Dancer working on balance on an unstable base. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUg1ExCLmjA
Balance requires strength and control. But I am not talking about exercises on balance boards or landing a triple pirouette. Life as a dance artist requires balance.
For the past 10 months, I have focused mainly on choreographing full-length theater performances. That’s quite a feat on its own. I have grown immensely as a choreographer, director, and performer. Challenging myself to create performances based on concepts, collaborating with artists from various genres outside flamenco, working in alternative spaces, integrating poetry, writing poetry…the list goes on. I have yet to give myself the time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished in the last year; there’s always more to do, more to learn, and more to create. But, and this is a big one, I feel like my dancing has suffered. Yes, I’ve danced pieces that a year ago I lacked the courage, technique, or sophistication to dance. I have focused so much on building theater repertory, I have let my tablao work suffer. Partly due to the fact that there are few gigs in New Mexico, and partly because I have chosen to focus on growing my company, Abprepaso Flamenco. (And getting my MFA in dance too!) Living in Albuquerque grants me many opportunities I did not have in New York. Hustling for rent meant I did not have the mental space, or the physical space, to create new evening length choreographies like I do in New Mexico.
Excerpts from Abrepaso Flamenco’s (Des)Encaracolarse at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
What a gig gives me that a theater show does not: I can try out new steps and if they don’t work out, no on knows, or no one really cares. Gigs keep my “chops” up–nothing like having to dance two improvised solos a night a few nights a week. Flamenco originated in improvised settings, and losing touch with that takes something from your dancing. Dancing pre-set choreographies requires a different skill set than improvising, though each can inform the other. While some flamenco artists solely perform in tablaos and others solely perform in theaters, most artists do both, and I think doing both keeps the full potential of the artist growing and pushing forward. I push myself to create new variations, new steps, just for fun, for musicality, even to surprise the people I work with (since we get used to seeing/hearing “the same old same old” from each other) at gigs. But a theatrical space gives me the space to dig in deep inside myself and make an artistic statement, arrange everything in such a way that I make my statement as clear as possible. I do allow for improvisation in my theater work, particularly in my solos. Being a well rounded flamenco dancer means commanding the space and the movements in a noisy restaurant in New York City or in a quiet theater where all eyes focus on the dancer. To keep up both sides takes balance.
Photo from a gig in NYC.
There’s also a balance between being a student and being a professional. We never stop learning; professionals take classes to keep learning. But to be a flamenco choreographer, to be a flamenco artist, we have to dig into ourselves and what we have to say. Not just repeat what we have learned, but find out what we have to say–tell our stories. I also won’t give up working for other companies as a freelance dancer, as I learn from those experiences as well.
Many professional dancers make a significant amount of their income from teaching. Learning from having to break steps down, think of new ways to explain steps or music improves my dancing. But if we become so bogged down in teaching classes, often running from one studio or school to another, our dancing can suffer from not enough time to rehearse to not being able to take our own classes.
Place and balance. I have the unique ability to travel frequently as a freelance flamenco dancer. Each city I visit has something new to offer. And I don’t mean just in the flamenco scene. New Mexico has its land and space, clouds and skies, sunsets, open roads, mountains where I love to hike and; New York has museums, good food, dance classes galore, gigs, an energy in the streets like nothing else, interesting characters on the subway; Los Angeles has its traffic, its slowness, the flashiness of Hollywood. I learn something from each city, and flamenco-wise, each city has something to offer as I work with different musicians and people.
Balance can signify a great deal of things; spiritual balance, life/work balance (which is particularly difficult as an artist when you’re passion is work, which is your life, but I will save that for another blog!), health balance, emotional balance–you get the idea.
I mostly wrote about the balance between gigs and theater performances. But as an artist, our creativity has to stay in balance. I know many performers who have a secondary art form or practice–from drawing to yoga to writing. The past few months, writing poetry has been my outlet. My creative practice looks like a web, with poetry connected to reading connected to flamenco connected to yoga connected to eating habits connected to relationships with family/friends–if one delicate strand gets broken, the whole web can fall apart. Balance works as an active awareness.