The Recovery List

I am in familiar territory. I have been down this recovery road before and not all that long ago.  As the Gods of irony would have it, almost one year exactly has passed that I had knee surgery. I won’t mince words…it truly sucks to have just barely earned my dancing feet back and then have this back issue take me down for another surgery and long recovery.

But, I’m trying to find the silver lining. I’m trying not to go down the rabbit hole that is taunting me. With as positive a mindset as I can muster, I think, at least I know in advance how I will feel. It is a small concession to realize I will feel isolated, sad, helpless, depressed, and confined, but, a concession, nonetheless. It lets me better prepare now for the “after” part. This time I will try to get ahead of all those emotions and use the energy for productive things.  After the Percocet wears off, anyway. 🙂

To that end, I’m making a list of goals to accomplish while I am rehabilitating my back. I am a big list person, always have been, always will be. There is just something strangely satisfying about crossing my words off on a piece of paper, or better yet, completing the list and throwing the paper away. There is some unexplainable quality that makes me feel like I achieved something, no matter how small or big. Yep, I am that person who thinks post-it-notes are the best thing ever invented! And then they came out with the ones with LINES ON THEM! Heaven, I say.

fe296cd586f22aa07cc7f8219699b210Couple my fondness for list-making with the fact that I am also the kind of person who feels invigorated when a special project is afoot. It gives me something to look forward to, something to focus on and hold my attention. And, again, this makes me feel like I have accomplished something and am productive.

I know that is just what I will need over the next few months; a list of projects!!! Some items pertain to my flamenco dancing and some do not. Some things are for my brain, some things are for my body, and some things are for my soul. They are all, however, for my sanity. 🙂

Lori’s Spine Surgery Recovery To-Do List

  1. As I did before, I will continue practicing my upper body marcaje, palmas and castañuelas. I think there was marked improvement when I went back to class last time, so aim to make them even better!
  2. Pick up where I left off with my Rosetta Stone Spanish lessons.  I can understand Spanish all day long when I read it or am being spoken to, but Lord knows I can’t say a full sentence back to someone yet. Weird, huh?
  3. Another thing I’d like to pick back up on is my genealogy research and add some more branches to my family tree.
  4. Add to the chair solea piece I started to work on last year when I was home-bound. I never finished it and think I have a lot more to say now I can infuse into it. Someone said to me recently, “You are a flamenca, on or off your feet.” Here’s to putting that to action.
  5. Complete a photo book for Cassidy that chronicles her life from birth till high school graduation.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           I think it’s a pretty good start and will keep me busy. A healthy perspective and outlook, I know, will be crucial to my getting better. Here’s hoping the next time I get my dancing feet back, I can stay on them for a long while!
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Es una juerga!

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Every time there is an approaching juerga at my home studio, Flamenco Louisville, I get soooooo excited! Overly so, many would probably say. But I think I have good reason.

A juerga, or flamenco party, brings together the community of flamenco dancers, musicians, singers, and afficienados from near and far to spend a casual and social night of sharing the art form. Often, other art forms are represented, as well, like Middle Eastern and Latin. It’s just an overall night for music lovers and appreciators of art to mix and mingle. There is good food, good drink, lively conversation and plenty of dancing-always a fabulous group of people and each party is different, you never know quite how the night will go. 🙂 Who doesn’t love that kind of get-together?

What you won’t find at a juerga are scripted scenarios, fancy flamenco costumes, stage make-up, precise hair do’s adorned with flowers….only flamenco shoes! Can’t dance without those. Rest assured, it is always fun and dynamic!

Beyond that, a juerga offers a non-performance setting to let loose and be creative. Many dancers will try out something for the first time they’ve been working on. It’s a time to let go of choreography and improvise. Being at a juerga is being in a judgement-free zone. For a few hours, you can forget about life’s troubles and produce spontaneous art, surrounded by friends and flamenco family.

