Video: Happy Feet

This week I’ve focused on cleaning up some footwork in my alegrias, which got me thinking: I remember a couple of years ago, maybe less than that, I couldn’t do this step at all without fudging it every time. My feet just wouldn’t move that way. While my technique and speed aren’t where I’d like them to be yet, I’m happy with how far I’ve come since then. It’s stuff like this I need to remember when I get down on myself. I’m doing ok.

Top 10 Things About Learning Flamenco Dance in 2011

A hectic first half of December followed by a glorious two-week Caribbean vacation kept me from posting this in 2011, but better late than never, no?

Can you tell how much fun I have in class?

10. It’s still a great distraction from dumb boys. I’m a little embarrassed to admit how long it’s been since I’ve been on a date. But what’s crazy is, I’m not as upset about it as you might think. It’s like I’ve been too preoccupied with the the dance to realize I’m alone. I think that’s sort of cool.

9. I’m generally more confident these days. Sure, I get frustrated with the dance sometimes but overall, feeling physically stronger and seeing myself progress each day makes me feel pretty darn good about myself. So much so that I might even be inspired to get out there and mingle a bit more this year … we’ll just have to see…

8. I’m in better shape now than I’ve ever been. Enough said.

7. I can hold a note. My dance conditioning has even helped me to become a better chorister. I don’t have to sneak as many breaths as I used to because singing doesn’t drain my air like it did in my pre-flamenco days. It’s amazing. Don’t you love those unexpected benefits?

6. My training is apparently evident outside my flamenco circle. In my square dancing class recently, a couple of classmates complimented my technique and called me “graceful.” Me? Graceful?! What a lovely thing to say. What’s more, I didn’t know one could be graceful while square dancing. Who knew?

5. I burn so many calories that I can continue to enjoy my beloved fast food with some frequency without gaining weight. Yeah, I said it. What?

4. I’m becoming what I’m meant to be. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. But I don’t know how I ended up working in an office. Since I was little, I’ve always wanted to be a performer — specifically, in something like theater or live sketch comedy. (Really! And some of you think I’m quiet, huh?!) But flamenco is like those things in many ways, which is partly why I’m drawn to it. I don’t perform often as a student, but the promise of being on stage a couple times a year is enough to make me happy and make me feel I’m fulfilling a dream.

3. My Facebook friends list keeps growing. In three years I’ve met a ton of folks who share my love of flamenco — dancers, musicians, aficionados — and they support me by either cheering me on or giving me advice. It really is a cool little community.

2. Best. Teacher. Ever. Rina is pretty phenomenal. She’s a very clear, thorough, patient teacher, and she has a way of seeing what’s strong or unique about my style and helping me to develop it. I’m so grateful to have her as a teacher.

1. My friends, my sisters. I’ve become quite tight with my classmates (teacher included!) over the last three years. We share a passion for this dance, but we’re all so different, too. We complement each other. We support each other. We crack each other up. I can’t imagine being without them. Yes, these are my people.

Me & Big B.

It’s been a few weeks since I began working with the bata (a.k.a. “Big Girl” or “Bianca” ) and I think it’s going well. Our relationship has definitely improved since day one, when she was either biting my ankles or simply refusing to cooperate. No, I think we’ve developed a good rapport and understanding: I treat her right and she does what she’s supposed to do.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. Flamenco is challenging in itself, but then try dragging a few pounds of fabric behind you and see what happens. The first two classes were filled with all kinds of ridiculousness, but I think we’ve all since found our basic bata bearings and we’re actually able to dance, at least a little. It’s all very exciting! Watching us all in the mirror with all of these lovely, colorful trains behind/alongside us, I can imagine how fiercely gorgeous we’ll look in performance someday. Someday.

One tough thing about learning bata is you need adequate space in which to practice. I can’t put this thing on in my dinky living room and kick it around, and I haven’t had time (or funds) to get to the studio. But I’ve taken a cue from a reader who says she’s doing bata-mime until she can get a Big Girl of her own. Don’t be surprised if you catch me in phantom bata doing odd squat-kicks in the ladies’ room at work or in line at the grocery store. It’s important to get the technique down, so I gots to get my practice in whenever and however I can.

All in all, I LOVE bata and I think bata might love me.

Bata: The Gitana’s ThighMaster

It’s Sunday evening and I’m taking a quick blogging break from the couch I’ve been parked on most of the day. I got a little practice time in this morning, but for the majority of the day I was pumped full of  ibuprofen and propped up on my favorite piece of furniture. It’s not my fault. I blame it on Bata.

Yesterday was my first experience with the bata de cola (that blue thing I’m wearing in the photo).  Beautiful, yes, but this little ruffled monster isn’t easy to maneuver. I thought the mantón was a beast, but damn … the bata presents a completely different set of challenges.

With the mantón, I was never afraid I was going to trip over it. With the bata, it’s a constant concern.  Its train is long, as you can see, and it requires a tremendous amount of skill and strength to move it around properly.  Depending on which way you want it to move, you’ve got to lift your leg out and back or back and out (at least that’s what I’ve learned so far), and believe me, it ain’t as easy as it sounds.

You see, Bata is a big, big girl. She’s heavy. She’s wide. And if you measured her from waist to tip, she might be taller than me. My pretty plus-sized girl. Hefty, yes, but she requires a delicate touch. A commanding yet gentle lift and she’ll go willingly and fall gracefully at my feet. A haphazard clumsy kick to her underskirt and she’ll grab hold of my heel and won’t let go till I stumble.

