by Jason Martinez
What makes a successful flamenco studio? What makes a successful flamenco artist? No, seriously, I'm asking. To be both is one of our greatest challenges. I have answers in my head that sound right, but I wonder sometimes if they are my answers or someone else's. One thing I feel fairly certain of is that there is an even bigger question to be pondered; one that encapsulates both questions: What does it mean to live a life of integrity?
What characteristics are necessary to describe the person of integrity? If we can just get to the heart of that question, it seems we may find some clarity. Until then, we have to consider the banter going on around us. Some would have us believe that the ability to be a businessman and a flamenco artist simultaneously is an illusion. One can label oneself as he or she pleases, but ultimately we gravitate toward that which our inner-most desire dictates, though this is likely a subtle, even unconscious shift. We choose money or credibility. We choose popularity or respect. One could argue there are but a handful of people who ever achieve all of these. We are led to believe that sooner a later, a line must be drawn, and we will have to make a choice.
It seems a compelling argument. Sometimes it's as though we're explorers seeking to prove or disprove the existence of this elusive flamenco ideal that we've heard so many stories about. We've met folks that could be said to be successful both financially and artistically, but because we don't interact with them regularly, I don't trust we know the full story, behind the scenes. Is the person satisfied on both fronts, or do they still feel an internal tug of war going on? I feel that at this point, Mele and I understand enough about flamenco and the American mind to run a successful studio. We know enough about the art of flamenco to be successful as artists. We are on the same page regarding our goals. We have sampled enough of what life has to offer to know what we want and what we don't want. This helps, but until we've explored both the charted and uncharted territories, we'll never know if this fusion of freedom and security is a reality or a myth.
We are in the midst of a great experiment, which entails great risk, all to find out if this dream could be a reality. We've knocked around ideas and have done our best to be open-minded about the possibilities. We've taken advantage of free business consultations, and indulged the advisers words to us even if they could find no root in our hearts. It has seemed the only rational choice is to refer back to our mission statement to stay grounded. Anything that violates it cannot be considered. It states: "Our mission is to offer students the most authentic flamenco experience possible in the studio, on the stage, and through the culture of flamenco." For anyone who doesn't already know this, it's quite a task to stay true to one's values when you're also concerned with putting food on the table. This can be especially true when considering our culture: the Great Melting Pot. Who of us can say we've experienced genuine culture here without some catering to the masses taking place? It's as though homogenization pervades everything sooner or later. Do we have to trick students into appreciating and listening to cante?
At the end of the day, it seems living the life of integrity has to be the reward in and of itself. I don't buy the idea that this necessitates a life of struggle, but I do believe most people committed to this will struggle often. But don't we all struggle consistently with something? Perhaps we choose the struggle we dislike the least, and take comfort in the fact that we've counted the costs and made a decision. It could be that our freedom to choose is a luxury we can't underestimate. We don't know if all our business efforts will yield the type of financial success we would need to make our studio a worthwhile venture, but if we consider our studio a worthwhile venture for reasons beyond that which is seen, we're guaranteed success no matter which way the wind blows. No matter what happens, we can be thankful that we are able to do what we love. It's easy to say we should be thankful, but if we understand thankfulness as an action rather than a feeling, much like love, we are rewarded the very moment we act. In this moment, we are granted a perspective which opens our eyes to see things as they are, but it only happens when we trust not in ourselves, but in Him.
"For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it-- lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish." Luke 14:28-30