Even deeper still, and the main reason I love juergas, is the connection it has to puro flamenco; these parties  best convey the essence of flamenco. At its roots, flamenco is an intimate kind of art form so it makes sense that the most authentic kind of flamenco can be found at a juerga. Think about it. A juerga traditionally starts with food, drink, talking and socializing. Someone starts to tell a “story” which turns into singing, someone else picks up a guitar, eventually a dancer steps up and begins telling his/her “story.” It is all very reminiscent of flamenco in the streets of Andalusia, gitano homes, cafes and bars. These improvised jam sessions follow flamenco feelings from communion to party and adapt to the mood and energy of the crowd. It is a close-knit setting and a shared experience. There is no separation of audience and performer. There  is no staged theatrical element and the jaleos are genuine. It is organic and spontaneous flamenco! Eso!

I, myself, usually do moves I’ve never done before, trying things out, finding my foothold and what I feel in that precise moment. I usually can’t even recall later what I did, which is perfect!! That means I was in a place of just letting it flow out of me! Some of my most creative and heartfelt dancing has taken place at a juerga. Who cares if it looks technically perfect? Who cares if I fall out of compas (as long as I fall right back in)? Who cares if my arm went left but I wanted it to go right?  Who cares if I don’t get up and dance AT ALL (not likely) and just want to sit there soaking up the ambiance? Not I! And no one should.

Juergas are a vehicle for moments of true flamenco emotion, away from a formal and organized performance setting. They are about fun and sharing and telling flamenco “stories” together, as a community, as a family. That’s what I love and that’s what makes me look forward to them each and every time. Olé y olé!

 

 

I Survived

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I am going to want to remember this time. I am going to want to remember I survived. I don’t know how much stronger I am, maybe a little hardened and emotional – maybe, just maybe, a little stronger. Whatever I am, I am still here, fighting.

Often I think, the last year seems like someone else’s story, a Lifetime movie (and a bad one). In the spirit of catharsis, I am giving it life here, now, for all to see, but mainly for myself. If I harbor the pain I cannot move forward. Scars have been left and healing will take time, but I must start somewhere.

I know everyone has stuff happen to them that weighs them down. I do not have a monopoly on misfortune and pain. My things are no more, and no less, important than any one else’s. And I have certainly had good things happen in this year, as well, that I am very grateful for and blessed by. But we all know…the bad stuff sticks and is a lot harder to scrape off.

I have been heartbroken by the loss of love. I have said goodbye to a longtime pet. I have worried over my children and my health. Those things, and more, made me feel helpless and sad. But nothing compares to the feeling of being devalued, the loneliness of being scared to leave your house and the inner torment of feeling worthless…all because a stranger decided one night to violate you in the dead of night. Yes, that happened this year, too. I was raped. There. With shallow breath and trembling hands, I said it.

What does all of this have to do with my flamenco dancing? Nothing and everything. Many days, it kept me from dancing. Other days, it empowered it. I carried it in silence, I tried to embed it into my dance, I tried to push it out of my body and into a flamenca persona, I tried to release it through my fingertips and stomp on it with my feet. This was, most assuredly, not a bump I expected to encounter on my flamenco path. It has changed what flamenco means TO me and FOR me. I have had to dig deep, from within the depths of myself, to get back. And sometimes flamenco has had to wait.

Flamenco is one of my strongest passions. Even though I have been kept from it a lot lately, it still remains in my heart, beating strong. I have a deeper understanding now, more than ever, of how much your pain becomes your dance. I think, now, though, the need to dance for myself is what I feel strongest about.  I need to go to class and dance until I am a sweaty, achy ball of nothing. I need the soft moments to grieve and I need the “f” you moments to say, well…”f” you!

I have to let go of some things; comparing myself to others, feeling low over a bad night,  how fast I progress, or don’t, feeling pressure or stress to “get” it, proving myself because of my age, having unrealistic expectations, etc. These things are not flamenco. They are distractions.

What matters to me, what is at the core of flamenco, is allowing my pain to embody me – letting it carry itself into my dance; wearing my heart on my sleeve and feeling good about what I am portraying – feeling confident when I step on the dance floor knowing I have earned every moment and letting people feel that from me-that is flamenco and that is what I will work hard for.

