Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sweet Dreams are Made of This

Pretty early on in my flamenco life, an organization in Philly hosted a "Feria de Sevilla" complete with casetas, caballeros on horseback and lots of polka dots. The event culminated in an evening of performances and my teachers, the Rubios had hired this Sevillano who was living in NY to come sing for their show. That's when I first met "the Fons," Alfonso Cid. A few years later, I went down to DC to help my friend Anna Menendez put her first show together. She had hired Alfonso to sing for her show at night, and I had the pleasure of spending the whole day walking around the District with Fonsi soaking up the sights. As I quickly learned, he's very bright and curious, and has a great sense of humor. Naturally, I had to take him to the Smithsonian and track down the "Happy Days" exhibit so I could take his picture with that other Fonzie's  mementos. Through the years, I've seen him in all kinds of shows from tiny flamenco tablaos to a packed large arena, where he was the featured artist with Romeo Santos. He has been a true friend, and has seen me through some really horrible times, somehow always showing up right when I needed him. He's welcomed me into his home with a spread after spread of delicious tapas and was my first cante teacher. I have immeasurable affection and gratitude for the presence of this very special human being in my life, and in a couple days, I will finally get to be in a show with him. It is a dream come true for me to be on stage, sharing the art form that means so much to both of us, and paying homage to his magnificent home town. ¡Óle mi Fonsi. ¡Víva la amistad ¡Víva Sevilla!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Therapeutic Flamenco (because pounding your feet into the floor and yelling is discouraged in yoga class)

I was 33 years old when I took my first flamenco class, and by all accounts I was a hot mess. I was an overweight chain-smoker in a miserable relationship, working a job that left me feeling numb and useless at the end of the day. On the plus side, I had started on a path of recovery, but years of self-destructive living had taken their toll on my body and psyche. I was in the process of unraveling the grief and panic from years of abuse and trauma. I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin and when I first set foot in that studio and was forced to look at myself in the mirror, it was all but unbearable. I felt awkward and ashamed, but I kept coming back. I heard the teacher talk about how flamenco was for everyone. It wasn't about the pretty girl in the red dress. It was about being who you are, taking up space and being seen. Flamenco was born of oppression, persecution and suffering as a way to stare misery in the eye and say “You did not conquer me. I am still here.” Little by little, I gave myself permission to be there, to take up space and to stare the chaos and sorrow of my past in the eye. I experience the phenomenon of time standing still every time I set stand in the middle of the cuadro as I connect with the rhythm, with the musicians and with myself to create something unique and deeply personal. It is alchemy.

Over the years, I have used this blog to chronicle my experience with flamenco and much of it has been what I refer to as "fertile ground for spiritual growth." Right there next to the zen moments have been plenty of WTF moments and my path of flamenco and healing has had lots of twists and turns. In flamenco, as in life, there have been countless times that I was so sure I needed something to happen or to be a certain way, and then was devastated when things turned out differently. Most times, I've realized that what I was given instead was a far bigger blessing. One of the biggest blessings I've experienced is the chance to study with La Meira. I could fill a book singing her praises and enumerating her contributions to my life specifically and to flamenco as a whole. Studying with her has changed my life. Being in Meira's class feels very much like being "en familia." It's changed the way I experience studying by giving me a safe place where I can take the risk to get to know myself and own who I am. It let me to the point of coming to terms with my limitations and and making peace with them which, in turn freed me up to look at my own experiences, perceptions and preferences with regard to flamenco. Bit by bit, I'm forging my own relationship with flamenco that feels so much better than just doing everything to keep up with everyone else. This has been immensely liberating and I hope I can do it more in my life outside flamenco, too! It's huge. Realizing what a powerful healing tool flamenco in particular has been for me as an adult, I began asking myself who else could be helped. Because of my own history of trauma and experience with flamenco, I feel called to focus on girls/women who've been impacted by gender based violence. One day I happened upon an article about a dancer in Sevilla who is both a flamenco artist and dance/movement therapist. In addition to teaching traditional classes, she offers “flamenco therapy” workshops for women who are survivors of domestic violence as well as other challenges. Then it all clicked. This is what I must do - to go study with her, to observe and analyze her work and her process so I can do this work, too.

Part of my plan to prepare myself for this work has been formally studying Dance-Movement Therapy. I'm taking classes at the Harkness Dance Center at the 92nd Street Y. DMT is fascinating. One of the things I've learned is that the field of DMT was born in in the 1940s in Washington, DC as a treatment for what we now call PTSD. There was a dancer named Marion Chace who had studied psychodrama and psychiatry, and she was hired by St. Elizabeth's Federal Psychiatric Hospital work with "shell-shocked" soldiers returning from World War II. Dance-Movement Therapy is still used used in medical and community based settings along with other body-mind practices like yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and breathwork.  Yoga in particular has become wildly popular whether it be through trauma informed programs like "Yoga for Veterans" or your garden-variety yoga class at the YMCA.  My personal journey of healing from trauma has been long and winding and over the years, I've pretty much tried all of these. But none of them even come close to providing the me with the feeling of aliveness, connectedness, courage and resilience that flamenco has.  Clearly, there's something powerful about the physicality of flamenco. After a few compases of pounding my feet into the floor, I feel deeply grounded. But flamenco is more than just dance - it's the music, the cuadro/community and the heritage.  If you listen to the stories told in the verses of the cante, you can clearly hear how flamenco came to life as a way for people to cope with adversity. It is this heritage that makes it a particularly powerful and relevant form for survivors of trauma.

I'm not 100% sure how I'll get to Sevilla, but I know I will get there. If the funding gods smile at me, I will be awarded a fellowship to live there and conduct research. One way or another, I will find a way to get myself over there. This work is important and it needs to be done. I have a million ideas for programs I want to start. I want other people to see how profound flamenco is, not just as a performing art, but as a healing art.

Monday, November 9, 2015

iViva Miami! Part 3

My last full day in Miami, I went to Mayeelu's class, and once again, found myself in heaven. Life is so surreal sometimes. There you are, mouth agape in wonder, blissed out watching someone dance on stage, and  then a few days later, you're in the studio laughing with them as you dance together. What a trip! I loved the class. It's always great to work up a sweat and get your feet pounding into the floor, but Mayeelu's class was special. She gave us a little pellisco por bulerias and I really felt like I was dancing as opposed to just copying steps. It was a great time! I was happy to get to talk to her afterwards, too. In addition to being good and tired after the workout, I was sleep deprived and enjoyed a luxurious nap before heading out for the night (at what point does it stop being a nap, and start being just plain old sleeping?) I had actually hoped to do a double header, starting at Taberna de San Roman but only woke up in time to catch the 11 o'clock show at Cava

Cava is unique in that it is a straight up tablao, with shows Thursday through Sunday. They even have flamenco lunch buffets....they're not messing around. In fact, when I told the Tunos I was headed there, they told me that they had sung there during the lunch show. Anyway, the show at Cava never disappoints. It's always packed. The food is great and their sound system is amazing! Even the floor has a particularly rich sound. That night, the big treat was Kina Mendez. That woman can sing! She is a real show-woman who brings all the aire from her native Jerez with her whether she's singing for the dancers, or taking center stage herself singing and doing a pataita. The unfortunate situation that night was that the place was very noisy, with many conversations continuing throughout the entire show. I was personally appalled at the lack of respect, especially because the Miami audience is generally pretty flamenco-savvy. Ms. Mendez didn't seem very happy about it either, getting louder and louder with her jaleos as the guitarist played his solo. Ultimately, the show went on, and everything else faded into the background. Not a bad way to spend my final night in Miami.