Last night at a gig, a colleague mentioned to me that guru actually means someone who brings you out of the darkness. According to the dictionary, guru “(in Hinduism and Buddhism) is a spiritual teacher, especially one who imparts initiation.”

In the flamenco world, we often talk about who we studied with in Spain. People recognize the “big names” from Spain. We put those names in our bios. But really, our foundation, our roots, and most importantly our guru, showed us that the path existed, and if we are lucky, led us down the first few twists and turns, and if we’re even luckier, they continue to help and support us when we need it. I have been lucky to have many incredible mentors that helped and continue to help me on my path.

Benigna Sanchez

This post is for my guru, Benigna Sánchez. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be doing flamenco. And flamenco fulfills me. It makes me feel more alive than anything else–she’s the guru that brought me out of my pre-flamenco darkness. 🙂

I always loved to dance. I knew I wanted to be a dancer when I grew up–I thought I wanted to be a ballerina. And I trained hard so I would be able to achieve that one day. I took dance seriously (even as I found a most profound joy in it).

My mother found the best teachers in Albuquerque and enrolled me in classes (which makes me realize I need to do another post about how lucky I am to have parents that supported me in my passion!) I studied the Cecchetti Method of ballet, taking and passing the exams through Grade Five. It’s a rigorous training that prepares you for a professional dance career; I am proud to have that as my foundation.

The studio where I took my first flamenco class. 

By my early teen years, ballet bored me. I would begin to look at the clock ten minutes into class and be disappointed when I saw how little time had passed. I’d play games with myself–no looking at the clock until I was sure at least another 10 minutes had passed. I still enjoyed dancing, but I wanted more freedom of expression. And just at that moment, Benigna decided to start teaching flamenco where I took ballet. When I had taken her ballet class her grace left me awestruck. When she moves her arms, its as if they are clouds floating through the air, and yet, when she hits a sharp pose, it’s strong as steel.

Before the first class, I had no idea what flamenco was. I’d never seen it. I had ideas I suppose–the stereotypical woman in a red dress stomping, castanets…I thought I might like it. And I did.

Benigna did more than just introduce me to flamenco. She pushed me–I think she recognized that I loved it and had some talent. She worked all of us really hard in that class–we would do footwork all the way across the floor over and over, floreo until my hands ached, and she didn’t let us get away with anything. She taught us proper alignment, technique, all the arm positions (which is so rare nowadays), some of the history, and she made it all fun.

Getting serious with one of her students. 

She knew all the tricks to get us to really dance. I remember when she was trying to get us (a small group of shy pre-teens and teens) to use our hips in one of the steps. She turned off the lights so we wouldn’t feel self conscious. To train our ears, she made us turn around so we couldn’t see her feet, so that we had to recognize the footwork by the sound alone.

She even suggested we watch a flamenco class at the University of New Mexico to see the different styles of the advanced dancers–so we could see how everyone gets to be themselves in flamenco; she did not intend to create carbon copies of herself, but let us find our expression in flamenco. The guest teacher who happened to be in town–I think it may have been Merche Esmeralda, though I’m not sure, amazed me. I remember Benigna describing her–that she seemed to control every cell in her body–she seemed to even make her hair dance. And when I watched her teach, I witnessed that.

And Benigna shared her stories of traveling and studying in Spain. And I knew that one day I would have to go to Spain…

Thank you, Benigna. And thank you even more for your continued support. I am one lucky dancer! 🙂