What are the top three things that you can’t wait to resume doing once all pandemic restrictions have been lifted?
 “Travel, hug friends and eat out at a restaurants!” (He’s already dusted off his dancing shoes!)

The fun, friendly and figuratively tall Joel Jimenez grew up in the small farming town of Atwater in Northern California. Although he grew up in a family with no (formal) dance exposure, he feels lucky to have two (older) siblings that listened to such a wide variety of music genres growing up, that his inundation of such varied musical styles lead him to grew a great appreciation for (all things) music, including dance.

Joel began seriously dancing at age 25 at a studio owned by Dancing With the Stars professional Cheryl Burke. After years of dedicated training and focus he went onto become a formally trained dancer, first starting with salsa and bachata. He then grew more serious after shifting his focus to American Rhythm and Smooth dance styles. And after ballroom he dabbled in solo Hip-Hop dancing and has now immersed himself in the world of West Coast Swing.

Joel reminisced, “There’s nothing real special about what got me into dance, I just wanted to meet more people, learn a life skill, and do something new.” So after years of developing and investing into his craft, and becoming a frequent face in local social dance scenes to the point that dance became a big part of his life, Joel says that the pandemic  forced him to take a step back and take inventory on his own life balance and re-evaluate what things really mattered.

When asked if he danced much during lockdowns, surprisingly Joel, a high energy extrovert replied, “Absolutely not. Oddly enough, I had no urge to dance for the first several months of quarantine. I had not even watched a dance video probably until 6 or 7 months into quarantine!” This unintended dance detox (period) from dance didn’t mean that Joel was hanging up his dance shoes indefinitely. As he passionately asserted, “I miss connecting to people with the music, the improv of movement, the way it made exercise fun, but most of all I miss the people. I miss my friends.” This as he fondly reminisced on his post dance social rituals of showering then sleeping (due to having to work early the next morning). Although his favorite post dance activity was going somewhere like Raising Canes with friends (like Khayree), or talking with people in the parking lot for a while. 

While many dancers are eager to get back on the dance floor and other pre-pandemic activities, there are some dancers who are not yet ready to venture out and back into certain group settings. Many from this segment of the community have been discussing ways that studio owners and event organizers can help make dancers feel more comfortable returning and perhaps ease them back in studio sooner rather than later. While the most common suggestions are ensuring that masks are worn correctly and at all times while in studio, Joel echos another sentiment that has garnered much more traction in light of this past years racial reckoning and related events. Advocating, “I believe that there needs to be a way to make people accountable on how we treat others, especially on how we treat BIPOCs, the LGBTQ, and the older members of our community. As far as coming out of a pandemic, signs and announcement reminders to regularly wash/sanitize hands and having disposable masks readily available are good starting steps.” With respect to the need for accountability for the treatment of marginalized groups, Joel adds “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” This quote made famous by Miss Maya Angelou was a recurring thought that stuck with him over the past year.

Since quarantine began, Joel states that he’s been lucky to fill his dance void by picking up new hobbies and creative outlets, which helped get him through the difficult past year. He recalls, “Early on I set out to learn how to bake, which has been relaxing (and delicious). I also finally started playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and it has been the best creative outlet I could wish for. For anyone who likes the teamwork and spontaneity of dance, D&D is that very same thing but with telling a story. Playing and even watching D&D (Critical Role) is something that I’m so grateful to have started. Because of D&D, during COVID I’ve been able to develop relationships that I truly value. As far as activities that are truly active, I definitely ignored much of those at the start as I was a hermit for much of quarantine. Luckily though I had a couple friends who stayed in contact with me and got me outside and into playing Pickle-ball.”

Joel reflects, “Something I was reminded of during this past year is that dance doesn’t define me or anyone else. We are human beings first and foremost.” Having said that however, Joel continues by passionately explaing just how much dance means to him, revealing “Dance is a reminder that I’m alive. It has the potential to bring out every single human emotion, and the greatest of all is sharing those moments connected with someone else. It’s a beautiful thing.” This beautiful thing called dance and all of the beauty it has brought to Joel’s life is one reason why he couldn’t stay away from ATOMIC over the entire shutdown period.

Joel says that he’s actually been to ATOMIC a few times since the initial shut down. Initially for a meetup, and most recently just this past week for ATOMIC’s Thursday night West Coast Swing practice. He discolosed, “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to really return so quickly. However, since I am vaccinated I really wanted to come out to support a friend and fellow POC who was DJ’ing that evening. All things considered, I am still getting used to being around people and focusing on my life balance when thinking about fully returning to dance.”

Over the years dance has impacted Joel’s life in a plethora of wonderful ways. “Because of dance I’ve been lucky enough to make some amazing friends and memories all over the globe. Dancing has allowed me to meet with people of all races and ages and I’m truly blessed for it,” Joel adds with a smile.