This little green number was my very first real flamenco dress. I ordered it from Molina in Spain and was thrilled when it arrived and fit perfectly. I danced my first big student show in it in December 2009 and remember feeling pret-ty darn sexy. I was officially a flamenca!

The following spring I wore it again when I danced my first solo. I was so nervous about my debut that I put in many extra hours to make sure I didn’t humiliate myself. A couple weeks before the show, I realized I had burned off a few too many calories because my frock had become loose and unflattering. I had it altered to fit my new body and went out there to do my soloista thing, feeling confident and sexy (about the dress, anyway).

After that the dress hung in my closet for nearly a year, until I thought about wearing it in the show we did this past March. I tried it on a few weeks before showtime and was pleasantly shocked to find the dress was too big! I hadn’t even noticed I’d lost weight. I took it in for another alteration; unfortunately, it wasn’t ready in time for our performance. Oh well, next time, I thought.

So it seemed our upcoming September show would be the perfect opportunity to break out my green dress once again, since I haven’t worn it in so long and it had been freshly altered. So I tried it on last night for the heck of it: It’s HUGE. Wha?!?

Yes, you’ve already heard me say I’ve lost some weight in the last month but I had no idea it would make that big of a difference in the way my clothes fit. Seriously, the dress needs to be taken in everywhere; it looks like it wasn’t made for me. And that’s without the stretchy contraption I wear under it to smooth things out. Every part of  me has either shrunken or shifted. Just to give you a point of reference — and this is probably over sharing, but whatever, I’m OK with that — I started this journey with D’s. I’m not kidding. D’s. Those babies are long gone. I’ve quite literally danced my ass off and more.

I’ve never been one to count pounds or inches. I’ve always been generally comfortable (or at least accepting) with the ups and downs my body has taken over the years with age, hormones, health issues and stress, so I don’t mean for all this to come off as, “Oh hey, look at how awesome and skinny I am!” No, for me it’s more of an amazement at how a woman in her late 30s can slowly, steadily transform her body (and soul!) by simply doing what she loves.

It’s taken four years to get here but I feel better than I’ve ever felt in my life.

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.

A Sunday Night on the Couch

Yesterday, after my regular classes, I did a private lesson with Rina to work on the alegrias I’ll be doing in our student show next month. I’ve been frustrated with my progress and nervous about the show, but spending this extra time with her has helped calm me down.

I’d probably do privates every week if I could because I always come away with some bit of wisdom that makes me go, “Ohhhhhhhhh! Like THAT. I get it!” It’s often something she’s said a thousand times in class, but never clicked until that one-on-one moment, for whatever reason. I had a couple of those moments yesterday.

It’s amazing how the seemingly simplest modifications can make a difference in a performance. A misplaced foot or stray arm can throw everything off, especially if you’ve got long wild limbs like mine. Rina’s great at spotting the weird things I do and showing me how to fix them. So I brought everything I learned yesterday to my personal rehearsal time today and I felt much better about what I saw in the mirror. Perfect? Not even close. But much, much better.

I’ve got a couple of weeks to do as much clean-up as I can, so I’ll certainly be in the studio a lot. The biggest challenge will be keeping myself healthy — keeping stress to a minimum, getting enough sleep and keeping my body strong. Right now I’m stretched out on the couch, sore as heck. Thankfully I’ve got a date with the massage therapist tomorrow. I sure do need it.

I really wanted to get out, be sociable and see some flamenco this weekend, but my body wasn’t having any of it. I’m so tired, for lots of reasons. Probably the best thing I could do was stay in and rest. It was a good weekend, though. I made progress and because of that I’ll sleep well tonight.

Today Was a Good Day

I felt good today. I got in nearly three awesome hours of practice, both solo stuff and group bata work. I feel like I accomplished a lot.

But I actually felt good, physically. Strong, energetic, optimistic, happy. I was pretty sick the first half of January and the last couple of weeks had been stressful for other reasons. A month into 2012 and I’m finally my old self again. Maybe even better.

Although I ate birthday cake — lots of birthday cake — every day last week, I truly have been eating better. I haven’t been much in the mood for greasy things, and I’m suddenly repulsed by diet sodas, even. I’ve also made a commitment to see a chiropractor and massage therapist regularly to keep my back issues and headaches in check. I’m already feeling 10 times better than I was a month ago.

All this makes a huge difference with the dance, obviously. The more whole I feel, the more I can give to it. And the more I give it, the more it gives me. I love that feeling.

I can’t control everything in my life, but I can take charge of my health and wellbeing. I now realize how empowering that is. I need to worry about myself before anything else; put the trivial stuff aside and stop putting energy into things I can’t will to be my way. If I just take care of me, I think everything else will fall into place.

On 38

Isn't this the cutest cake ever?

I’m not sure when birthdays became these mildly melancholic occasions that find me quietly reflecting instead of dancing my ass off at a nightclub with my best girlfriends. But, here I am.

