Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Students, You Will Change

I don't believe there is a point in one's flamenco journey when one has "arrived." We have breakthroughs, epiphanies, and growth spurts, but there is no end when it comes to learning. We are all students from the time we discover flamenco and decide to pursue it.

The idea of being a student is far more complex than we often realize. Being in front of an instructor and doing what they tell us is just one part of something bigger. For example, our beliefs and attitudes inside and outside the classroom greatly affect what we gain from our studies. Adjusting to who is teaching and what is being taught is another skill that ensures we take away something lasting and meaningful from the experience.

Suppose I find myself in a class with an instructor whose methods and style don't feel comfortable. Should I determine that it's a waste of my time to be there, or should I do my best to understand the instructor and their material? What if I can't see a scenario where I'm using the material they've given me?

Perhaps the best approach is to assume there is something beneficial in the process that will manifest itself in some form in the not-so-immediate future. A slight difference in the way one does something may produce big changes down the line. Perhaps the change won't be big, but significant nonetheless.

I get it. We all desire to develop our own "voice" as artists. What we never seem to realize, however, is that this will happen whether or not we consciously pursue it. However we interpret information we're given determines what our voice ends up looking and sounding like. Often times, it is our resistance to change that causes us to stagnate as artists. In the end, maybe our biggest apprehension is that we'll change in some unplanned, unforeseen way, and we don't like the idea that we're not in control.

As students, it seems our biggest challenge is accepting change because it threatens our own concepts of self identity. If I don't fear change, however, I will inevitably grow in a way that is unique (and unavoidable). While it's important to understand and recognize our voices as they currently are, it's just as important to realize that, like it or not, they will change in some way. Wouldn't it be better to welcome in the change and enjoy it for what it is?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Chasing That Which Cannot Remain

   The high one gets from putting on a good flamenco show only lasts about a day or two.  The Facebook and Instagram followup media helps it linger a bit longer, but life goes on and it's on to the next thing.
  Knowing how quickly these moments fade, I often wonder what the point of putting so much blood, sweat and tears into a performance really is.  A painter or recording artist has a finished product at the end of the day, but there is something about a shared flamenco moment that isn't meant to live on beyond the memories of those present.  Maybe that's why a given performance is special.  But we do seem to want to preserve these experiences.
  I have to admit, I study videos of performances on YouTube pretty often.  The first view is always the most exciting and impactful, but each subsequent view becomes more of a learning experience than a moment of enjoyment. There is something less palpable in a videoed performance, something I can't quite explain.  Perhaps it's akin to receiving a gift in the mail rather than face-to-face from a smiling loved one.  But its more than that.
  The live performance puts you there in the emotional space filled by artists provoking and inspiring each other to reveal their inner secrets and turmoil.  To label it "intimacy" is to risk using the cheesiest of cliches, but we lack a better word to describe it, and so it will have to do.  Some flamencos reveal their visceral selves from the moment they step in front of an audience, while others take their time observing, processing, and eventually trusting onlookers enough to honestly express themselves.  Each style provides a unique type of satisfaction, and sometimes the feeling can be recalled long after the performance is over.
  Years after the fact, one may ask an aficionado what it was that made their favorite show so good.  One is unlikely to get a clear answer.  How can we freeze a moment like a snapshot and do justice in describing what it was that broke our hearts or made them soar?  Surely it wasn't a single sound or visual, or combination of the two.  It must have been the way we became lost in the moment and did not desire to come back.  But we always come back.....and desire to get lost again.     

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Retirement, Restructuring, and Return

There are times in our lives when our desires and needs do not harmonize, no matter how much time we spend trying.  In fact, it may be a mistake to suppose that they would.  Sometimes we believe we can organize our lives to the degree that everything works together like a well-oiled machine, but life doesn't seem to have gotten that memo.

