I dance the flamenco tablao circuit here in Montreal since 2001 so have experienced multiple times the let down of a certain audience members who thought I was Spanish because of my passion, understanding and ability to dance, yet when I smile and say, no, I'm from Alberta... whoa.. the look...
How can a woman from Alberta dance like that??
They either over-congratulate me for this miraculous accomplishment, Wow!! Bravo!!, or, worse, do a value judgement that descends my abilities into the realm of luck or falsehood.
I think the most flagrant was:
So... you're kinda just pretending to do flamenco??
Not to mention the first documentary films I watched about flamenco, where the gypsies themselves frown straight into the camera and shake their heads.. tsktsktsk.. don't even try you gadjo. You'll never have it.
Oh god, how many times have I danced and had this gypsy's disapproval over my head like a noose...
So, either I stop dancing flamenco, or I confront this question head on to avoid verbal and physical paralysis. I have to learn what it means for me, a white anglo woman with Albertan, British, Russian and Norwegian roots to be practicing an art that originates from gypsies in the south of Spain. That's a lot of cultural identity questions to wade through! How can I take 'rights' to what I do??! Do I have a right??? Now, in 2018, there is so much more awareness and discussion about cultural appropriation... it's a pertinent topic.
My solution is and has always been the same: Understand as much as I can about the roots and actual forms in flamenco so I understand why I like it so much and how it works. Then, MAKE IT MY OWN. I read somewhere (I'll try and find the source) that 'Real' flamenco, or Flamenco Puro, is essentially an expression of the individual - No 2 artists should dance, sing or play guitar exactly the same. This philosophy suggests to carve out one's own interpretation, AND to not become a parody even of oneself, IMPROVISE. Every year, every day, every minute.. is different. To express with authenticity and honesty it's necessary to acknowledge the present moment.
Don't Reproduce. Do Recreate.
To Recreate, I ask myself: What do all those elements mean to me? In 2 directions: Inwards into my own personal history, and way way out to roots beyond cultural identity. I ask what it means to be human... or a fish.. or even water... Agua.
Whew... there's a lot to discuss on this topic - WIP ;)
IS THERE A RIGHT WAY AND A WRONG WAY?
Technically, yes there are ways to do movements that protect your body and ways that could harm your body. But in view of interpretation, there are many ways to do a movement, as there are many ways to be.
Biding any physical danger, the only wrong way is when you don't back your movement or vocabulary with your honest state of being. Say the movement is a GOLPE in flamenco, if you are nervous, your golpe may have a nervous aire to it. If you are content, the golpe will be more content. Both are great! But, say you are nervous and are pretending to be content... it'll never work! Too much energy will be going to try to cover up a genuine emotion (which can never be totally covered up anyhow) and not enough energy into your focus towards the beauty and lineage of the vocabulary.
Be the authentic you, and speak the vocabulary. You may find your authentic you in movement, passing through many states of being, even transcendence. But to surpass and surprise yourself, start from where you actually are.
FOCUS IS AN ACTION
Lights..camera..ACTION! Once you know how you feel and what you are saying (animal, alphabet & form), see what's around you. Where are you? Here you encounter the unknown, like swimming in a lake, stay aware, flexible and in harmony, or afloat, in your environment. Focus is an action; it's in movement, just like an element that has a beginning, a path, and an end.
FOCUS TAKES ENERGY
A woman in class expressed a very simple yet profound observation this past week. We were doing a focus exercise travelling from very close to the body, to mid-social range, to a far away focus 'across the field'.. I was asking the class to keep contact with the close and personal focus while looking across the field. The comment was 'It takes an extra boost of energy to do this' !!! Yes! When you are ready to add extra energy to the body, you can remain integral, and have your movement be received from far away.
I have many notes to share about the psychology of dealing with shyness, or how we are viewed, or think we are viewed...
The first deals with SELF ACCEPTANCE:
How much of our energy is wasted by being worried about how we are seen?
Wasted in comparison mode. Wasted on self judgement, or the judgement of others.
It is a very natural thing to be self-conscious, and normally this has a negative connotation. I'm trying use my self-consciousness literally and to my advantage instead of towards my destruction. Simply and literally consciousness of self. I try to always always go back to 'B'. Begin and begin again. Breath and release the animal.
“I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am ”
A PACO PENA REVIEW
More than other dance forms, flamenco thrives on the illusion of spontaneity. It’s the reason why some of the best moments in a flamenco show happen after the show has ended, when the ensemble gathers at the edge of the stage, like a happy family or a band of tipsy friends, dancing for each other. The guitarists dance, the dancers sing, and everybody claps along. Dance returns to its most basic function: a communal activity, a celebration of joie de vivre and the pleasure of good music.
Great flamenco dancers trick you into believing they are making it up as they go along, though a certain amount of pre-planning is obviously necessary in order to put on a show. They practice, they figure out new tricks, polish their technique and plan out well-structured routines that goad the audience into a frenzy without killing the performer in the process. The object is to produce a kind of ecstasy – the famous out-of-body state known as duende. (It’s the same reason ballet has moments like Albrecht’s endless entrechats in the second act of Giselle; the dancer jumps, over and over, until he is on the verge collapse, while the audience’s excitement grows and grows).
This is also the reason why big, showy, tightly-choreographed flamenco spectacles with complicated concepts and fancy lights, copious dry ice, and battalions of well-toned dancers rapping their feet in unison are so disappointing. A lot of noise, but no ecstasy.
Marina Harss on January 21, 2013