Dance/life lessons

Mondays are typically throw-away downer days for me. I’m usually tired, whiny, cranky and unmotivated. But I find that looking forward to an evening dance session helps keep me from that “it’s Monday and I’m already feeling defeated” feeling. So I crashed the bulerias class again tonight (so did Doña – yay!).

I’m digging the review I’m getting. It’s amazing how having prior experience can change the way you take in and digest information. When you’re very new to it, you’re most worried about just hearing the music, at least I was. Because how could I even think about doing a turn or some fancy foot thing when I couldn’t even tell where I was in the compás? I imagine the younger generation in class feels this way, too, because I can almost see the wheels spinning in their heads as they anticipate their turn in the circle. I hope they know that it won’t always be this way.  For me, it’s finally fun. Even if I can’t quite remember the little tricks Rina just taught and I go out there and screw up, it’s fun because I’m able to think about it at a different level. Plus, after a couple of years with the same classmates (who are all very nice and supportive!), you get comfy and you lose all sense of shame and you’re finally able to just jump in there and do your thang, whatever that may be. It WILL happen.  More on this topic another time …

After bulerias, I did a mini-private with Rina so she could help me clean up some of the ugly things I do with my body. I still haven’t quite figured out what to with my long flailing arms and the claws attached to them, so I’ll be working on that a lot in the coming weeks. I’m feeling very motivated. And yet frustrated.

I love the dance. I hate that I started it when I was nearly 35.  I feel like somehow time is running out and I have to push myself as hard as I can now or I might miss my chance. Chance for what? I don’t know. I don’t have delusions of becoming a professional dancer. But I do have fantasies of being very good at it and that’s what keeps me going. I want to get as good as I can possibly get, just so I can know that I pushed myself to the absolute limit. But more than that, it’s just a beautiful, complex art and I want to be part of it, or want it to be part of me …

If I had found flamenco 10 years ago, I’d have cashed that sizable severance check I got upon being laid off by DIRECTV and taken my happy ass to Spain for a year instead of finishing grad school. No doubt. I said this to Doña last week and she said I ultimately did the right thing by getting the degree. I guess she’s right … I guess …

My thoughts are all over the place tonight, huh? I’ve been feeling like this in general over the last couple of weeks. And as I’m proofreading what I’ve just written, I realize that what I’ve said about flamenco could be applied to other areas of my life as well. Isn’t it weird how something as simple as a dance class can cause you to question/rethink/reevaluate things?

Dear Bulerias Beginner: It Does Get Better

Doña Guajira and I missed Saturday classes a couple weeks ago, so tonight we crashed Rina’s intermediate bulerias class.  We both took this class for the first time about a year and half ago.  But we’re by no means bulerias masters yet, so this was a nice review — and a very different experience this time around.

Back in January 2010, when we began our journey por fiesta, Doña, myself and the rest of our cohort were terrified of being pushed into that bulerias circle. I dreaded being called out first because, shit, I had no clue what I was doing and I couldn’t even count to 12. I remember hearing the compás as chaotic beats, arbitrary strums and frenzied clapping that left me both frantic and dumbfounded when it was my turn to improvise. Half the time I’d just stand there and curse.

By this time, I had been a flamenco student for about a year and a half and I was getting very discouraged. I thought, “Holy crap, flamenco was already hard. Now I have to do THIS?!?!” But I wasn’t the only one. We all struggled. We’d all freeze sometimes. We’d all trip over our feet, fall out of rhythm or stop dancing before Rina stopped singing.

Slowly but surely, though, we all had our little breakthroughs. We started to recognize the patterns. We could hear the cante rise and fall, and subsequently figured out where to put our desplantes.  Oh, what a feeling it was to be able to get through a simple buleria without dropping the f-bomb!

But being truly comfortable with this little dance comes with time. My compañeras and I have come along way, but we still have a long way to go before we can bust out bulerias the way Rina does.  THAT is the goal. But man, it sure does take work. It takes a ton of practice, a figurative bag full of tricks and the confidence to get out there and dance your gypsy ass off.

