Today is my 5-year flamenco anniversary. It has been a relationship with my soul. I have experienced happiness and sadness, triumph and failure, pride and frustration, love and loss. Through it all, flamenco has been a constant, allowing me to have an outlet for the fire that burns within me and an escape for my feelings. Flamenco has spirited me away and grounded me all at the same time. As I spend this anniversary in a less- than-ideal manner, not able to dance what my soul is speaking, I am reminded of the moment I took this picture. Having just left my final dance class in Triana, I stopped to look across the river. I was overcome with emotion and it hit me in one fail swoop how much I loved this place and this art form. It is memories like this I will resurrect during my new challenges. I will give my flamenco new purpose. I will learn new things and draw from this experience to come back an even more bad-ass dancer than before (assuming I was to begin with). I dance for ME and no one else. Flamenco lives in me and I am grateful for the special people in my life for their love and support. Bring on year six!!!
Here I sit, not for the first time, sidelined from dancing due to a body part that isn’t on board with my passion for flamenco. For a few days, I wallowed in my situation, but now I am done with that. I will use this healing time to strengthen my body and bond with flamenco in other ways.
One thing I learned early on and continue to practice is that you MUST INVEST yourself in this craft in order to give your passion DEPTH. What I am discovering now, however, is the ability to find new ways to do that when something changes your course. Even if only temporarily.
Maybe it comes from a place of spending most of my life in cultural dance forms; first Hawaiian hula, now flamenco, but I very, very strongly believe in taking the time to find out what the heritage you are portraying means. I feel you have to understand an art form for it to be believable and have meaning.
So, while I am laid up for a few weeks, unable to dance, I will revisit some great ways to really immerse myself in the STUDY OF FLAMENCO. Yes, that’s right, it is a study. Not just showing up to dance in my ruffles and cool-ass shoes. And it’s an eternal phase; the hard work never stops and is constantly evolving. That is flamenco.
Listening to flamenco music is always first on my list. For me, listening to various styles and singers really gives me a sense of the feeling behind it and when I close my eyes, I can see myself dancing to it. It is also a great way to recognize the different palos of flamenco. I become inspired and comfortable and it releases an element of my own personal voice, or interpretation. I feel like this is so essential for demonstrating the real vibe of flamenco when I am on the dance floor.
Next, I will watch videos of both men and women dancers. I do this a lot! But the videos are not just to capture the essence of the dancers, I also pay attention to the singers and musicians, how they are responding or collaborating with the dancers, how the palmas carry the undertone, and how the whole unit acts in amazing unison. I understand that you cannot have flamenco without all of it working together, so the videos act as a good model for study. I usually always pick out a move or two from the dancer that I love and try to hold onto it in my memory bank for future use.
I will also work on what I can from a sitting position; palmas, braceo, castañuelas, etc. No time like the present to focus on what I CAN use of my body. I practice castañuelas fairly regularly but the rest will be new methodology. Taking time to focus on this should definitely help my upper body strength and precision.
I will read some more too. I’ve been lazily reading a collection of theoretical perspective essays but now I can finish it! Part of my study of flamenco is to learn the history and tradition and where it comes from. The more I know, the more I can connect to it. My goal is for it to enhance the flamenco that comes out of me and that is an earned privilege.
An added bonus to all of this is when I am feeling at an impasse and unsure where my flamenco path is taking me, I go back to its teachings. Back to the reasons I love flamenco, back to the rich history and culture, back to how it speaks to me, and back to my personal relationship with the dance. I renew my respect for the real reason I dance and I inevitably realize that is all that matters.
I think it is important, as a torch bearer of an art form filled with so much history, to reach for more knowledge, not just when you are injured and cannot dance. I am reminded of that now. Immerse yourself as much as you can in your craft. Give your art form the value it deserves. INVEST IN YOUR PASSION.
With all the crazy things we are expected to do with our bodies in dance class, it is no wonder that so many hilarious phrases and lots of innuendos are uttered…so I started making a list. I couldn’t let these golden quotes pass me by. Don’t be offended; what makes them funny is when taken out of context. 🙂
- If you keep your butt tucked in, it will make it stronger.
- Keep your knees together and just lift your leg to the side.
- Me: 50 You: 17. Don’t talk to me about being tired.
- Don’t pound so hard.
