Reflection, Rhythm and Paco

Today the Facebook feeds of flamencos around the world are blowing up, as we awoke to the news that the great Paco de Lucía had left us.

So of course I’ve been listening to his music, watching his videos on YouTube, and reflecting on the experience of seeing him perform in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, an experience for which I am extremely thankful. (Read my post-Paco blog here). That performance sure stirred up a lot of emotion in me that night and I’m feeling a stirring of things again now …

I’ve been a flighty flamenca. Or it would appear so, anyway. I’m not in dance class as much as I used to be, and I’ve ducked out of guitar lessons altogether. Notice I didn’t say I QUIT guitar. I’ll never quit guitar. I love the music too much and I truly do want to learn; Paco reminded me of that today.

But alas, there are only so many hours in a day, days in a week, and dollars in my purse. I can’t do everything. I tried a year or so ago, and I just couldn’t make it all work. But you know what? I’m OK with that.

In January Rina challenged us to come up with a word that would serve as inspiration and a theme of 2014 (read her post here). I chose RHYTHM to symbolize being in compás, but also to represent an ideal everyday-life groove that keeps me moving and getting things done at a steady pace. Not a fast pace … just a steady, comfortable, continuous beat … beat … beat …

So I remind myself that’s what I’m doing in flamenco. I can’t be in dance class three times a week right now, but I AM going. I can’t take guitar lessons right now, but I COULD pick up my instrument now and then and practice what I know. Slow progress is still progress, right? I don’t have to feel like I’ve fallen behind just because I’ve had to slow my roll. I’m still doing what I love and moving forward.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one who’s suffered the occasional bout of artistic guilt; I’d love get others’ takes on this. Or maybe you’d like to talk about your own Paco experience … Either way, between the news and all the music I’ve listened to today, I’m in the mood for sharing.

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.

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.

On Joy

Me. Age 4. September 1978. It was my first day of kindergarten at Fries Avenue Elementary in Wilmington, Calif. I don’t remember much about that day, but I do recall this moment when Mom gave me this as a congratulations gift for being a big girl and going to school for the very first time.

I was a Grease girl. But who wasn’t at that time, right? While so many parts of my childhood are foggy at best, I clearly remember seeing this movie in the theater, many times. I loved this movie. No, you don’t understand — I LOOOOVVVEEED this movie. I wanted to be IN this movie. It’s hard to get a four year old to sit through anything for a few minutes, but I had no problem staring at a screen for two hours to watch this movie that featured a bunch of cool big kids singing and dancing. I was mesmerized by it.  (Of course I didn’t realize then that the big kids in the movie were all older than my parents in real life…)

Needless to say, I was giddy when I received this gift. At that moment, nothing could have made me happier. Just look at that little face. Have you ever seen so much joy on a kid’s mug? My little heart began to sing and dance the second Mom placed it in my hands. I didn’t care about school. I had the Grease soundtrack.

I played the hell out of that record and my mom took me to see the movie many times. I never got tired of it. And thirty-plus years later, it still makes me smile and want to break into song and dance.

Where am I going with this? I don’t know. I came across this picture today and it made me think about what I was like at 4 and what I’m like at 37, and that basically, the only difference is age.

I smile like that every time I leave class, even if only on the inside. I can be red, sweaty, achy, toenails busted, and butt-ass tired, but the sheer joy in my heart makes up for all of that. Flamenco is a bit of a stretch from Grease, but it’s all song and dance just the same. And no matter what I’m going through, it still always makes me feel like the little girl in the picture.

On 37

Teacher, Doña Guajira, La Toastmaster, SeñoRita, Homegirl & Me
Today, January 30, is/was my birthday. I can’t say I was expecting much, as 37 is an odd and relatively insignificant number. But sometimes the best birthdays are those for which you have few expectations.

