Video: Heavy-footed Flamenca

This week I’ve focused on some sections of problematic footwork, as you’ll see here. This short video is also a great example of why it’s not a good idea to put your camera on the dance floor.

Happy in my Angst

I look kinda angsty here, no?

I like Thursdays because I get to do tarantos. This session is the first time I’ve experienced it and I have to say I like it a lot. I wasn’t sure about it at first because it’s a hard rhythm to hear, but now that I’ve become better acquainted with it and have had a chance to dance to it a bit, I’m totally feeling it.

But let’s back up for a sec. Tonight was a bit manic-depressive, in the best possible way. In the first class, our technique class, we continued working on an alegrías footwork we started last week. Very challenging stuff. I was more focused on getting the steps and corresponding arm placements than bringing the festive attitude the dance requires. Also, it’s just harder to look like you’re having fun when you’re unsure of your next move.

In the second hour, we moved on to tarantos. It’s not a lighthearted dance. It’s a one of those dig-deep-and-find-your-pain-and-show-it-to-the-world dances. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I really love those.  I mean, I haven’t met a palo I didn’t like, but I’m especially drawn to the angry/painful/sorrowful ones. I guess we’re all moved by different things. I imagine that some people come alive when they hear a happy tune. I do too, of course, but not the way I do when I hear a downer. There’s something about hearing something very sad or intense that grabs me by the throat and stops my breath … especially in flamenco. The wailing … oh, the wailing. That powerful yet languishing voice that pierces the ears and shocks the heart. It always startles me and quiets me for a moment. How can I not feel it?

In this dance, you’ve really got to feel it because sometimes it’s just too hard to count it. You have to be present in the music, instead of in your own head, counting, in order to do it justice. This is what we learned tonight.  And when Rina reminded us to dig deep and find our angst and bring it, well, we brought it.


Post-show reflections (with video)

Three days after our show at Sangria, I’m finally able to write about it. But I’m glad I’ve been too busy to write the last few days because the extra time I’ve had to reflect on everything has given me enhanced perspective.

The first thing I noticed was that I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I was last year, at least not immediately. I remember last year I was sweating and feeling like I was going to barf during the drive to the venue. But not this time. And during the opening number, the Sevillanas with mantón, even though I screwed up the second copla, it was merely because I had an unfortunate brain fart. Nerves were not a factor.

My second appearance in the show was my solo. As I watched my fellow flamencas finish their tangos, that’s when the nerves kicked in. “Oh sh*&! I’m next!” I thought, as I ducked into the back hallway near the restroom to stomp out my escobilla one last time — as if one high-speed, half-ass run-through would ensure a solid performance. It did help a bit, but when I heard my music start and took my first steps on the floor, my knees were shaky. Oh God, it’s amateur hour again. But once I got through my llamada successfully, I felt much better, much more steady.

One of the most difficult things for me to do during a solo is to ignore the play-by-play commentary that goes through my head. Things like, “Oh, my arms should have been out during that turn” or “Oh sh&%! Footwork coming up!” or “Oh God, I just realized I’m making the ugliest face right now!” running through my head do little to enhance my performance. But I’m getting better at tuning out those voices. I think it comes with experience because there were a few moments when I was so taken by Ana’s cante that I forgot all about me. It was amazing.

The footwork remains a challenge because I’ve made it out to be such a huge deal in my own head. It’s kind of like the math portion of a test for me, if that makes sense. Like, back in my high school days, I always loathed and feared math because I’m a writer. But in reality, I did equally well in the math and English portions of the SAT. What I’m getting at is, there’s no reason for me to freak out every time I get to the footwork portion of my dance. It’s at the right level for me and it’s nothing I can’t handle. This time, the nerves made my feet a little unsteady, but I actually did fine. Much better than in December, I think.

My performance wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but overall I was pleased. I’ve improved since the winter and that makes me feel good. I think the main take-away from this performance is that I’ve become much more comfortable working with musicians. I mean, there’s a singer and guitarist behind me and the accompaniment might not be exactly what I expected, but nothing is a complete surprise. I know my job and I’ve come to understand their jobs better, you know? I know that it’s not all about me, and if I screw up (which I did), they’re gonna keep going and I have to quickly adjust my game plan and keep going with them. Last year this concept scared me. This time, not as much. I made mistakes, but covered them and kept going. I even did bulerías por fiesta, and I hadn’t practiced that in months. And it wasn’t terrible. I went out, I did something, did a little bit of a dance stutter at one point, but whatever, I kept going. It was all good. It was fun.

The whole experience has left my head swirling with ideas for how I want to proceed with my flamenco studies. More on that later.

I don’t have any video from the show, but here’s a short clip from the rehearsal the night before…

A Look Back

“Advanced class, indeed. I nearly fell over after the first 10 minutes of warm-up footwork. An hour later, my knees are sore and my thighs are still burning. We also learned a mini alegrias choreography and then had to perform it individually. Boy, did I choke.” — me, 6.03.10

Next month will mark a year since I began writing about my experiences as a flamenco dance student. So, over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking back at some of my online blurts to help me put things in perspective and measure my progress.

The quote was taken from a post I did after my first advanced class with Rina, which was about nine months ago. I remember that night plainly. I remember thinking, “Um, ok …. I’m clearly not as coordinated as the other girls, I’m out of breath and my legs hurt like HELL. Maybe I’m not ready for this.” I also recall being sore for DAYS and thinking I must be high on crack to believe I should even be in that class.

But what a difference nine months makes. The build-ups are a little easier now and I can do them for much longer. I don’t run out of steam the way I used to. I think it’s partly due to the conditioning and partly due to the fact that I’m a little lighter than I was last year. It’s amazing the difference a few pounds makes.

If I could cut McDonald’s out of my life completely, I’d could probably get in really great shape and kick some major ass in class. But I’m still a sucker for a Happy Meal (and a rainbow-sprinkled donut), so I’m taking things one step at a time …

I’m not sailing through the advanced footwork class by any means. No, it’s still hard, but I can hang. And the last couple of weeks, I’ve left class feeling I could go another hour. I love that!

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.

First random thoughts of the year

Tonight I put on my dance shoes for the first time this year and despite the still-cracked toenails, the slightly protruding bones on the back of my heels that rub against the leather, and that persistent pain on the ball of my left foot, it felt great!

I already have so many plans and much optimism for this year, so I was super eager to get back to class. Tonight it was Sevillanas with mantón (ooh, another tangle with the blankie of death!) and advanced footwork (exactly what I want and need!).

Managing the mantón while dancing sevillanas is a good exercise in coordination — everything looks and feels different when you’re facing a partner, so throwing a death blanket into the mix is an added challenge. I can already see I’ll need to be very careful with my arm angles so I don’t dust my partner’s face with fringe with each twirl of my shawl. But wow, it’s going to look gorgeous once we all have it down.

Illnesses and other things kept some of my compañeras from coming to class tonight, so it was just Doña Guajira and me (with our poor limpy teacher with her twisted ankle, ouch!) in the footwork session. It was great because we each got some unexpected individual attention. We took turns doing footwork sections from our solos, focusing on strength and increasing speed, while the other played palmas. Teacher then pushed us to step it up even further by having us add steps. Fun stuff! It gave me the little push I needed to get back to practicing/building on/refining/perfecting my solo. So yeah, I’ve got homework. I love homework!

Tonight reminded me there are many things I want to improve or at least do differently this year. The dance is at the top of the list, of course, but there are are other things as well. I want to put more of myself into the things that I love and enjoy most. Stop holding back. Have more faith in honesty than responsibility…

I also need to work on getting to bed earlier or I’m not going to get anything done. So, good night.