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?

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…

Will work for hugs and kisses

Tonight, Homegirl, Hotcakes, Doña Guajira y yo got to run through our solos with the musicians. I can tell you that Homegirl, Doña and I were fairly terrified because we know that all kinds of things can happen when live music and amateur dancers are involved. Hotcakes is way above our level — she just cruises in, does her thang and all is well. But for the rest of us, this is some serious pressure.

To our relief, though, all went pretty well. There might have been a few hiccups, but we all made it through our dances a couple of times each. I was so impressed with us! I can see we’ve all progressed over the last year. I can’t speak for the other ladies, but here’s what I took away from tonight…

First, I’m not as afraid of live music as I was seven months ago when I first did a solo. The first time is a bear. I was so hung up on “OMG, I’m out here ALONE for the first time!” that I had a harder time listening and going with the flow. This time I actually heard the music, and even when I messed up, I understood why.

Second, I am no longer afraid of the sound of my feet, so it’s easier to stay in compás and focus on completing the footwork. I didn’t completely trip over my feet like I did back in May. Oh God, I hope I didn’t just jinx myself…

The third thing I took away isn’t a positive, but I guess it’s positive that I recognize it: I still get nervous when I have an audience. Not as nervous as I did before, but nervous enough to where I feel my body tense up and I could see it as I was watching myself in the mirror. But at least I’m aware and I can try to find a way to breathe and relax so that my movements are more fluid.

But all in all, everything was good. To top it off, Teacher gave us all hugs, kisses and kudos when it was over. And that was so nice! We’re all so OCFD, self-deprecating and constantly worried about letting her down, so those little encouragements mean a lot to us. Seriously, THAT is what it’s all about.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, I think I can actually sleep tonight. Tomorrow night it’s back to the studio for a session with the Hot-Butt Crew. Expect another entry tomorrow…

Solo

I haven’t written in a month or so, which is stupid because I’ve had tons to write about. But again, I’m new to this blogging deal and haven’t found my rhythm yet.

Last week we did a student show in which I performed my first solo. Solo! What?! How did this happen?! Well, after a our December show, my teacher encouraged me to take the choreography from one of the group dances and use it as a solo piece in a future show. Ooh, a challenge! I was down. Five months later, I was in front of an audience all by myself… Continue reading “Solo”