“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?