I look around class and see all the things I am not; young, tall, slender, flexible, athletic, and able to absorb new body movement faster than the speed of light. “What am I doing here?” is a question I asked myself in the beginning, almost faithfully, upon leaving class and feeling inadequate. Ask my kids. They will tell you. I would ramble on and on all the way home about what I did wrong. Sometimes I even cried. Everyone just seemed so much better and I was convinced it was because I wasn’t young and svelte. I had a lot to learn about flamenco. And, for me, the lesson I write about here, was one of the most important of all.
The dance community is typically not very forgiving when it comes to body acceptance. In certain forms of dance, like ballet, weight and age are no laughing matter. Combine the two, and dance isn’t likely to be seen at the top of a hobbies list. Fortunately, this mentality is changing with the times. Can I stand to lose a few pounds? Sure. But I have always been fairly confident in myself, which is what enables me to put myself out there and try new things to begin with.
Flamenco, however, was giving me a run for my money. I worried if being in my mid-40’s AND plus size would be a detriment to my new passion. I did not move with the grace and agility of many other students, my arm span was barely long enough to be able to reach over my head in a swan-like pose, and long passages of zapateado seemed to make my legs feel like concrete instead of prancing butterflies. Add to that, the fact that my middle-aged brain, filled with family doctor appointments, grocery store lists, and what to make for dinner, didn’t absorb the material as easily as the younger students. “What am I doing here?” indeed!
I shook it off and kept going. I was determined. Nobody puts Baby in a corner! 🙂 Flamenco fits my personality and fuels me emotionally and spiritually. I feel at home when I am in the studio. No, I would work past this. When I made that conscious decision, I learned a couple of valuable things.
One, that as soon as I stopped being so hard on myself, the worry over my potential physical limitations practically melted away. Soon, I could see the difference in how I approached my studies. With this mental burden lifted, I had a newfound energy in class. I hit the moves with the strength and/or grace the palo required. My posture was straight and high. Happily, I realized I had my own little touch of sass and attitude!
Secondly, I realized flamenco is very curvy-girl friendly! My teachers had always advocated that body size does not matter and said, in Spain, most mature dancers have bodies similar to mine. It took me a while to understand and believe that. I would learn that some of the biggest stars of flamenco are…well-rounded and aged to perfection…just like me! And, man, are they fantastic! Watching these famous dancers emit so much emotion, life, and duende gave me such inspiration. They lived the dance! And guess what? Flamenco dancers actually enjoy the privilege of getting older and more physically robust. This philosophy was confirmed even further when Carmen Ledesma told me, if you love it and enjoy it, age and size are not an issue. Emotion and Aire have no shape!
The reason flamenco is so forgiving can be found in the nature of the art form itself. Flamenco is about self-expression and emotional release- the physical equivalent to poetry. To dance flamenco, in its truest form, one must first feel pain. That is something that can only come with having lived life, having matured, having aged, having felt loss and sadness. It is like dancing from a place of searching. Perfection doesn’t exist. How can it when the dance is bourne from improvising your personal expression? That’s the beauty of flamenco-each dancer brings something different to the table; technique, intensity, elegance, aire, fun, etc. We can all do the same thing, and it will look individually different. In flamenco, not only is that ok it is encouraged.
Flamenco has embraced me as a voluptuous woman with the movement of maturity. Confidence is key here, and I am so happy I found my place. My teachers push me, I push myself, and I am finding my voice. The challenge keeps me vibrant and I take pride in my flamenco identity; curvy and defiant, only improving with age!