I love that as a flamenco dancer, I never stop learning. At the same time, that can be a challenge. There is always more to learn, and to keep my dancing exciting–for myself and an audience–I have to keep challenging myself.
The first day of the workshop I took with Patricia Guerrero challenged me and left me feeling frustrated with my dancing. Although I’ve been studying dance for the past eight weeks, flamenco is its own beast. Not only that, but it’s been a while since I travelled to Spain to take a tough flamenco class. Why couldn’t I pick up the steps faster? Why did the movements feel so unnatural? The next day though, class went much better. I just went for the steps with everything I had, and I enjoyed dancing and stopped comparing myself to others. By the end of the week, I was completely losing myself in the movements, letting the music carry me and putting all my soul into the steps.
Learning a new flamenco step and getting in the studio and making it mine makes me happier than almost anything else in the world. After seeing my excitement upon teaching me a new step with an awesome syncopated rhythm, my colleague in the first flamenco company I danced with joked that she knew what to get me for my birthday–she’d teach me a flamenco step. Acquiring a new step means learning the mechanics of it, understanding how it fits in the rhythm, and then getting it into your body, owning it–I’m not really sure how to explain that, but it is possibly the most important part of flamenco. To me, that means making the movements organic for your body. It’s true of any art form–what you memorize has to be internalized so that the steps or material is a vessel for personal expression.
Finding a balance between learning and working can be difficult. It’s easy to get comfortable; it’s easy to use steps that you know work easily, that feel natural in your body. And I am very lucky that I had a really strong foundation in flamenco; the problem is I often don’t build up as much as I can because I know that foundation works. But since I know the foundation is strong, it means I can build up, try new structures.
And the scaffolding that allows me to build is the cante. Everything in flamenco comes from the singing, and a good singer makes dancing easy by inspiring me. I used to spend the siesta studying the cante, focusing on a different style each week, along with taking cante classes. It’s not so much that I do not have time to do that in the U.S., I think it’s more a question of finding the inspiration. One of the great parts of Andalucían culture is hearing cante just about anywhere–on the streets, on the radio, as the background music on a two-hour bus ride…And then hearing really good cante in the tablaos here.
And in general, it takes more effort to keep growing in flamenco outside of Andalucía because flamenco does not permeate other cultures. It’s also different to be making a living dancing vs. spending all day studying flamenco. But you cannot make a living without continuously studying, so I am constantly working towards finding the balance between performing, creating, and studying.
Tangos de Granada José Fernández al cante, tablao Los Tarantos, Granada.