It is hard. Everyday. It is hard. Every night I pray for strength. Every morning I wake up crying. Some days, I  don’t think I can make it through, but I do. I somehow manage to rise and hope today will be better. All I can do is keep living, one day at a time.

I do not want sympathy. I am sharing this in such a public way simply to share my truth. It is a means to my purging, my recovery and a step towards regaining some inner happiness. I am unwilling to be defeated. I am taking my power back.

             “I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire                                                                around me.” -Joshua Graham

Yes, I want to remember all this.  I want to remember I survived a lot of things that could have broken me. And I want to remember my flamenco waited for me.

Lorita “la Farola” is born!

 

IMG_8060 (2)My flamenco experiences continue to inspire me! My very first tablao and solo performance happened recently when, much to my surprise and delight, I was invited to Los Angeles to dance with Los Colores de Flamenco and their guest artist, Inesita. I love making flamenco friends from all over, through this blog and social media, and everyone I met in L.A. was so welcoming and hospitable.

The weekend trip my daughter and I took to Los Angeles was filled with beautiful moments and happy surprises. One of the dancers, Rudy, kept us busy with sightseeing, breakfasts, a lovely paella dinner at his home and lots of good conversation about everything from flamenco to our children. One of the other dancers, Jacqueline, was also gracious enough to host us for dinner on the night of our arrival, which was a nice surprise after a long plane ride. I couldn’t have asked for better hosts!

The day of the show, I was filled with nervous energy! I have danced here in Louisville with Flamenco Louisville for many public shows; senior centers, the state fair, elementary schools and colleges for cultural events, student recitals, etc, but THIS would be the first time dancing in front of a paying audience in attendance specifically to see a flamenco show and my first time doing a solo! Yikes!! My new friends had quite the following at their quaint little tablao/Cuban restaurant and bar and I didn’t want to disappoint. Plus…I’d only been back to dancing since January after many months off the floor recovering from knee surgery, so was nervous about that, too. The best thing about my new friends? They sincerely just wanted me to enjoy and have fun! No pressure, no stress, no expectations of brilliance, just the desire to share our love of flamenco! 🙂 I was even bestowed a stage name in honor of the occasion; Lorita “la Farola.”  I was truly touched and overcome by the love and support I was receiving from people I had never met. Yet another new seedling on my flamenco path was blossoming.

 

29512484_1829152567115479_9100750974161896833_n (3)The venue was so intimate and authentic, especially after “Rodolfo” added his flamenco decor touch! It was a small stage, just like in Spain. This would be interesting. As I waited my turn to  run through my number with the talented guitarist,”Miguelito,”  I had the opportunity to watch the amazing Inesita do a little practicing. Wow, is all I can say. This petite woman of mature years stomped out the most unexpectedly complex and precise zapateado and moved with such confidence and fluidity. All of the dancers were impressive and skilled but Inesita just took my breath away!

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Inesita is a returning guest artist with the group at Havana Club and has had a most inspiring journey through her flamenco dancing years. She was born in New York  and started studying Flamenco dancing at age 14. She has been a force to be reckoned with ever since. Inesita has traveled all over the world appearing in solo concerts in a variety of venues. For the past six years, Inesita has produced her own flamenco company featuring other artists and talents.

The fact that we were a stones throw away from Hollywood was not lost on me when I found out Inesita has also danced her way into several motion pictures; “Tropical Masquerade” (1948),”Footlight Varieties” (1951), and “Here Come the Girls” (1953, starring Bob Hope). In 2016, a a short documentary was done about her by Tina Love, entitled, “Flamenco: The Enduring Art of Inesita.” 1940 18 anos Espanolita_Inesita_16

IMG_8171Needless to say, knowing I would be dancing alongside such an icon was a little daunting. But Inesita was so lovely and gracious and a joy to behold. I take my flamenco learning lessons from such experiences and I’m so happy I was able to be a part of the night!29542410_1829167660447303_8971755692075618007_n

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My solo, a fandangos, in addition to my solo sevillanas copla and the group fin de fiesta por bulerias went well and I was happy with my performance. I felt confident, comfortable, and relaxed, ready to show my aire! I had so much fun! My teachers in Louisville prepared me well. 🙂

