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!
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. 🙂
I was in awe on many occasions of the rich history and tranquility of Sevilla. My visit to the ancient baths was no exception. I had this on my list of “things to do” while visiting the city last year with my flamenco group, but the trip was nearly over by the time a few of us scrambled to make an online reservation.
First, a little history to put the ambiance in perspective. Aire de Sevilla is housed in a 16th century casa palacio, restored 15 years ago by a wealthy viceroy to the Indies. The mansion is built on the foundation of a Roman ruin from the first century AD. Public baths were a customary Arabic tradition inherited from the Byzantine and Romans and were used for hygiene and socializing. With the Christian reconquista, most baths were destroyed, however, the custom remained in Andalucia.
MY EXPERIENCE: Down a narrow alley in Sevilla’s Barrio Santa Cruz, behind the walls of an unassuming sign, lies a place that transports you back in time. Walking in the door to the scent of orange blossom and spice, being served aromatic Arab tea and escorted into a candlelit grotto of connecting rooms, I knew the next 1 1/2 hours was going to be the perfect relaxation I needed at the end of a busy and physically demanding week.
The setting was breathtaking. The various thermal baths and salt pool were surrounded by ancient Roman vaults, mudejar carved ceilings and dark walls lined with small candles and lanterns.
Once we donned our swimsuits, we set about on our route through the thermal springs. We stepped first into a warm water bath and I soon wondered why I needed to move at all. The dimly lit room with the prominent silencio sign was all I needed to close my eyes and relax. But there was more. The hot and cold baths were surprisingly invigorating. A few minutes in the hot water followed by a dip in the ice cold pool made my skin tingle and feel alive. Our next stop was the Thousand Jet Stream room, a hydrotherapy pool filled with pockets of carved-out concrete perfectly sized for sitting in while the jets pulsated against your neck, back and legs. I dare say we lingered here the longest. The jets just felt so good massaging our sore bodies. When we finally decided to continue on, we made our way to the steam bath or Hammam.
It was super relaxing and I was beginning to feel the contrast of all the treatments thus far. The final stop on the thermal bath tour was the underground salt pool. It was encased by an ancient style brick wall and you really felt you were below the earths surface with the temperature of the room and faint lighting. Floating through the salted water brought me to a state of mental and physical bliss.
To round out the spa-like adventure, we indulged in a 15 minute massage of our back, legs, arms, feet and head. Ok, now THIS was heaven! I am not a massage connoisseur but this ranks up there as the best I’ve ever had. For only 15 minutes, it was thorough and not at all rushed as we lay in a separate massage room that held the same ancient tranquility as the other rooms.
The icing on the cake? This 90 minute session was only 54 euros! (There are numerous packages available for different price ranges). I am so glad we did not miss this opportunity. The therapeutic and respiratory health benefits are reason enough to visit this hidden escape in Sevilla. The staff was courteous, the experience was calming and luxurious and they thought of everything with the amenities – after your session, you’ll find a fully stocked bathroom with all the items needed to shower and dress for your next unique adventure in Sevilla. Next time, I will enjoy the rooftop infinity pool and wine bath!
(photos courtesy of Aire de Sevilla http://www.airedesevilla.com/en/)
It has taken me a little over five months of being home from Spain for it all to settle in…and there has been much to absorb. There was a magic about being in Spain all its own, but learning flamenco there was just perfect.
Going to Sevilla changed me as a flamenco dancer. I feel renewed, energized and awake. Seeing all the professionals and their immense natural talent gave me such inspiration and appreciation for the art form. The large decorative theaters and elaborate stage productions on top of the mind-blowing dancing left me in awe. It was very educational to see flamenco translated in this way.
Witnessing up close and personal the tablao shows was amazing and the aire they flung off the stage was contagious. Being able to get a birds-eye view of the attitude and passion was an invaluable experience. I mean, you can’t walk away from a performance where the sweat from the male dancers hair slings you in the face without some level of exhilaration!
My trip to Spain also changed me, and probably more deeply, on a personal level. Taking classes from a renowned artist enabled me to be surrounded by students who came from around the world on their quest for more flamenco skill and knowledge. I researched and chose my teacher carefully, based on who I felt I could get the most from. And she did not disappoint; Mercedes Ruiz was not just a technique-rich dancer, but a dancer with concaved, pinched, and bent body while still holding beautiful lines. More puro form, in my opinion, and that’s what I was looking for.