Today I’m feeling the hour’s worth of bata leg lifts we did yesterday. My buns and thighs burn like hell and my lower back isn’t much better. Oh God, it hurts. I guess that means I was doing it right, or at least trying my best to. But I know it’s just part of getting used to a new prop and in a few weeks my body will be used to working with the Big Girl, just like I got used to working my arms and back with the mantón and the castanets.

And now, more Advil.

Challenge Update: The Good, the Bad and the Sweaty

Day of 12 of my challenge and I’m just now starting to find my groove. It’s been tough and I don’t think I went about this the right way. I tried to do too much too soon and it’s affected my game plan.

Vowing to exercise and practice more sounded feasible enough, but I shot myself in the foot by changing my diet the way I did. Quitting french fries and the office candy drawer cold turkey made my energy levels dive for the first 10 days or so. I was irritable and unmotivated and just couldn’t find the strength to do much extra in terms of activity. The good news is I feel MUCH better and I don’t even want to eat those things. I’ve seen a reduction of body puff, and my thighs jiggle less than they did a couple of weeks ago. It seems I’ve lost a solid two pounds.

I’ve learned that drinking crack-strength coffee a couple of hours before dancing is a terrible idea. I did this last night and instead of giving me energy, it just made me sick. I felt jittery all through class and was sweating more than usual. So when Homegirl, also butt-tired and sweaty, suggested going out for shave ice, I said “YES!” Man, we booked it out of that studio so fast, you’d have thought flamencas could fly. I went for a lime/mango/Hawaiian Punch treat and the moment I took the first spoonful, I felt I’d never had anything so good. The steam rose from my pores and my core temperature went back to a safe level. All was right in my gypsy temple again and I was content. And what could be better than a refreshing reward and mini-gab session with my Homegirl?

Tomorrow begins a better phase of the challenge, I think. Class on Saturday, private studio time on Sunday and I’ll start all over again next week with classes on Monday. Yes. I’m on a roll now.

The 30-day Flamencafication Project

I haven’t written in more than two weeks and it’s been driving me crazy. But July is a always a busy month for me so it’s been hard to focus on the dance as much as I’d like to. But that’s fixin’ to change in August.

As I head into late 2011, I’m dead set on pushing myself hard through the rest of year, beginning next month with a sort of 30-day challenge. Since Rina’s implemented an unlimited-classes policy for the session, I feel obligated to take her up on the offer and add another day of classes to my schedule. So, that means I’ll be in class for two hours every Monday, Thursday and Saturday. In addition, I’ll be resuming my personal studio time at least once a week — I’ve desperately missed those independent study sessions. I’m also hoping to get in another one-on-one with Rina soon.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. I’m going to work super hard on getting myself healthier through supplemental exercise and better eating. Because all of the above ain’t gonna go well if I’m feeling like crap, right? It’s going to be tough and I know I won’t be perfect, but I swear I’m gonna cut down on my french fry intake significantly. I know I have to.

Why the need for the challenge, you ask? Being a good dancer is the goal, but it goes beyond that. But that’s probably a whole nother post…

Stay tuned to keep up with me as I document my progress. It might not be pretty, but it’ll sure be fun.

Hello, Bata!

My first bata.

Tonight I crashed the tientos class for a couple of reasons: First, I missed one of my Saturday classes and I needed to do a make up, and second (and more importantly), I wanted to show Rina my new … (*drumroll*)… bata!

Oh, the bata. Bata de cola, that is. The long-trained, many-ruffled skirt that requires a unique skills set and a different kind of courage. Do it right (like Rina!) and it’s gorgeous. Do it wrong and, well, not so much.  I’ve yet to have a bata experience, but Rina’s going to offer a class in the fall and I wanted to be prepared.

My bata arrived in the mail today. When I pulled it out of the box, the first thing I thought was, “OMG … it’s so long!!” Uh, duh, it’s a bata. Then I thought, “OMG… this is fantastic!” And it is quite lovely, really; this great black beauty. Very dramatic. I immediately took off my sundress and slipped it on. Then I proceeded to dance, in bra and bata, around my small apartment living room. I don’t know the proper bata technique, but I kicked the train around best I could. I knocked a few knick-knacks off a low shelf …

It looked pretty and fit well, but its weight didn’t overwhelm me, which was a concern. I had a feeling Rina would say it was too light — and she did. Bummer. But she did say it was beautifully made, and I agree. And I think it will be ok for my initial bata training. If, somewhere down the road, I need to take it in for a little cosmetic surgery — a bata augmentation, if you will — that’s ok. I’m just happy I have something to work with in the meantime. I’m so eager to get started in bata class!

But the arrival of the bata has also motivated me. I have my ups and downs in terms of my health and fitness; sometimes I’m very health conscious, and sometimes I can’t get enough french fries. Today I felt like crap. I was so tired and everything on my body just hurt. My back was killing me, I had pain in my hips and I felt so run down. Like I’m all inflamed on the inside. It’s times like this when I realize I need to take better care of myself. Eat better. Sleep more than four hours a night. (Stop blogging about flamenco into the wee hours of the morning!) Get strong for my health and for the dance.

Yes, I need to get healthier. Thanks, bata, for reminding me.