The cante and toque accompaniment were excellent and a big ‘thank you’ to them for being so willing to “work it out” with the “new kid.” An added surprise for everyone was my daughter, who also dances flamenco, being pulled up during the fin de fiesta, to show off her stuff, barefoot and in shorts to boot! She was full of sass and the crowd loved her!FB_IMG_1524024499159

I am continually grateful to meet and perform with such skilled artists through this exhilarating flamenco journey. They all definitely eased my nerves and made the whole experience so memorable and fun. It taught me a lot about the  spirt of the flamenco community. Thank you for opening your flamenco home to me. Ole mi nuevo amigos de Los Angeles y muchas gracias!

Where is the Duende?

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“The duende…Where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odor of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.” Federico García Lorca’s Theory and Play of the Duende is filled with articulate and robust descriptions of the mysterious word intrinsic to the art form of flamenco.

Duende – a word shrouded in as much mystery as the Spanish folklore and ancient superstitions behind it’s origin. As students of flamenco, we hear that it is a special feeling, a deep moment, when your expression takes over. But how and when does it happen? Is it possible to project the moment you will lose yourself in the dance?

Lorca says, in seeking the duende, “there is neither map nor discipline,”  “it’s a power, not a work, a struggle, not a thought,” and “is not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive.”

Dictionaries and websites say duende is “having soul and authenticity connected with flamenco derived from a term referring to an elf or goblin-like magic creature in Spanish mythology or “the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm (in which case, every bar in every town would be wall-to-wall with men and women possessing ‘duende’) or “a spiritual calling connecting the soul to the essence of life, an inner yearning to become one with nature.”

I sought the wisdom of seasoned dancers, to explain what duende is for them. They spoke of it in a much deeper sense, saying things like it is, “a possessed state of being,” “like taking the mask off,” “trance-like,” and “beautiful and mysterious.”

The common spiritual threads are clear but it still seems such a vastly open-ended concept.

With the rise of modern theatrical flamenco performances, taking it from gitanos in the streets and caves to main stages in big cities, many critics say the pure form of flamenco, the aire, the duende, have been lost. True flamenco is not choreographed, it is impulsive and improvised. I get that and I agree, but as a performer myself, I understand the need for “the stage” in spreading awareness of the culture and art form, sharing the feeling of flamenco, with people who would not experience it otherwise.

Duende, I was warned, manifests from experience and from the suffering soul.  It is transformative. It cannot be “put on” in a moments notice nor with a manufactured scowl.  As a dancer who wishes to exemplify puro flamenco, I cannot forget that.

Will I find my answer? No. Duende, I realize, is untranslatable and unpredictable  – there is not a simple explanation, definition, or translation. How can you ever really define an emotion climbing up inside of you from the darkness or how it will outwardly take form? It is different in everyone.  It never repeats itself, as Lorca says, “any more than the waves of the sea do in a storm.”

In preparing to write this post, I tried to understand what duende means for the artist I am, but it defies me. It demands to remain unfettered by academic and intelligent reasoning. Maybe that is the point. It must happen in all it’s raw and unexpected glory. But a few things are without contradiction:

  • it is sincere and spontaneous and can apply to ALL art
  • it comes from your core and when it comes, nothing can stop it
  • it is powerful and agonizingly intimate
  • it is emotionally cathartic and sublimely transcendent
  • it cannot be taught
  • it is not created to please or impress, it beckons and emerges in the struggle to inhabit ones self

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I have had moments of ‘feeling it’ but never a true duende moment in my flamenco dancing.  And that is totally ok. I haven’t earned it yet. I haven’t lived it enough yet. I’ll know it when/if it happens. When the goblin of mystical inspiration comes for me, I will let it dance.

 

 

http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Spanish/LorcaDuende.php

 

 

 

 

Dancing between life and death

I have been on this tightrope walk between life and death, love and loss, for some time now.  As I manuever through the path of my flamenco journey, so, too, do I navigate life. All the emotions of both are intertwined. Some days, I am happy and content with my blessings. Other days, I openly grieve for the death of love, dreams, and expectations.

