive act of mis-remembering, but they taught me things about memory and history and dance worth remembering, so this is the official history section. The Golden Era reached its apex in the late forties, and it was simultaneously a hymn to  Mexican tradition and to the Revolution which destroyed those traditions. At every level, it was a riot of contradictions. Mexican musical comedies catered to a mass audience by exalting life on the haciendas, which were  gigantic agricultural properties—machines for the exploitation of campesinos—that the revolution destroyed. Without the hacienda Big House, there would be no señoritas, and no balconies where they could blush and be serenaded, no romance—and where would musical comedies be without romance? Mexican muralists, who were all white, painted rhetorical Indians. Even a truly great painter, like Rivera, painted oddly static representations of an Indian culture he had to reconstruct through careful documentation. And yet, it has to be said that all those foreigners besotted with Mexico forever, and the Mexican artists who were equally besotted foreigners in their own land, as it were, responded to something overwhelmingly real, which was the power of Mexico, the force of its culture, its solemn, aching beauty. And in turn, inspired by the country, those artists helped to invent a Mexico that their audience now remembers as if it had really been real.

Mexican modern dance was part of this nationalist creative deception/deceptive creation. Choreographies were all about heroic peasants who had fought in a revolution almost no one could actually remember but was for all of us what you could call an implanted memory. Choreographers were tremendously concerned with creating dances about Mexico, and tried to develop an authentic Indian form of onstage movement, although the woman at the head of this effort—a very beautiful  dancer, Waldeen—was from the United States, and of German descent.

Waldeen tried to figure out how to dance like an authentic Mexico, and the result isn’t laughable, because it’s so innocent, and sincere. But it’s also totally made up, with a rhetoric directly imported from New York, and from the Soviet Union.

The Bolshevik and Mexican revolutions happened in the same decade, and Soviet art went on to have an enormous influence on Mexican art, from muralism to architecture to folk dancing. I mention folk dancing—and now this really is a giant sidetrack—because I was surprised to hear Alexei Ratmansky in a CBA-New York Public Library talk say that one of the artists he most admired was Igor Moiseyev, who founded the mother of all folklore groups, Moiseyev. It had a perverse and horrible influence on Mexican popular dance and the way it is preserved today, or rather, the way it is forgotten. Because to remember something falsely is actually to forget it. Authentic-ist art like Moiseyev or the  Ballet Folklórico de Amalia Hernández is one uninterrupted process of purposeful misremembering, of perverted memory.

My view is that all folk performance created for an audience is actually a hymn to something that no longer exists, or is in the process of dramatic loss. The problem is that it pretends that what it’s showing is reality. But the the dream of that lost Mexico was so extraordinarily powerful that it remains influential to this day, and, like Moiseyev, spread its influence abroad.

To me one of the most powerful elements of that period of Mexican modern dance was its relationship to the audience. Ballet Nacional was committed to bringing art to the people, and only a few years before I joined the company, the dancers had traveled on muleback to the Indian village of Yalalag to perform for those beautiful people. God knows what they made of Guillermina Bravo’s “The Demagogue”, about a sellout union organizer, with music by Bela Bartok, but for the dancers the experience was so unforgettable—the mules, the record player under the gourd tree, the scorpions, the still, gentle watchers—that I grew up hearing about it and treasure that memory as if it were my own. And then just last month the illustrious Graham dancer Christine Dakin, who has taught Graham technique once a year in Mexico for upwards of three decades, told me about her summer working with Mexican modern dancers in the state of Michoacan. The predominant influence in Mexican dance these days is New York, but nevertheless, after the group organized and led by a local dancer  improvised four ten-minute choreographies, they went out and performed them in the modern equivalent of the village plaza—the central space in a big shopping mall. Christine too; Christine dancing and performing too! The foreign teacher in love with Mexico and the Mexican dancers performing in public squares..was it conscious or unconscious memory? Either way, it was part of a tradition.

I couldn’t resist switching countries to give you another example of how dance remembers itself and the body remembers what it has danced: Here’s a photo of Merce doing this movement—a slow-motion version of a Cossack squat-and-leg extension—taken from the opening moments of his monumental Suite for Five, from 1958. And here’s the complete movement sequence danced by Cedric Andrieux in 2003, when Suite was revived.

Merce made this solo in 1953. Did he think his mind invented this movement? Or was he consciously quoting from his first performing life? He kept adding duets and trios and quintets to it until by 1958 it stood as the finished Suite for Five, and then it wasn’t performed for at least twenty years. Those of you here in the audience not from the dance world may not know that there is no notation method or movement record for the vast majority of works in the world modern dance repertoire, and even, through the 1950s, for much of ballet.  So former company dancers have to be called back to remember what they had done years before. Or let their bodies remember what they had done. And after that there’s the question of transference. Learning the steps is easy, but what’s hard to understand is how Merce’s insanely difficult solo got translated into Cedric Andrieux’s body.

