Somewhere Between Calm and Fear

I have no relevant photography to share, so here's what I look like today.

A sense of calm came over me last Sunday after I spent time in the studio rehearsing my solo for our upcoming show. Before that I had been somewhat nervous after my private lesson with Rina a couple weeks ago, when I realized there were a few rough spots in the choreography I hadn’t worked out. But time alone with my thoughts and choreo let me work though these little bumps and get me to a place where I’m feeling ok, maybe even sort of good, about it all.

I was excited to post a video from that practice, but unfortunately I forgot to tap the record button on my iPhone. Bummer. I was so confident I got a great take, too. So to compensate for the lack of video and relevant photography, I’ve posted a picture of myself in front of my Mac as I type this post — it’s also how I look at the end of a long work day when my hair’s in a messy pile on top of my head and I’ve got more mascara under my eyes than on my lashes.

Anyway. You’d think by now I’d have more of a sense of calm about everything all the time. This will be my seventh student show and fifth solo, I think. This should be old hat to me, right? Yes and no. With each performance comes the pressure of being better than the last time. I can no longer use the excuse of, “Well, it was my first time” or “I’ve only done this a couple of times.” Nope, I’m a seasoned professional student now. I’ve got something to prove — to myself, at least.

Yes, I put pressure on myself, for myself. I need to see progress with each performance. It’s been six months since our last show and while that might seem like a significant amount of time to you, it seems like mere weeks to me. So I wonder, WILL I feel any different this time around? Has my technique gotten any better? Will anyone notice?

So, my fears have evolved from “OMG, I’m performing flamenco as a newbie and I’m scared because I barely know what I’m doing and people are watching me” to “OMG, I’m performing again and I’m not scared but I really want to give my audience a kick-ass performance.” I guess that in itself shows progress though, right? Of course, this is me speaking as a student dancer. Throw me into a professional performance setting and I’d probably be in newbie panic mode all over again.

I think too much, huh?

Insanity and Perpetual Alegrias

Today after a 90-minute solo rehearsal, I came down with a case of the crazies. Kind of a hopeless, helpless feeling that comes from being unsure of my choreography and feeling terribly disappointed in how I look performing it.

It’s not that I haven’t practiced enough. No, I know the dance well. This is just what I do before every performance.

I’m not an obsessive perfectionist in real life. My apartment gets cluttered, my work space is a mess, and I’m an Olympic-class daydreamer who puts off real-life duties when fantasies are more engaging. But in my flamenco world, I’m a compulsive nut. Give me a choreography, especially a solo piece, and it becomes the focus of every waking thought. I want it to be perfect.

This is impossible for many reasons. First, I’m still a student with a lot to learn. Second, I can’t physically dance the way I’d like to because I’m not yet fully conditioned to do so. Finally, I’m not a flamenca fembot; I’m human and sh!t happens. I need to learn to deal with that.

But still I panic. I freak out. I might even cry just a little bit, sometimes. Then I retire to my couch for awhile to try to pull myself together before I head off to the next rehearsal.

I know, alegrias is supposed to be happy. It will be again tomorrow, I think. I just need to sleep it off. Goodnight.

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.

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…

Fotos!

God bless professional photographers. They have a way of making regular folks like me look interesting, talented, maybe even kind of beautiful.

Take the photos from our December show. There were so many I liked, I ordered more than I had anticipated. Oh gawd, that sounds obnoxious, doesn’t it? It’s like saying, “OMG, I looked SO AWESOME in SO many, I HAD to order TONS!!” Ugh. Sorry. I really don’t mean it like that. What I mean is, the very-talented photographer was able to get some shots of me at those few moments when I wasn’t making an awkward grimace and my hands weren’t reminiscent of chicken claws. In other words, she captured on film a handful of shining moments when what I felt on the inside while I danced somewhat showed on the outside.

For example, let’s look at this first photo. This is from the fin de fiesta portion of the show. I love the goofy expression on my face. It says, “Yeah, I got attitude. Why? ‘Cause I’m feeling good that the show is over and I survived, and now I’m looking over my shoulder at my shaking booty ’cause I KNOW it looks good. Jealous?”

The second photo shows a totally different attitude. It’s more like, “You are mesmerized by the dance and hypnotized by my deep, intense gaze, no?” (I imagine this said with a Spanish accent …)

This last one is one of my favorites because I can see tension in my body but I can’t tell what the hell is going on with my expression. Am I going to laugh? Am I going to cry? I think it’s a little bit of both. This is from my solea por bulerias solo, which is like a four-minute, thrilling yet nausea-inducing emotional roller coaster ride for me. But that’s for another post.

It’s all a little embarrassing because I’m not good at hiding what goes on in my head and heart sometimes. I’ve got a crappy poker face. But hey, the pictures show exactly what’s going on inside me when I’m dancing, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. And for the most part, I think it’s fun to see.