Don’t get the wrong idea: I’m not sad or crying or anything like that. I’m not the depressed type, and if anything, I think I have a more positive outlook on life than I did in my 20s. I guess it’s maturity that comes after finally realizing that the things that bum me out sometimes really aren’t such a big deal.

Still, that doesn’t mean a girl can’t wish for more. I’d say for the last five years or so, my birthday has served as a sort of inventory day when I look back on the year and consider what I have, what I don’t, as well as what I need now and what I need no longer.

Sometimes when I’m frustrated with how I look in the mirror when I’m practicing flamenco, I’ll videotape myself for awhile. Then I will watch it over and over again and try to pinpoint the little things I’m doing wrong, and then try to correct them. It’s not easy; it takes time to make certain improvements because I’m still learning technique. But it’s still helpful to be aware of my weaknesses, know how I look to an audience, and think about what I can change to be a better dancer.

So it goes for life. What areas of my life need the most attention? What shouldn’t I worry about as much? Am I being true to myself? Am I satisfied with how I look to the world? Am I a better person than I was last year?

Yep, that’s where I am today. More cake, please.

“In My Head I’m Awesome!”

At the end of every soleá class, Rina has us each freestyle a letra while everyone else plays palmas. Nothing fancy, just marking. This stresses me out every time, yet it’s also kind of my favorite part of class — not because I’m good at it. I suck at it, actually. My novice nerves always get the best of me, and I end up pausing awkwardly/making faces/blurting out obscenities while I count in my head and try to get back on the beat.

Still, I enjoy the challenge of getting out there alone and doing my thang. But even though I’m in a safe practice environment surrounded by friends, I’ve yet to be able to hold it together for one letra por soleá. When Rina explains the structure of the letra, I totally get it. When she demonstrates it for us, I totally get it. When I visualize myself doing it, I totally see it. Not only do I see it, but, as I declared to my classmates and teacher last night, “In my head I’m awesome!” So what, then, happens to me in class?

Sometimes it’s fatigue. Sometimes I’m nervous knowing all eyes are on me. And I am still an amateur. More than anything else, though, I simply think too hard about it and it messes me up. I should already know this about myself, really, because the whole over-thinking thing applies to other areas of my life …

I’ve realized I need to approach learning a dance the way I approach learning a song in the chorale. See, I don’t read music. I’ve been singing in choirs since I was 8, but I’ve never played an instrument so I never had to learn to read notes on a page. Nearly everyone else in the chorale has this ability, so when the conductor tells us things like, “change the half note to a quarter note followed by a quarter rest” and expects us to mark up our music, I just sit there and twirl my pencil. Even if I copied my neighbors music, the marks would mean nothing to me. I mean, I’m not completely clueless: I know how to follow along at a very basic level and I do understand things like staccato, legato, mezzoforte, etc., so I understand when he speaks dynamics. But just plain sight reading music? Forget it.

This musical shortcoming has forced me to compensate by being a very good listener. I hear very well. So when we’re running through a piece the first couple of times, I listen carefully to the notes and the dynamics. Then I sing my part by memory. I don’t count or depend on marks on a page. I just listen, learn and do it.

So it makes sense that I can do the soleá letra exercise smoothly in my living room, but not in class. At home, I’m just listening to the music, the cante … simply enjoying it because I’m alone with it and it sounds so good. In class, I’m trying to be methodical and count everything out because I think I’m supposed to. That doesn’t work for me because musically I don’t learn that way. Between my faulty approach and my tendency to half focus on messing up in front of my peers, I totally get why I struggle in a group setting.

Sure, counting is necessary sometimes, especially in a group choreography, but in a solo scenario there’s more room for individual interpretation, especially in something like soleá. I think initially I’m better off dancing “by ear” and worrying about the technicalities later. Does that make sense?

Video: Sick Sunday

Last week sucked as far as progress goes. I’ve been sick. It started with a week ago with a sore throat, which turned into the kind of cough that makes you feel you might lose a lung, and now it all seems to be settling into your standard, mild yet irritating cold. I skipped one of my two Thursday night classes because there was no way I could have managed two hours of flamencking, and I skipped Saturday classes because of a prior commitment with the chorale.

Feeling way out of compás, I managed to roll my sick sorry butt out of bed Sunday morning and head over to the studio to get in an hour of much-needed rehearsal time. Does this show dedication? Sure, but I mostly did it because I forgot to cancel my studio reservation ahead of time and they would have charged me for it anyway. But I figured I’d take it easy and just walk through some things, ease back into the groove and prepare myself for a more promising week ahead.

I think it did me good. Sometimes it’s less about intensity or speed and more about precision, or at least aiming for precision. Running through an escobilla or llamada at a snail’s pace is a step toward a precise and hopefully speedier performance later. Every little bit counts, I’ve learned. It could be that 30 seconds of practice you got in on any given day that makes all the difference at show time. You just never know.

Here’s a clip from Sunday. Notice the cough and the look of exhaustion at the end; dancing when congested sucks.