“I messed up so much in class tonight!” “I can’t do it/I can’t get it.” “I look stupid.” “Why doesn’t it look like THAT when I do it?” “I just go blank in por fiesta.” All things I have said and have heard others say in flamenco class over the years. As my dance morphs and grows, however, I realize being so focused on getting it right, or being perfect, can make us lose our way with what is really at the heart of flamenco…the aire, the feeling.
∼∼∼”Striving for perfection gets in the way of the feeling.” ~ Gino D’Auri∼∼∼
I have had numerous conversations with flamencas from around the globe about this. We have all had class or performance experience where we feel sub-par. It’s a struggle for all dancers. I’m not a teacher by any means, but I want to share my personal experience on this topic, what I have learned, and what has worked for me in moving past this struggle on my flamenco journey.
- Practice – Do I need to state the obvious? To get to a comfortable place, you MUST practice in multiple ways. I find my practice at the studio is different than the practicing I do at home and both are very beneficial. The studio offers guided technique and choreography instruction from my professional teachers. This is totally necessary because you need the foundation and technical knowledge. But my at-home study allows me to hone in on what I specifically need to work on and be a little more exploratory. So do both.
- Have a strong sense of compás – I have heard my teachers say many times, almost any move is ok, as long as it is in compás! Know your basic palos and practice the palmas. Compás is vital in flamenco and a core skill. This is something I practice at home…A LOT. I listen to music by different artists so that I am able to identify the palo and absorb the rhythm. I don’t want my ear to hear the same stuff too often and become robotic. I listen first, then try to incorporate palmas. I also use solo compás music to keep me on track. Added bonus? Your palmas will inevitably get better.
- Study flamenco – I cannot stress this enough and have written about it before in https://fleurdeflamenco.wordpress.com/2017/08/23/invest-in-your-passion. This ties into the practicing at home thing. To fully appreciate and understand an art form, I strongly feel you need to learn about it in as many ways as possible. For me, this includes reading books, watching videos and documentaries, learning the lingo, listening to music, going to see fellow dancers perform, talking with others who take part in that culture, and traveling to take classes from legendary flamencas, when possible. It doesn’t have to consume you, but if you are serious about flamenco, it should definitely be a part of your life outside the class or studio setting. Give flamenco the time it deserves.
- Confidence – Believe it or not, all of the above things helped my confidence greatly! Freestyling at home coupled with the knowledge I gain in class allows me to improvise with confidence. It took several years to get to this point, along with getting over other struggles, but I got there! It takes maintenance, however. Learning to build yourself up needs attention from time to time. It happens for each dancer at their own pace. I want to stress here that comparing yourself to others holds no place in your art. That is a confidence smasher for sure!
- Don’t give up – If you are truly passionate about this art form, you will overcome any road blocks, you will get better and more confident, you will bring your voice to your dance, you will grow. Don’t be discouraged. Trust me. I have been through many setbacks in my flamenco studies and knocked down again and again. I have never given up. I love it too much and flamenco deserves as much as I can muster, even if that changes as my life does.
- Have fun – It’s not worth it if you only see your flaws or concentrate too hard on perfection and don’t enjoy the process. Fun has got to be a part of it. The day it is no longer fun for me is the day I will hang up my flamenco shoes (God forbid). Yes, you are cultivating a serious art form filled with richness and history, but you also have to receive, and feel, the joy it brings.
- Be true to yourself – I am not a showy, frenzied dancer. I do not have crazy fast footwork patterns. I’m in my element with improvisational moments and prefer quiet, impactful gestures. And I’m totally OK with all of that. Folks, you have to acknowledge your strengths and embrace them. The goal is NOT to dance like the person next to you. That would just be mimicking, not being a flamenco dancer. When you have the floor, do what feels good to YOU. Be true to the unique voice only YOU can bring to flamenco.
I will never stop doing these things because I appreciate and understand, for the development of my dance, I must honor it with my effort and dedication. We need to to be reminded of the value in what we seek. It’s part and parcel of flamenco, or any cultural art form just as demanding. If you are anything like me, you will find it is soooo worth it.
Flamenco is a lifelong journey of learning. Practice and study so that you can gain confidence. Never stop trying, never give up, but have fun along the way and enjoy the process. And don’t forget to always be true to the elements of YOURSELF that you bring to the flamenco table.
What have you experienced that has helped you find the feeling in your flamenco dancing? I’d love to hear from you!