The ladies I danced with tonight are waaaaayyyy better than we were at that point in our bulerias training.  For our show last month, they performed a bulerias choreography, which was a great foundation for learning to improvise. As frustrated as they sometimes seemed tonight, they have no idea how far ahead they are and how well they’re doing.

To all you ladies who were in class tonight:  You’re making great progress and you all looked great.  Sometimes you’ll get frustrated. Sometimes you’ll want to give up.  And you might drop a few f-bombs along the way. But hang in there and keep at it because, trust me, it DOES get better. And when December rolls around and it’s time to perform again, you’ll all be excited about showing off por fiesta.

Top 10 Signs You’re Obsessed with Flamenco

10.  Your once-perfectly pedicured feet now resemble the scrappy paws of some unidentified feral beast, complete with calluses, budding bunions and missing talons.

9.   Your friends and family are nearly outnumbered by fellow flamencophiles on your Facebook friends list.

8.   Eighty-percent of the items in your Google search history are things like “flamenco dresses” and “solea por buleria video.”

7.   You’ve been caught unconsciously playing palmas while listening to your iPod.

6.   You’ve been caught wailing or tirititran-ing while driving with the windows down.

5.   “Master bulerias” is ahead of “find a husband” on your list of goals.

4.   Your insomnia is exacerbated by the obsessive need to mentally rehearse your choreography over and over and over …

3.   You can’t step onto a wood floor without doing a rolling golpe.

2.   You pay your dance teacher before you pay your phone bill — and sometimes the rent.

1.   You’re up at all hours of the night blogging about flamenco.

Sell What You Sing (or Dance)

Tonight in chorale rehearsal we spent a lot of time on the Irving Berlin medley we’re performing for our spring concert. Now I’m feeling all jazzy. No one makes me want to put on a top hat and do a time step more than good ol’ Irv.

Lots of things I learn in chorale can be applied to the dance, which is why I appreciate it so much and won’t give it up. For example, our director often tells us to “sell what you sing” — meaning sing with conviction, energy; don’t just sing the words. Because if you sing a bright, syncopated tune like “Puttin’ on the Ritz” with a straight face and zero bounce, it just doesn’t fly. In fact, it just sucks all the fun right out of it. No, no, no. You have to sell what you sing. Make the audience want to join in or wish they knew the words. Make them want to get up and dance. Leaving them humming a tune all the way home.

So after two hours of selling what I sing tonight, I sang that song all the way home. Then I went looking for the clip of Fred Astaire performing it. I LOVE this. The clip doesn’t include his singing; just the last part of the awesome dance. The bulerias portion, if you will. That last minute or so when he’s picked up the pace, giving it his all, throwing down that contratiempo and finishing with a bang.

Singing, dancing, tap, flamenco, whatever. It’s all about selling it. A song is just a melody, just like a bunch of steps is just a dance. But a performance is an experience. That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

More Fierceness in Black and White

Video: Flamenco in itself is awesome, but throw in some unexpected commentary and a little extra attitude like homegirl does and you’ve got an extra crazy cool performance. This lady is bad ass.

Just wanted to share.

“So, what’s flamenco, anyway?”

Some of you have asked, “So, what’s flamenco, anyway? What’s it like? Do you have a partner? Do you wear fruit on your head? (Seriously!) And what’s this bulerías you’re always complaining about?” All you know about it, thanks to me, is that it ain’t easy to learn. My bad. Continue reading ““So, what’s flamenco, anyway?””

All in my head

Look at what I can do!
The Thursday night class is cuadro skills, which, in addition to advanced technique, encompasses bulerias, palmas, jaleo, etc. It’s a perfect supplement to my continuing work on my solo piece and I’m grateful that I’ll get to practice that in class a bit. But man, I tell ya, this is serious stuff here and I am SCARED. Continue reading “All in my head”