I walked away from performing flamenco almost three years ago.  It became clear at that time that in order to provide for my family (including home ownership), I had to focus my time and energy on developing a career that provided steady income.  I returned to school and obtained an MA in Communication.  All the while, I'd been working a good, steady job at a social services agency.

As I rode the high of my new accomplishments, I received some unexpected news.  My department was undergoing "restructuring" and my position would be discontinued.  Suddenly, the security of what I'd been pursuing for several years seemed to have hit a big roadblock.

One of the only things I could think of to generate a little income in the meantime was, you guessed it, flamenco gigging.  With the help of a dear friend and fellow dancer, I have been back in the thick of performing for a few weeks now.  It proved to be a case of the proverbial "getting back on a bicycle."  Things went fairly smoothly my first performance back.  I attribute this to my never having ceased dancing around in my living room when the urge came on.

My take away from these experiences has been this: we are not what we do at any given time.  I never ceased to be a flamenco even as I removed that distinction from all my social media and professional profiles.  These identifiers serve merely to communicate with whatever audience happens to be in front of us at the time.  As life (and the job market) is uncertain, I cannot be sure how long I will be interacting with this current audience, but I'm enjoying it while it lasts. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Who Are The Real Flamencos?

  It's a strange thing to pursue something that lies outside one's cultural experience.  If I decided to become a mariachi tomorrow, I'd have access to people that do it, that practice it, and that live it.  There's a big scene here in Tucson, and Mexico is about an hour down the highway.  I have grown up in a region of the U.S. that familiarizes me with mariachi culture just by virtue of  my being here.  Even in not knowing a thing about playing the instruments or the being able to recite most of the lyrics of their songs, I am drawn in when I hear a good quality ensemble, and I "get it."  I'm comfortable being in the middle of that culture.
  When I consider the present, I realize just how much of our lives Mele and me have spent seeking out flamenco and pondering the complexity of embodying it as outsiders.  I look around and see people who seem to be pretty convinced they've done just that, and I'm not saying they haven't, but speaking for myself, I'm not sure a journey toward legitimacy, in of itself, is a worthwhile venture, not without the right perspective.
  As we often discover in flamenco, there are dualities, contradictions, and sometimes, paradoxes.  One such paradox, in my view, is this practice of policing flamenco.  At this stage in the game, I'm a bit tired of looking around at the scene in this country and giving my personal opinions to friends and colleagues about who is and isn't flamenco.  In fact, I do my best to keep my mouth shut, if for no other reason than to keep the peace.  It's especially easy to refrain from judging when I consider how much I used to think I knew, only to discover how little I currently know.  So what is one left to as people come and go, doing with the name "flamenco" as they wish?
  This is where I see the paradox.  If I refrain from considering the quality and authenticity of that which comes in the name of flamenco, it seems I become guilty of complacency.  I see ignorance being sowed and reaped, and I see the exploitation of that ignorance.  How can I claim to love the art of flamenco while I do nothing to combat it's misuse?  If I do engage in considering the legitimacy of any given artist or performance however, I run the risk of presumption, convincing myself that I am some sort of authority on the matter. 
  As with most things, maybe we have to honestly reflect on our motivations.  It seems to me that we experience within ourselves a duality of motivations.  On one hand, we have the desire to be flamenco and to experience all the benefits that come with that distinction.  On the other hand, we (presumably) have a genuine affinity and/or love for flamenco.  These two motivations can find themselves at odds because we may not be certain which of these is being best served by our actions.  People will jealously protect their image and place as legitimate artists, whether or not they are truly flamenco.  Some want to be truly flamenco while others want to be seen as being truly flamenco.  It may seem an exaggeration to some, but there have been lawsuits over this kind battling and bickering.  The quarreling can be pathetic and the results can be ugly. 
  I think the best approach is to study and to lead by example.  Let's study to minimize our ignorance.  Let's lead by being good stewards of that knowledge and information and use it with benevolence and wisdom.  We can't stop others from using flamenco for personal gain, but we can shine to such a degree that there is an undeniable difference between the work that is valid and the work that is lacking.  A flamenco dancer from Sevilla, Torombo, has often said, "Flamenco es servir."  Study, work, serve others, be selfless, and you will be a real flamenco.     