Most importantly, I gained confidence. I firmly believe it is a confidence I could not have acquired anywhere else. I was initially a bit worried how I would manage taking classes every single day on top of a busy schedule outside of class. I was very happy with myself that I hung in there, tested my stamina by showing up every day and picking up most of the fast-paced instruction. Looking back, I am still surprised at my level of activity; walking for hours, shopping, sightseeing, going to shows, staying up late into the night and still having enough steam in me to go to a very rigorous class the next morning.
That confidence followed me back home, too. I felt different walking into the studio after that. I stood a little taller. I held my chin up a little higher. I knew my body a little better. I just felt like I finally believed I was good enough.
Beyond that, I am more appreciative of the culture and traditions. I have become more aware of a people who are so happy to share the art of flamenco with those of us who cannot possibly truly feel the manifestation of it’s origins.
The new meaning of flamenco for me now is so much more real and deep. I have been to the epicenter of flamenco and I have witnessed the masters. I have walked the streets, eaten the food, enjoyed my flamenco community, learned from one of the best and surpassed the personal goals I set for myself. I feel empowered.
Flamenco has taken a sure space in my soul now, more than ever before. I feel it in my bones. And I want my dancing to display the soulful expression of my journey.
New flamenco goals.
(photo found on http://www.paladarytomar.com)
My flamenco family… I was not born into this family, in fact, none of us were, but it is a family I chose. There are healthy doses of beautiful hearts, sincere moments, and loving gestures mixed affectionately with quirky personalities, a little bit of crazy, and a dash of dysfunction. Sounds like a family to me! And it only makes us love each other more.
Who else will stay out till 3 am with you when you spontaneously find yourselves at a ‘quaint’ local nightclub with amazing shows and dance music? Who else runs through the streets of Sevilla with you, trying to get to the flamenco store on time, but realizing you are caught smack dab in the middle of crowded streets for a coronation ceremony processional? Who else will laugh and giggle over inappropriate things with you in the middle of the night? Who else laughs so hard they cry when you accidentally hit the waiter in the face with your backpack which happens to be carrying all your ceramics from Spain? Who else laughs with you, not at you, when your mantón ends up on the floor instead of still in your hands at the end of a number? Who else pulls together the best flash mob ever for your birthday? And who else makes you the most outrageously awesome birthday cake ever? This family, that’s who!
This family also comes to your aid when you are sick, consoles you when grief strikes, stands in the rain crying with you, listens to your troubles over one (or five) glasses of wine, and sends you messages of hope and encouragement just when you need it. Most importantly, the arms of this family are always open for a wordless hug, just because, sometimes, that’s all a person needs.
My flamenco family goes beyond flamenco. Yes, that is what brought us together and that is the common thread running through each of us, but I share just as much with them outside the studio.
Take my trip to Spain last year, for example. There were 12 of us staying in a house together for 10 days, coming and going at all different times, with different agendas, and yet we found the time to come together at least once a day to share our stories. Stories of hilarity, stories of excitement, stories of discovery, and stories of awe filled the late nights as we sat together on the rooftop terrace, breathing in the Sevilla air. Not one grumpy word was uttered…ok, well, maybe one or two, bourne out of pure exhaustion, but at the end of the day, there was nothing but camaraderie and genuine interest in each others adventures. What’s more, we had NO bathroom sharing issues!! Tell me how often that happens in a family this big!?
Another moment that I hold near and dear is my recent birthday party. I turned 50 and was determined to throw a crazy-fun party, and I did. But it was the involvement, the energy, and the surprises of my flamenco family who made it so much more than I expected. They made sure it was a party I would never forget and that meant the world to me. Two other people had a very large part in this event, as well; my daughters.
I know I said earlier this is a family I chose but I would be remiss if I didn’t include them in this wonderfully talented and committed bunch. Although they are my blood family, they are also part of my flamenco family. We have danced together for over four years now and they have been such a big part of my flamenco journey. Seeing them flourish in the art of flamenco has brought me so much pride. With them by my side, as fellow dancers, as encouragers, and as participants in so much fun, it brings this family full circle. I love sharing this experience with them, even when they make a rule about “no flamenco talk” on the way home from class when mom can’t shut up about her mess-ups. It’s all good, I just lace up my castanets for a hearty round of practice, and watch them hastily flee the house. 🙂
This tribe of misfit toys (a term I use with the utmost affection and respect and as a nod to a recent funny conversation) has made me feel at home on their island. They opened their lair to me (and my daughters) and welcomed us in. I can honestly say, in all of my 50 years on this earth, I have never felt more like I belong somewhere than I do with these people.
Added note 2/16/17- recently found out who the artist is of the beautiful and meaningful painting below; Judith Shaw. Check her out! http://judithshawart.com/