The subject line in the e-mail read, "Flamenco Dance Show -- Come at Your Own Risk!" That is exactly how I sent my digital invitation to my upcoming flamenco recital. And of course, there are other liabilities that my friends and family have to consider with me in the performance: my uncontrollable fits of laughter when I am nervous, my inability to stay with the fast-paced footwork of the pieces, and basically losing track of where I am on the stage.
The story begins when I was seven years old. I was always a bit quirky. When all my friends in second grade wanted to become ballerinas, nurses, or teachers, I wanted to be a flamenco dancer. My mom asked me that year what I wanted for my birthday. I asked for a flamenco costume with castanets. She was a trooper. She managed to find me castanets and a beautiful lace fan. Nothing much came out of the dream of dancing except for my father asking me to stop prancing around the house click-clacking those darn wooden clappers. "Why don't you fan yourself instead. It is more quiet," he recommended.
Eighteen months ago I made the decision to follow that childhood dream and take on flamenco. Actually, "take on" is not the best way to put it; perhaps "wrestle with" is more appropriate. As beautiful and evocative as this dance may be, it is also highly structured. Missing one beat throws off your whole dance sequence, and if you have trouble tapping with your feet, well, you will have another problem altogether.
Yes, it has been eighteen months of coming to class and slowly feeling my way through the movements and testing my eternally patient and gifted flamenco teacher. Some days it feels like the clouds have parted and the sun is shining in the dance studio: steps flow, I am relaxed, and as my teacher has keenly pointed out to me, I stop holding my breath for an entire sequence of footwork! But then there are days that I literally hear the soundtrack to "The Twilight Zone" as I set foot in the studio: I can't tell my right foot from my left, I enter the stage on the wrong side, and I find myself dancing in a completely different part of the stage from the other dancers, which leads to the very unflamenco-like rush across the floor to join them.
In my upcoming show, I will be doing a fan dance. (My father would have been very happy to see this.) There is no doubt that it is a particularly feminine and seductive number. But a special challenge to me has been to "stop using the fan as a weapon." Believe me, it takes great skill to open and close the fan without the snap of the wrist. In the beginning, my fan slipped out of my hands. At times, and I must add by accident, my fan was hurled like a bayonet across the studio, missing the heads of my fellow dancers. My fits of laughter have done some good during these moments, as they have helped me to not take myself too seriously.
But speaking about being serious, flamenco is all about attitude. All my life I had been told, "Smile, don't frown. It's not nice." Now that train has left the station. In this dance I need to look intense and serious. I can do anything but smile. I am supposed to have this haughty, how-dare-you-look-at-me look, which, by the way, is pure reverse psychology. What I really mean is, "Look at me! Look at me! Look at how fabulously fierce I am!"
Just last week I was at practice and saw the fellow dancer do her special dance with a mantón, a Spanish fringed shawl. It is tricky to maneuver the shawl without it getting stuck on you head. To offer encouragement and show sympathy for our predicament, our teacher shared her own story:
Don't worry, it is really a skill to use all these props while dancing with a hair piece or an especially tight or long dress. All kinds of things can hook onto your dress or even to the flower in your hair. A few years ago, I performed live in a television show. It was a solo, and I was first seated in the back of the stage. And I don't know why they had a plant next to me. So, as I got up and made my first step, I heard a strange noise from behind. I looked to either side of me and didn't see a thing. I took a second step, and krsssshhhhhhhh, there was that sound again. As I started making a slow turn, I saw that the plant was trailing behind on the tail of my dress. The show had to go on. So I slowly unfastened it from my dress while I was turning and went on with the rest of my dance.
Of course, unpredictable things happen during a performance, but there is a difference between being a consummate professional like her, who keeps her cool, and the rest of us dancers. She can make any movement look natural and beautiful, but what about us?
Needless to say, I spent the rest of the class time not only worrying about staying in tempo, looking fierce, and finding my spot on the stage, but also thinking about what strange object may be trailing behind me as I am doing these extraordinary feats!
My birthday happened to be the day after that practice session. A friend of mine sent me a beautiful birthday quotation that changed my outlook on my impending performance: "If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then we should first behold our own beauty."
Yes, I thought to myself, this is what I will do, and I set out to send my invitations to the recital to my family and friends. There is no doubt that I have every intention of performing well. But in my head, the theme of the recital is now "Let's behold our own beauty, even if it is quirky and off tempo, and even if there is a stage prop hanging off of us." And to that I give a big olé!
In this photo: Angella Nazarian, The Flamenco Dancer 2010
Olga picasso dans un fauteuil (1917) Musee Picasso