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

This is how I can dance

by Mele Martinez

Thinking about, writing about, talking about this body
will numb me. 
I will be partially vacant
and this void will flicker  
tangling intangible me 
with woven corporeal.  

Even before birth
my aging instrument I played,
and somehow it is a stranger to me.  
I don’t know why.
Dancing, I can’t say that I really “feel”
this body.  I am aware of it, certainly
Yet it is non sense
at least, it is not how I feel 
the sun, my child, the waves, desire. 

This vessel is just that 
a home for me. 
Dancing, it breaks
And I burst through the cracks
Dancing, I don't command much. 
I don’t know how this works. 
I know that it happens.

In this way, my body
doesn’t matter too much.  The fact
that it exists is pretty important, but the form
it takes 
less so. 
I am short,
I am round,
I am crooked.
these descriptions fade into
empty. nothing.   

The meat is in the message– not the flesh. 
Not the fat. 
Not the things that might attract or disgust. 
This biology of me
is the runner, the gone-between me and you. 
The words.

And this is how

I can dance.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Be Still and Know..."


Flamenco doesn't stop because we do.  It goes on and grows and is reborn through generations, both old and young.  Though our lives are dotted with events that we consider distractions, or worse yet, tragedies, flamenco is ever-present, waiting like a loyal friend.  It doesn't demand anything other than what we demand of ourselves, and what you offer it, it gives back (and then some).
  A  mistake I've made is to see flamenco like a fruit which will one day over-ripen.  It may seem as though there is an ideal time to harvest it and take it into our being, and if we wait too long, that time will pass us by.  This goal-oriented thinking however, disregards the more important part of flamenco that truly feeds the soul: the process of being.  Who I am today will surely change with each passing moment, and these moments will inform my flamenco experience as much as flamenco, in turn, informs my life.
  Mele and I have had life-changing moments this past year in droves.  Our baby girl, Gloria, was born in March.  Our dear friend and flamenco guitarist, Ricardo Anglada, suffered a stroke at age 29 and despite an initially bleak diagnosis, has come back to do things he was not supposed to be able to do.  I've had to put off developing flamenco skills to work a 40 hour week and finish my undergrad degree online at night.  These events are packed with lessons and experiences to draw from, and the change in us will cause change in our understanding of flamenco whether or not we are able to be in the studio 8 hours a day.
  Our current state has caused growth for Mele and I in many ways.  Mele has taken over teaching for a few sessions now, and she is settled back into something she had been away from for quite awhile.  It has added a depth to her art and renewed her enthusiasm for the creative process which is a driving force in her journey.  I've experienced a surprisingly rewarding mixture of humility and intellectual stimulation which has taken my focus toward developing a deeper love for flamenco.  We've both looked to Ricardo's hardships and have recognized them as flamenco in of themselves, living, breathing and struggling while speaking truth.  We are inspired by his unshakable climb back into the light, all the while experiencing the very discovery of the light and all it reveals through the eyes of our sweet baby girl.
  There are many things which are obvious characteristics of flamenco such as the energy, the sound, and the humanity.  What we're seeing today however, are those things which are much more subtle than all that, so much so that they're easy to miss.  Flamenco is as much in the hospital room as it is on the stage.  Flamenco is as present in the lonely moments of the work day as it is in a juerga with friends and family.  Flamenco doesn't stop because we do, and it doesn't cease to be a part of our lives because it can't, though we may seek to distance ourselves from it.  Flamenco is the story of the gift of life that God has granted us all.  May our ears be opened so that we may listen and comprehend it.  May we be still and
know.  (see Psalm 46:10)      

Monday, February 11, 2013

Those Steps To Come

By Mele Martinez

I’ve seen a phenomenon of fearlessness in many young people, but I’m pretty sure that I never suffered from that condition.  I was born scared.  Ask anyone who knew me as a kid, and they will confirm it.  I was always scared to jump in the pool, scared to go down the slide, scared to ride my bike down the hill.  What I considered being cautious was actually an unwillingness to “go for it.”  In essence, I was a big baby. 

