A kinder, gentler Black Swan

My brother calls this my “Black Swan” picture. Something about my eyes, my expression and how the mantón is draped over my raised arm making it look like a black-feathered wing. I thought it was totally random and funny when he said this, but then I kinda saw it, too. Which got me thinking …

My relationship with my mantón has changed drastically since I first got it. When it arrived, I was terrified of it. I thought I made a huge, costly mistake in ordering this massive black beast that had to be wrangled, wrestled and scalped before I could even begin dancing with it. And when I finally got it to class, its sheer weight and momentum knocked the wind out of me and nearly dragged me down a few times. This thing had a mind of its own. Would it ever behave? Could I ever be one with the blanket of death?

There were many trials and tangles, but I made it through the cantiñas with mantón choreography in the December shows and by the time it was over, I kind of loved the beast. So much so, I was eager to continue dancing with it in Rina’s sevillanas with mantón class.

Now, granted, the cantiñas experience was tough because I was learning a brand-new choreography and working with a shawl (and a heavy-ass shawl, at that) for the first time. With sevillanas, it’s different because I already knew all four coplas going into it. That knowledge coupled with my previous mantón experience has made the sevillanas class so much more fun than I expected. I love that class!

I can control the beast much better than I ever imagined I could. I know just how much force I need to use to get it to obey. I also get a sense of satisfaction knowing I can do a dance and twirl a heavy shawl at the same time, when just a couple years ago, I didn’t have the coordination to do arm movements with my sevillana steps. I love realizing I’ve made progress!

Plus, I generally love all things girlie and the mantón is just so feminine and elegant. I love looking in the mirror in class and seeing my compañeras and myself in beautiful swirls of color. I often catch myself smiling in class. The other day, Doña Guajira, who dances on the opposite side of the studio, said that she can tell that I’m enjoying myself because of the way I handle the shawl. It’s probably because I’m flinging this thing around with a dopey grin on my face, but that’s ok. It’s a compliment. I truly enjoy the dance and I’m glad it shows.

So, it seems I have become one with the beast — just not in the sinister, creepy-obsessive, death-by-dance Black Swan way. No, it’s all happy endings here.

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.

The dances, deconstructed

Since we began preparing for our shows, I’ve gone back and forth on which choreography presents the biggest challenge for me. Each is scary in its own way. Let’s break it down:

1. Cantiñas with mantón, or as I lovingly refer to it, baile de la muerte. First off, I have to say I love working with the shawl. I love … the contradiction of it … how do I explain it?… it’s like, when I’m doing it, I feel so ultra feminine, but I also feel like I need the arms of a dude to pull it off. The first couple of weeks I had some serious shoulder and arm pain. But week after week, my wings grew stronger and now I can even handle a heavier mantón. However, there are many hazards associated with this dance. Foremost, you need to be aware of your surroundings and take care not to whack your neighbor in the face, especially if you’ve got a large wingspan like I do. Somewhat along those lines, there’s a risk of having a silk collision with your neighbor which may result in two shawls becoming one knotted heap (I’ve seen it happen!). Then, and this is by far the worst, there’s what I like to call the “bats in the hair” scenario, during which the mantón inexplicably gets caught in your own hair and just sort of flutters wildly about the face while you try desperately to untangle it and shoo it away.

2. Soleá, presented by the advanced class. I believe “advanced” says it all. I’m relatively new to the this level, so this is an incredible test and challenge for me. Not only is the choreography and footwork more difficult, but soleá itself is just more difficult to “hear” musically, at least for me. This is the one that taught me that I didn’t know how to count to 12. I eventually figured it out (sort of) but it was tough. So when I perform this one, I’ve got to be super focused on executing the choreography and super in-tune with the musicians behind me, otherwise it’s not going to fly. For added pressure, I’m in the front with crazy-good girl with the killer turns to my right. How do I look good next to that? (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Hotcakes.)

3. Soleá por bulería, my solo piece. SOLO. As in, alone. Alone, as in, with no one to look to if I blank out and forget what the hell comes next or fall out of compás. It’s just me and the sound of my own feet out there. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a little bit of pressure. But I KNOW the dance well, so choreography isn’t the main issue here. The real challenge for me with this one is shaking off my nerves so that I can do the choreography well, with authority and showmanship. Since performing this in May, I’ve worked a lot on cleaning up the little things and I HOPE that’s evident. I want so badly to attain that certain level of grace and elegance.

Ok, so after going through all that, I still can’t decide which is scariest. I guess it doesn’t matter — they all deserve and require the same amount of work, perhaps just in different ways. But I think working on these dances, with the diverse challenges they present, has taught me so much over the last three months. I can’t wait to show you what I’ve learned.

Taming the blankie of death

My new mantón is heavy. Fabulous, but freakin’ heavy.

I recently purchased this piece after realizing I needed something to match the dress I’ll be wearing for our show next month. While scrolling through the selection of piano shawls on eBay, I came across this one: black, 52 inches across, ample fringe and heavy on vibrant, colorful floral embroidery. I had to have it! A click of the “Buy it Now” button and this piece of vintage loveliness was mine.

What I didn’t consider prior to my impulsive click was that because this piece was vintage (whatever that means), I was taking risk. It could be damaged. It could stink. Luckily, neither is the case. What it is, however, is heavy as hell.

Yes, the ample embroidery is part of its weight problem. But the bigger issue, I think, is the trim. The edges are densely crocheted and the fringe isn’t flossy thin like that on my starter mantón. No, this is a serious bit of handiwork.

When I draped it over myself for the first time, my heart sank right along with my shoulders. Oh God, I spent money I really shouldn’t be spending on something I can’t even use. And when I attempted to twirl it overhead, the very loud “Whoosh!” it created only exacerbated my fears. How can I possibly manage something with so much wind resistance?

Commanding this massive piece of fabric would be a breeze for a seasoned flamenca. For me, probably not so much. But I’m not giving up. I am not giving in to the blanket of death.

So I try to disarm it. I spread it out evenly on the living room floor and attack its wild hairs with my handy scissors. Perhaps all it needs is a good pruning. When I’m done, the casualties lie limp on a newspaper. Throwing the the heavy clump of chopped string in the garbage gives me hope.

The instant weight loss is helpful, for sure, but it’s not the miracle I was looking for — there’s still a whoosh factor I’m not sure I can overcome. Still, I’m holding onto the hope that I can make this work. It’s so pretty, I have to try.

The moment of truth comes Saturday when I battle with the beast for an hour during dance class. Will I be triumphant or will the black death wrap itself around me and take me down? Stay tuned.

Something else to get wrapped up in

Someday I hope to have more grace than this guy. ©Disney

My right wing is killing me.

Saturday I had my first experience with the mantón, or the large shawl worn or wielded by dancers. Such a lovely, elegant prop when handled by the right flamenca. In this beginner’s hands, not so much. Continue reading “Something else to get wrapped up in”