7 Ways to Find the Feeling of Flamenco

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“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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3.  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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

lady-dancing-in-festival-hiI 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!

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My Flamenco Beginning

It’s funny to think about now. The first time I ever saw flamenco was a live performance at the Clifton Center here in Louisville, Kentucky. Of all places…Kentucky! But the really funny part comes in when I think about my reaction during the show. I was agast that people were shouting out during the dancing and clapping their hands along with the musicians on stage! What was this?? I remember thinking how rude it was. You should be quiet and attentive during performing arts, right? Little did I know…

After Domingo, my fiance at the time, laughed at me for a few minutes, he explained the “flamenco protocol.” All this engaging and boisterous interaction was not only ok, it was encouraged and a sign of approval from the audience. You see, his mother is from Sevilla, Spain, and in her youth, was a flamenco dancer herself. He had already exposed me to delicious foods and fun traditions of the culture. And now, to the dancing. This was almost 10 years ago. And I was mesmerized.

Not too long after that, I saw more dancing and live music shows at a few local area restaurants. It was, and still is, surprising to me the Spanish influence I have found in the cradle of horse racing and Bourbon. One particular night, my daughters and I were pulled up on stage with the dancers for a quick, show-ending “mini-lesson.” I remember thinking, “I could do this, with my hula background, I could do this.” Again, little did I know…

I didn’t pursue it yet. It wasn’t until I was planning our wedding and thought how cool it would be for us to learn one of the dances and honor “abuela.” Sevillanas would be perfect! I called and talked with Diana, an instructor and co-founder of Flamenco Louisville, and a plan was afoot for us to take private lessons.

Unfortunately, my flamenco tribute to Domingo’s mom did not pan out. I don’t even recall the reason, but the private lessons never took place. I put flamenco out of my mind. Once again, little did I know…

Fast forward two years. I was in need of a hobby to occupy myself. The kids were getting older and needing me less, busy with their friends, school activities, and jobs, Domingo was traveling a lot for work and would soon be embarking on, what turned out to be, nine months of working in another state, and studies for my bachelors degree were reaching an end. I craved something to fill the void of my newly acquired free time. Flamenco instantly came to mind.

So, on a crisp fall morning in 2012, I walked into the Flamenco Louisville Studio, ready to try it out. I was 45 years old and unsure how this would play out. Only one way to find out. I’ll never forget the moment I knew I was in it for the long haul; my teachers were in Spain, as they do every year, and Diana contacted me asking if I wanted her to pick me up a “proper”pair of flamenco shoes, because, “I was taking so well to the footwork in class.” I had been wearing character shoes up to that point so excitedly said, “YES!” The footwork got harder after that but, at least now, I had the correct instrument.

Fast forward another six years. A lot has changed in my life since then but I remain a flamenca! I am still dancing, attending classes twice a week, performing in local shows, sharing the art form, traveling to Spain and California to expand my flamenco community and knowledge, designing clothes, and, some would say, completely obsessed. Flamenco has become an undeniable part of my life, my own thing, something I am proud to be a part of. My recent surgery/recovery setbacks don’t change that.

And it all started by witnessing the spectacle of people yelling at a stage full of performers! 😉 Olé!

Depression and Dance

No one understands. I can’t even dance through the pain this time. The pain is physical and chronic. I fight depression every day. The pendulum swings between being fighting mad one day to being empty and static the next. The ups and downs are exhausting.

I have been vigilant about one thing, though; not admitting to myself I am suffering. I don’t want to say it and give it life. I don’t want others to know. I don’t want to let it win.

But it’s always there, creeping along the edges of my psyche. Even on my strongest days. I have tried the whole self- pep-talk, self-boost, self-realization stuff. It works sometimes. I know logically I have to pick myself up, dust myself off and move forward.

But why must admitting you are depressed come with a label of being weak, or in a pity-pool, unwilling to power up? That’s not true at all. I wish more than anything I didn’t feel so alone, sad, and empty all the time. I don’t enjoy being here.

I should be able to be honest and say that the past couple of years have dealt me some crushing blows and that a person can only take so many hits, and that it has affected me.

What makes this so vivid to me now is that I am dealing with yet another physical limitation. Again.. Almost right when I get back on my feet from knee surgery, here comes spine trouble that has been debilitating and excruciating. I have been going through a myriad of doctors and tests and yet with each passing day, the pain gets worse. I have missed work, but worse, I am missing life. On my worst days, I can hardly stand for more than five minutes.

This is keeping me from the one true release I have, my dancing. And it is hitting me hard. I had planned to travel to Spain this summer- Granada. Now, I cannot. I don’t understand why the one thing that keeps me energized and focused is being methodically stripped from me.

Yes, I am seeking help. I know I can’t do this alone. I know it doesn’t mean I’m weak. It means I care enough about myself to want to feel better.

My dancing is always with me, even if my feet aren’t on the floor. I guess that has to be enough for now.

La sólo flamenca

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There were three, now there is one. It is a bittersweet statement. And it may even be premature. Either way, things on my flamenco journey are changing yet again.

When I started on this path six years ago, it was meant to be a solo venture. Something just for me, a hobby I could do alone as Lori, not as mom or wife or friend or co-worker or family member. That lasted for two weeks, or so, before my daughters (16 and 13 years old at the time) decided mom was having so much fun and this dance looked so captivating. Soon, they were in-tow with me to class. At first, I was a little annoyed, I will admit. What happened to the, “this is for me”? thing? But, as any good mom would do, I swallowed my thoughts and words and together, the three of us started our flamenco journey.