- It looks better if you point your toes.
- You can vibrate, just no bouncing.
- I will bang with you!
- I haven’t even touched myself yet.
- No skimping on the buttocks.
- Give your ass a good slap.
- The first time is always the hardest.
- Bend over, it will make it easier.
- Do you want it fast or slow? Make up your mind.
- Keep your legs closed, it’s better for you.
- Where are you feeling it? Then you’re doing it right/wrong! (depending on your answer)
Anyone who has taken at least a few flamenco classes will understand these comments are usually made in relation to zapateado, posture, compás, marcaje, or speed of music/cante. But, hilarious, nonetheless. Enjoy!
I was so excited to go shopping in Spain! I would finally be amongst my fellow kindred spirts- the curvy and mature flamenca! The mentors I had seen in videos and met in person, yes…many were built like me and they had gorgeous costumes. My empty suitcase was waiting to be filled! Imagine my disappointment when I found very little off-the-rack plus sizes. The good news is there are dress-makers abound!
If you are lucky enough to find a very talented flamenco fashion creator, like I have found in Alicia Harris, with Flamenco Closet Creations (www.everythingflamenco.com), than you will have no worries. Alicia has been making pieces and parts of my flamenco ensembles for a few years now. Her work is fantastic!
My latest piece, however, was an exciting partnership and took me to another level of individuality in flamenco; designing a dress myself!
I knew the style I wanted, the colors and what I wanted it to look like when I was dancing. Alicia said, draw me a picture and I will make it! And just like that, it happened! She brought my ideas to beautiful life!
When Alicia sent me the first few pictures from her studio mannequin, I was in awe how she was able to create an exact replica of my drawing, just so much more gorgeous! The colors were vibrant, the fabric was flowy, it was just perfect. She even surprised me with adding a shawl in the same pattern as the godets and ruffles. Wow!
The feeling of contributing to the creation of something so beautiful and original left me speechless. The feeling of pride and satisfaction made dancing in it so special.
Many flamenco shops offer custom-made flamenco apparel, so get creative and be unique! Those of us who cannot sew thank you for your magic!
My flamenco journey travels in company with the elements of my life that fuel it. Most of the time, the journey is a harmonious retreat. Sometimes the path is an over-grown and unchartered trail.
I often write about my triumphant, satisfying and humorous moments because my flamenco dancing is intrinsically tied to them. It is natural, and expected, for those moments to reach your dance.
What I am struggling with now is a new feeling for me, the bigger picture. Am I where I should be? Am I doing what I should be doing? Am I a part of anything bigger? Do I make people happy? Am I happy? Why am I so off-balance? I am not sure how to express these except to allow the raw purity of it to escape my pen and body in an equally raw form.
Someone recently told me I was like a tractor, always pushing through with the resilience of a piece of heavy machinery. While I take that as a compliment, it also gives me pause. Most times, it is true, I plow face-first into life’s obstacles, determined to get through the massive field that stretches for what seems miles in the distance. But, sometimes, the tractor needs fuel, sometimes, the tractor needs repair, sometimes, the tractor must take a rest.
So, how does this parlay into my flamenco dancing? How do I make this stumble a part of my dance? The obvious answer is to bring all my emotions with me on the dance floor and give strength to what I emit. That has been challenging. I had another person say to me a few days ago they think I have finally found my flamenco style, that stressful situations can bring creativity. I hope that is true. I don’t know what else to do with it.
Don’t get me wrong, I have many wonderful things in my life and feel blessed in many ways. But…the tractor is tired of always being the tractor.
I will find a way. I always do. I don’t know how to quit. In staying true to the personal “diary” intent of my blog, however, I must also document when vulnerability positions itself at my feet. I will stomp it out, one way or another.
Painting by: Miki de Goodaboom, 2010
In a reflective moment of considering how blessed I am to have such soul-enriching passions in my life, it occurs to me that two of those; writing and flamenco, have many attributes in common and feed into one another much more than I had ever contemplated before. I am beyond happy to have found a way to combine the two.
It goes without saying that creativity is at the core of both writing and flamenco dancing. In writing, you must find your voice through your writing style and in flamenco dancing, you must find your voice through the self-expression that embodies the art form. Both allow room for individuality. The sky is the limit! You can express yourself in endless ways in what you write about, how you write and for whom you write. Likewise, the unique emotion that belongs only to you can be conveyed in a myriad of ways on the dance floor.