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Being a dancer means dancing through all the emotions, especially in flamenco. And so it goes, with my journey, that I find myself dancing between living life and facing death.

Flamenco is a unique form of dancing that allows everything, the good, the bad, the ugly, to surface in your expression of the dance.  But what no one tells you is how hard that sometimes is. I try to use everything I have inside me when I dance. But, it can hurt. It can hurt when the feelings  you are trying so hard to suppress blast out like an erupting volcano. It can hurt when you are reminded, through your dance, how sad you feel. It can hurt, when amid your solitary practicing at home, the well opens and the tears flow. It can hurt to realize that the very thing energizing your dancing is also ripping out your heart.

Therein lies the beauty of flamenco. It is ok to feel the hurt and let the dance help you heal. It is ok to show that vulnerable, sad, disappointed or overwhelmed side.  In fact, you must! That is what creates YOUR art, YOUR story, that no one else can tell.

While I process through challenging times, I know flamenco will embrace me and accompany me towards a happier horizon.  I am grateful for the outlet dancing provides and for the few that love and support me. And so, I keep dancing. I keep letting it keep me.

What I Learned About Why I Dance When I COULDN’T Dance

I thought my flamenco journey and the reasons I am on this path were crystal clear. I thought I knew WHY I danced. I did not…not completely, anyway. It wasn’t until I was physically unable to dance that I fully understood.

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“To dance is to be out of yourself,” Agnes de Mille said. I am grateful my knee injury, surgery, and recovery were confined to only a handful of months. I tried to “be out of” myself and practice what I could from a seated position. I was diligent and it helped a lot, but my soul still cried.

During this non-dancing time, my life was also going through a lot of personal upheaval. Needless to say, one emotional strain did not help the other at all. I felt abandoned and alone even though I had plenty of support and love surrounding me. But once you are down that rabbit hole, it’s tough to crawl out.  And now, my ability to “dance it out” had also deserted me. I was crushed.

I even tried to put flamenco completely out of my mind. I thought, if it made me sad not to dance, maybe I should step away from it for a while. I decided I would not look at videos, I would not listen to music, I would not read, I would not practice. I would not do anything flamenco related.  Believe me, I never thought I’d be saying that. So, I tried. For about three days. But I couldn’t do it!! I literally could not stay away! Something kept me from walking away (no pun intended).

Ok, so this made me realize I cannot keep flamenco out of my life. It has me by the proverbial balls. Since I had plenty of time to think, my next question was, “What do you expect to get out of it? What makes you dance it even when you can’t?”

Everyone who knows me or who reads my blog knows how much I love sharing a cultural art form with my community. My hula dancing began that fondness. But there had to be more to it. Flamenco draws me in like very few things ever have. Herein lies my realization and acceptance.

I don’t have perfect technique and I can’t rattle out 15 minutes solid of amazing footwork. I do alright, don’t get me wrong, but I will certainly never grace the stages of Sevilla and I very well may never be a professional-level  bailaora anywhere. AND THAT IS OK! That is not my goal.

What I DO want is to do the art form justice. I want to dance with all MY feelings and for MYself. I want to be able to convey the deepest sense of flamenco when I dance. I want my emotions to pour from my limbs. I want people to FEEL me. If I stand in silence, doing nothing, I want that space to be full of my soul. That, I truly believe, is the flamenco magic. That is flamenco at it’s core.  That is all I want and that is enough. I know that now. The crazy part is it finally sunk in, after over five years of flamenco studies, that this art form performed and loved by innumerable amounts of people worldwide is mine. MY DANCE IS MINE! That is why I couldn’t stay away, flamenco is inside me, not with any one or any place else.  What a simple and yet profound epiphany. It took a chair to teach me that.

And, can I just tell you how liberating that is..to know that flamenco is important enough to me, almost on a spiritual level, that I want to embody it no matter where life takes me.

I have and always will give my teachers, my studio, and my fellow flamencas 110% of my dedication. But, now, I also have a deeper appreciation of what it means to just ME, unconnected to anything else. And that matters.

When I could not dance is when I understood why I must dance.