When it came time for me to stop being the baby and actually have a baby of my own, things got chaotic.  As Jason and I found out that we were going to have our first child, Lola, the fear that had always lived in me played itself out like a drum set.  I had horrible nightmares.  I had daily anxiety.  I was terrified of carrying, bearing, and rearing a kid.  I know I’m not alone in experiencing this phenomenon.  Even for the most adventurous woman, becoming a mom is pretty scary stuff.

Likewise, flamenco can be pretty scary for me too.  Though I’ve never been completely disabled by a fear of dance or being on stage (ironically enough), I face the challenge the art form presents to each and every artist. Sometimes, choosing to do flamenco can feel like you’ve dropped yourself into foreign waters without a life preserver.  And though teaming with the most amazing and beautiful creatures, forces, and experiences, those waters can look pretty dark from shore.

As most of you probably know, Jason and I have drifted from yet another shore.  We are about to have our second child.  The fact that this one comes nearly nine years after our first should be testament alone to the kind of fears I’ve had about being a mom.  But the way in which we came to have this child is not the same nightmare-riddled encounter that we had the first time.  Things are different this time, and I want to tell you why.

I have something now that I didn’t have much of just years ago.  I have something now that makes everything unlike before.  Somehow and somewhere through this past decade I have acquired a glorious thing – faith.  Even though I knew Jason and I weren’t in a financial situation to have another baby, even though I knew I was getting older and there could be complications, and even though I knew it would probably turn our day to day lives upside down, I knew we could have another baby.  I had faith that God would see us through it – from beginning to end.  Jason and I made the decision to go out on this shaky limb – not because we were looking to fall, but because out on a limb is where the fruit is.  Someone was talking to my heart, and wouldn’t let up.  I listened this time, and instead of walking away with my tail between my legs, I accepted the proposal.  In just a few weeks, we get to see that proposal in the flesh – in the form of a baby girl.

As joyous as this whole thing is, I don’t want to begin to sugar coat it.  Though I’m very happy to be expanding our family, I’m not exactly walking on pillowy clouds all day.  In fact, walking has literally become one of my biggest challenges.  Now that I am pregnant, it seems like every single step counts for so much more than it used to.  Each step is either a testament to my strength or an example of my imbalance.  These days, I think twice about every step I take; I pay so much more attention to it than I ever have.  If I could be dancing right now, I know that each of those steps would take such careful consideration, I might not be able to do more than the simplest of movements.  But isn’t that the labor of flamenco for everyone? 

When we step out onto the stage or into the studio, we have already made the decision to go out on that limb.  It took courage just to take that first step.  Then, when we begin to move or play or sing, we have to make split second decisions about how much we will keep under our control, and how much we will risk.  The balance, when found, is such a sweet and savory thing to behold.  I’ve seen dancers do it.  I’ve seen singers and musicians do it.  It is such a miracle in the making that I often weep with adoration for the artist who can take care of each step and still manage to take risks.  It proves their faith, and faith is a wondrous thing to watch in action.

In about a year, when this new daughter of ours starts to take her own, I hope to teach her to carefully choose her steps and to exercise the wisdom of a seasoned chess player with each move she makes.  But I also hope to teach her that sometimes she will need to do more than take steps on solid ground; she will need to realize that fear can literally cripple her, but that afflictions can be relinquished by leaping out boldly in faith.  Her reward, I know, will be sweet. I relish in the promise of those baby steps to come, and the proof that faith is for everyone.