Claim your power and be unapologetic in the ability to express yourself; embrace your passion. For me, writing has always been a vehicle for venting my feelings and emotions in a way I could not do in any other form. I vividly recall going to the park as a teenager, sitting in the stillness that surrounded me and writing for hours at a time. I gave myself permission to be open and those thoughts jumped onto the pages in front of me with a natural ease. I wrote poems, mostly, and as I got older, my passion evolved into short stories. I also kept a journal and still do to this day. Now that I have found flamenco, I am realizing another level of claiming my feelings, symbolic for this different time in my life. Flamenco dancing allows me the same avenue of venting and creating a tangible product of what is inside of me that writing does.
While both writing and flamenco dancing are means to express yourself, they both still hold the necessity for skill in order to successfully emit your expression. This is not to say you have to be an expert in either form for successful transmission. On the contrary, everyone holds different capabilities and as long as you are honestly open, there is no right or wrong way. What is important to both writing and flamenco dancing, however, is a fundamental skill-set in order to help you generate your self-expression. In writing, having a good command of the language, grammar and basic rules of writing is important in communicating your message. In flamenco dancing, knowing the fundamentals of the movements, footwork, compás and music are vital to being able to transmit yourself fully within the dance.
As any writer or flamenco dancer will testify, both art forms require a progressive stream of nurturing. I am always working on honing my skills in both genres. I read, I watch, I absorb, I practice, I draft and re-draft, I read a-loud, I edit, I rethink and I question. These are consistent elements for me in order to progress or, at the very least, feel more confidant in my craft. I make mistakes and always will but those are also opportunities for growth. Writing and flamenco dancing offer the constant tools to encourage doing greater things with them.
Whatever your passion, do it with creativity, embrace it wholeheartedly, gain the necessary skills to be content with your craft and nurture your passion to encourage greater satisfaction. Give your passion life! You won’t be sorry you did. 🙂
No one is more surprised than me to think of all the things flamenco dancing has taught me; life lessons…qualities and characteristics that transcend the art form and become a way of life. As I sat one morning with a cup of java, I started making a list. Here are 20 life lessons that flamenco dancing has taught (or re-instilled) in me. Accepting and acknowledging these facets of my growth has made following my passion so much more rewarding!
- AGE is irrelevant – flamenco dancing is for all ages.
- BODY style is unimportant – flamenco dancing is for all bodies.
- Take RISKS – try something new, branch out, explore options, you may surprise yourself.
- Get out of your HEAD – don’t let that destructive inner voice get the better of you. Easier said than done, I know.
- Set the bar HIGH for yourself – only YOU can outdo YOU.
- Have PATIENCE – flamenco is a multi-layered and long learning process, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
- PRACTICE – if you want to get better and progress, practice!! Simple as that. You get what you put in.
- Just TRY – You don’t know unless you try, right? In my book, the only failure is when you don’t try.
- Be PREPARED – always show up ready to deliver your A game. You owe that to yourself and others.
- Work WELL with others – be considerate of one another’s investment, hard work and desire to be a part of this amazing art form.
- Be SUPPORTIVE – it’s crucial to be there for each other, offer encouragement and help when needed.
- Remember, you have a STORY to tell – your dancing is yours alone, your story, your expression, your feelings…never forget that. It will be unique and individual.
- Take CARE of yourself – you have to take care of your mind and body in order to go the distance and dance for many years to come.
- Get IN TOUCH with your body, its rhythm, its core – know your self, your movements, what works, what doesn’t, and what feels good. Then do it in compás! 🙂
- Have CONFIDENCE – dance for yourself and no one else and do so with conviction. I have struggled with this one the most but cannot stress enough the importance of believing in yourself.
- Share KNOWLEDGE – there is always someone ahead of and behind you on the path so share what you know.
- Be willing to get in touch with your EMOTIONS – let it go, let it all out! THAT is the heart of flamenco! Feel the dance inside you.
- LISTEN, OBSERVE, ABSORB – you will never stop learning, you will always be a student. Period. Take it all in.
- MISTAKES are ok – they are opportunities to learn and grow. No one is perfect. The most seasoned dancers make mistakes.
- Have FUN and enjoy the ride with your fellow flamencos!