It wasn’t long before I was very happy and grateful they were dancing alongside me. Not only did they both emerge as amazing dancers; one sassy and one graceful, but the nights of class, dinner afterward or lunch before, sharing about our day on the car rides to and fro, the performances, and special events at the studio each provided wonderful mother/daughter time and memories.  There were extra added bonuses for the girls, too – understanding team work and commitment, building confidence as the body molds from teenager to young woman, maturity in understanding the palos and musicality, etc.  We even performed a piece together, a fandangos, for several years in the student recital (see pictures above and below). It was an amazing way to share, not only our specific family, but also how flamenco is cross-generational and for all ages. My mom heart overflowed with pride and contentment.

As they got older and had other commitments, time with me outside of flamenco became less and less but, at least, I had this time.

Fast forward to now. My oldest daughter has been at college for the past four years but still came to class and performed when she was home for summer. While I greatly missed her presence, the change was a bit more subtle because the youngest and I were still regular attendees and performers. She will be graduating soon and off starting a new life as an adult. The youngest just graduated high school, is working a lot and looking to go to college next year. She has stopped going to class as she manages a 60 hour work week and being a young adult.

I think the ‘Three Musketeers Flamenco Time’ has come to an end. That makes me sad. And in this climate of so much change in my life, this is yet another aspect to absorb into my flamenco dancing. You see, it isn’t just that my daughters won’t be around much, if at all, for flamenco, it is that they won’t be around much in my life on a daily basis anymore. Soon, I will be an empty nester. A parent often thinks this day will never come and then in a blink of an eye, it is here. It happens to everyone, I know. My daughters and I are very close and have been through a hell of a lot together  and I will miss their daily presence in my life.

As I said, maybe this is premature. I may be getting ahead of myself. Maybe they will both find the time to keep flamenco in their lives, with me and for themselves, but it will not be the same. It’s sad for me but it’s ok. They need to go out into the world and follow their own passions and dreams.

My job now is to go back six years and recall the “for me” mentality. I have to reinvent my dancing and focus solely on me. That is not a bad thing, I understand. And it is something I deserve, I get that. This is probably the perfect time for it, as I fight to recover from surgeries and get back on the dance floor.  Some may think I should have focused more on myself to begin with, and in many ways I did, but there was always the underlying part of the three of us being in this crazy flamenco world together. As a parent, that is unavoidable and I make no apologies for it.

One more stone has been laid on my continually evolving flamenco path, one more experience to pull from, one more emotion to emulate, one more sorrow to dance through. I will always treasure the memories we have made together, in and out of flamenco, and I know this is just the beginning of a new phase for us.  New memories, new experiences, more happiness. I am a very lucky mom they wanted to share this with me for so long.  I have enjoyed the ride. Ole mis hijas!

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Pictures below: a pre-show pic, one of the many years of our fandangos together, and our very first Flamenco Louisville Student Showcase back in 2013.

My flamenco voice is louder than ever

Maybe the difference is in my mobility. Maybe the difference is in my mindset and approach. Maybe the fact that I was in such excruciating pain for months beforehand makes any pain now seem like a drop in the bucket. Maybe it is a combination of all of it. Whatever the reason, I am finding that recovering from my recent back surgery is so much different than my knee surgery recovery of last year.

Because sleep is still an issue, I lay awake many nights at 3 am. It is here, in this dark and quiet space, I think most about my dancing. During my knee surgery recovery, I had a very, very difficult time imagining dancing again. As hard as I tried, it took several months to get past that feeling. I even almost gave it up completely. This time, I started right away with a more positive enforcement of goals and ideas. One of these goals is working on a choreography that emulates my story of perseverance and sadness, struggle and heartbreak, anger and emptiness, pride and determination, love and loss.

Lofty goal, I know. I’m not a professional with years of choreography experience but I think I’ve learned enough to be able to move how my heart feels. I have a story to tell and it’s still MY story. It’s not for a show or a performance, it really it just to let it out of me and give it a form of release.

I do also think part of the difference in this round of physical recovery is that I have so much “bottled up” flamenco dying to get out. I had only returned to classes for a few months before the onset of this back thing. I was still trying to recover strength. I didn’t have time to completely settle back in and really let loose. One would think this would, in fact, make me more frustrated and anxious. Nope. It just makes me more determined.

Lastly, in regards to my mindset and approach, I think a big difference has come about in knowing the place flamenco holds for me.. As several of my past blog posts have talked about, there was a change in what flamenco meant to me that took place. I went from feeling confused and helpless to convicted and strengthened. Any art form that uses personal emotions to propel itself is most assuredly going to unfold for each of us differently. I realized and embraced my flamenco dancing is for me only and when I let go of all my insecurities and hang-ups, I felt so free and empowered and it changed how I danced when I returned to the floor.

So, here I am. On the road to recovery once more. Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely had my moments of being pissed at fate and frustrated with having to do this all over again. But those moments are not nearly as often or as paralyzing as before. I set out this time with a different perspective and, so far, it has helped greatly. My flamenco means so much to me and for me. It has evolved in the most surprising and unexpected ways. I venture a guess it will continue to do so.

Here is what I really want to say to anyone reading this – whatever your passion, whatever road blocks place themselves in your way, whatever little voice in your head tries to give you backtalk – push forward and don’t let anything or anyone stop you. If something is making your heart happy, let it. If something makes you smile, let it. If something feeds your soul, let it. Never give up. Allow the roadblocks to make you want it more! Keep your passion alive.

All of my experiences, good and bad, make my flamenco voice louder and stronger with more to say! I’m excited to see how my story will continue to unfold.

 

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!

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!