Well, I told you that was going to be a sidetrack. But it was a sidetrack about the importance of history to dance. When that history gets lost, recedes, when the facts change, the dance has to change, or it might just get emptier and emptier, which in my opinion, is what keeps happening to Revelations, Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece. But that’s a different history. By the time I joined Ballet Nacional, it was clear what a farcical disaster the Mexican revolution had turned into, and only the official government modern dance company kept on staging dances that were by then embarrasingly empty of real feeling. And even though dancers in the official company were on salaries, and God knows we needed those, we preferred to maintain our independence and produce Art. Not that the dances I performed in were history-free: Mexico’s heavy history, which we so often carry around as if it were some kind of damn pyramid on our backs, was a central element in almost every dance we did. Nevertheless a marvelously better burden than the white void that had threatened to annihilate me in the United States.  

It was my job to catalog and order all the costumes in the storage room, and I spent hours admiring velvet robes, whose rich made the stage feel opulent, for dances about the devil; Chinese-inspired parade dragons with the head of Quetzalcoatl; tenabares—ankle bells made from seeds—for dances that brought pre-hispanic murals to life; baroque angel costumes with sewn-on mirrors in the shape of the sun. The costumes, the hours-long lighting rehearsals sitting in the darkened house, the stories we told when we danced..I began to conceive of the body as a theater where our lives were performed—as Martha no doubt would have said, or did say, long before me—and the stage as a kind of brain where thoughts and emotions flickered to life and played themselves out. When I arrived in New York a couple of years later, Martha’s works made perfect sense to me, and so did the Cunningham dances his group performed that year at Hunter College: Summerspace, Nocturnes and Night Wanderings. They seemed to be a combination of thought and dreamstates, taking shape and diffusing before my very eyes.

That was in 1965.  My life in Mexico was becoming aimless at that stage. The Ballet Nacional could not provide enough structure, or warmth, for an adolescent, and the many ways in which my father and I did not get along made me unbearably sad. My mother had landed in New York a couple of years earlier, and with the lure of the Martha Graham school I was persuaded to leave Mexico again and join her there. That is material for a different story, but whenever I think of that part of my life I remember one of our company members, Freddy Romero, Ballet Nacional’s principal dancer, and that’s the last story I’d like to tell you.

Freddy came from a poor neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela, and how he got to Mexico, how he met, fell in love with and married a hairdresser who worked at the vast Peluquería de Señoras,  a hair salon right across the street from my Auntie Yapa’s home, and how from there he found his way into a modern dance company, is a story I’ve forgotten. He must have started training in Venezuela, I think now, and there has to have been a substantial scholarship somewhere.

He was, in any event, the most beautiful thing any of us had ever laid eyes on, and after nearly ten years as the Ballet Nacional’s principal dancer he and I both wound up moving to New York at around the same time. Alvin Ailey wanted him for the company, which for Freddy should have been the realization of a dream but wasn’t. New York changed everything, even our proportions: at 5’7” I was now not  an overgrown freak but normal, while at 5’8” Freddy was suddenly looking short. Freddy could jump, but so could every other guy in the company, and higher. His technique was wanting. I was used to seeing myself as a failure, but Freddy knew he was a star. Now he was no longer the most beautiful thing anyone had ever seen, but only one of  many stunning people at Ailey. He lasted three years and then he left.

I think the Ailey experience broke Freddy’s heart–losing his beauty. It feels like an awkward thing to say, but being beautiful is what a dancer is.  The years of training, the hours of rehearsal, are devoted to creating the full, impossible beauty of movement, the beauty of the impossible, or the struggle towards the impossible which in some way is a representation of the struggle against death–I don’t know, however you like, but Freddy went from being the most beautiful to not so much, and it was a tremendous blow. Dancers start to lose their ability to express, to incarnate beauty, or the fear of that moment overtakes them, the moment when they can offer their beauty to an audience, make a gift of it, is passing, and some start to drink to dull the pain. Because inside the dancer the body remembers what it was, and that trapped no-longer-existent body wants to cry out untrap me, let me emerge and be again the body I know. There are phantom limbs and there is phantom body. No doubt this was acutely painful in the case of Freddy, who had been considered a great artist, and overnight was so much less so, or in the case of a dancer who knows his or her gift to the world is transcendent, and sees it vanish, day by day. But on another level it doesn’t matter if you were a good or mediocre or unimportant dancer. It’s the body, not the evaluating mind, that’s remembering itself, and dying. There came a day when I finally faced the fact that I was emotionally, mentally and physically unsuited for dancing, and stopped training. For months afterward—even years, really—I would wake up at night, my body trying to find itself in dreams, and failing.

That only happens rarely now. Martha has been dead longer than most people in the world today have been alive. The company I danced with is long gone. Over the years most of the buildings I lived in in Mexico have been demolished to make way for new ones or disappeared in the course of successive natural disasters. And I, like all of you, am physically a different person from the adolescent I once was, each cell in my body replaced by another, over and over again, until, like those temples in Japan whose wood has been replaced every year for centuries, none of the original remains. And yet,  through processes we cannot begin to understand those new cells that form the brain and form the body store memories, and I am the same person I was, and the body that wants to remember.