This spring, I signed up for a month-long flamenco intensive that was being offered here in Asheville by a world-renowned teacher. I hadn’t danced flamenco since being a kid, but my intuition told me I should go for it.
I quickly began learning how flamenco could help me to develop personally. During the first week of classes, my teacher noticed that I had a tendency of tilting my head diagonally and forward, as to appear pleasing and orient myself to the audience. In other dance forms like ballet and modern dance, I had certainly been taught this and it was proving to be a hard habit to break.
She would correct me: “Sasha, querida… Two ears to the front. Crown high and perpendicular to the Earth. Talk to yourself. Talk to yourself. No one else.
This lesson stopped me in my tracks as it was also something I had working on in my personal life, building my internal locus of control vs. focusing on how I was being perceived by others.
As I developed my flamenco technique, another challenge emerged. I had been in trained in airy balletic dance that resonated with ease, grace and generally appearing very pleasing to the audience.
Flamenco is not that. Flamenco is a dance of passion ignited by what often feels like courage, pain, grief and anger. With each dance and each day of practice, I found myself practicing this art of cultivating strength and presence in every moment.
At one technique class, our teacher was really hammering on the technique on us and she asked, “Do you know why I’m so strict with you when it comes to technique?”
She continued, “Because when the Duende comes, you’ve got to be ready.” She began clapping in the traditional flamenco way.
Duende literally means spirit, goblin or fairy in Spanish. Tener Duende means something like to be taken over by the spirit of flamenco. As we clap, sing, play guitar and dance, we evoke the Duende. Like other ecstatic dances, it’s a trance state of passion, inspiration and poetry.
“Do you know where the Duende is?….. The Duende lives in your belly!” The teacher then makes flamenco arms with hands spiraling around her solar plexus.
“One day, you will be dancing and the Duende will come.” She quickly spins and lands with her arms raised. “Duende will only come through you if you what to do with it.”
“And when the Duende comes through you… with all of its strength… Surrender and become the best possible channel for the Duende.”
I never knew an art form that reminded me more of ritual and ritual space until she said that.
And still, as I continued to dance, I feltl myself getting stronger and even more technically able to dance. Leading up to our performance at the Center of Performing Arts in downtown Asheville, our teacher determined our position and put me in the front row center to perform.
I felt excited but it also felt scary for me at times… I felt scared of my own power and presence. Flamenco is a wonderful teacher in cultivating strength because it requires the dancer to maintain a high level of sustained power of presence.
I am so grateful for this journey and looking forward to many more lessons from Flamenco.