I honestly wasn’t thinking much about my big day this year. My SBBFF celebrated her 40th on Friday — which is a huge deal (right?!), so I was thinking much more about her special day than my own.  It also got me thinking about seeing myself turn 40 in three years, what that means to me, and what things I want to have accomplished by that time. Yes, I’ve been doing some heavy thinking lately about just about everything and those thoughts have taken me up, down and sideways. The only thing I haven’t been thinking about is celebrating 37.

But I’m blessed to have friends and family who somehow always make me feel like a princess on my special day, even when I’m feeling more like an old toad. Cakes, cards, gifts, meals, phone calls, Facebook posts, hugs, kisses. I really am spoiled.

And then there  are the little things that catch you completely off guard — like having your compañeras surprise you with bomb cream puffs and a chorus of Happy Birthday after a siguiriyas workout.

Happy Birthday to me, indeed.

The Reappearance of La Llorona

As a wee one, I was a crybaby. I was the kid who’d instantly burst into tears after getting a mild scolding from mom. If I got picked on at school, my face would get hot and turn red as I fought back the tears that would eventually come anyway. And if, on rare occasion, I made anyone cry, I’d cry even more. I guess I am a sensitive soul.

I’ve spent the last 20 years or so resisting and repressing this trait, but I’m finding it more difficult lately. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and the crazy lady hormones are finally kicking in. (THIS really makes me want to cry.) Still, I’ve become quite good at shutting off my emotions in upsetting social situations so I don’t turn into a weepy mess. Good thing, too, because my crybaby face ain’t pretty. It’s embarrassing.

But whatever, I’m done fighting it: I’m a sensitive crybaby. It’s who I am. And this applies not only in my relationships with people, but in my relationships with the arts as well.

I admit that sometimes in choir practice, certain songs will strike me in such a way that makes my vocal chords twist into knots; I’m so overwhelmed either by lyrics or a particular chord created by the blending of 90 voices that I need to stop and catch my breath. It happens often, yet always takes me by surprise.

The same is true of flamenco. Especially flamenco. The genre as a whole, I think, is particularly stirring and can send you into a fit of musical manic-depression. It’s fantastic. The highs are high and the lows are way low. You don’t even need to speak Spanish to be moved by the cante because the underlying emotion is so powerful. I understand very little, but a good solea or siguiriya breaks my crybaby heart every time. A dancer’s interpretation of the song can evoke strong emotion as well, but there’s something particularly personal and vulnerable about a single voice crying out a ballad of sorrow and loneliness. There’s nothing to hide behind.

By now, you’re thinking I’m overly sensitive and a little nutty, and I’m sure both are somewhat true. And that’s ok. Because what I’m starting to realize is that these characteristics are an asset when learning the dance; the dancer should feel the music and letra or the performance isn’t going to be believable. So now all I need to do is harness the emotions and bundle them up with kick-ass technique, which I’m hoping will come in time if I keep at it…

Yes, it seems flamenco is the perfect place for a crybaby like me.

Foul-mouthed flamenca

Something happens to me in class when it’s my turn to do solo footwork: All social grace and language etiquette goes out the window the moment I trip over my feet, and I begin swearing like a sailor.

I’ve dropped more F-bombs in the last two years than I have in my entire life, I think. I don’t know what it is. I mean, it makes sense that I’ll curse under my breath at work because, well, it’s work. But I love dance class. I can’t wait to go there every Thursday and Saturday. And I love everyone there. Yet whenever I go, it’s like I develop a sudden case of flamenco-induced Tourette’s Syndrome and the expletives immediately start rolling off my tongue.

It starts with a Crap!. Then there are the Damn it!s. Followed by the Sh&*!s. Then the moment I botch up my build-up, the incessant F*@K!s become inevitable.

I try to be ladylike. I really do. But I can’t help it. When I’m super passionate about my work and feeling unsuccessful at it, I get very frustrated and angry at myself. Especially in flamenco class when all eyes are on me and I want so badly to do my steps perfectly.

So, while my escobilla isn’t quite up to snuff, I’ve just about perfected my profane interjections.

My deepest apologies to my teacher and classmates if I made you want to cover your ears. I’ll try harder to keep my potty mouth shut.