Friday, January 27, 2012

To The Flamencos Out There

I love flamenco. No seriously, I love it. I wish there were more specific words to describe my "love" for it. I don't want to mislead anyone by giving the impression that I put it on par with my family or my God; by no means do I mean to suggest that it even compares. I wouldn't even say that flamenco is my friend. I just mean to say that it has become the way in which I communicate with the world.

As a teacher of flamenco baile, it fascinates me to ponder what others see and hear when taking class or watching a show. What does flamenco mean to them? Is it a temporary love affair or are they hooked? Some people wear their reasons on their sleeve while others keep it guarded under a thinly veiled surface. I see lost people alongside extroverts. I see myself in all of them.

It's for this reason I believe it's important to quietly observe. We can learn a lot about ourselves by watching others. It's not an easy thing to do when we're so engaged in the moment, yielding to the senses in order to learn from or to savor the experience at hand. It's easy to forget that there are others next to you when we've been lulled into a sense of intimacy that flamenco can create. I recommend peeling the eyes away for brief moments, just to see the expressions on the faces next to you. One may be surprised by what they see.

I've seen flamencos doing this before; at times observing and at others outright staring, not at the performance, but at other observers. They rest their heads back a bit, squinting the eyes or raising an eyebrow with a not-so-subtle hint of skepticism, as if to say, "Do they really get it?" It gives one the feeling of being sized-up, and for good reason. This is not necessarily the type of observation I'm speaking of, though it has its place too.

An opposite approach exists, and can also be useful; we can gain a lot from observing flamencos in the crowd. If there are high-level artists in the audience for example, I can't help but pay attention to how they react to what's on stage. It's as though I'm in class, learning from my teacher. It can be inspiring to see someone you revere become inspired themselves. It can be equally dangerous however, because we can fall into the trap of not judging for ourselves what we like and dislike.

I'm not so bothered by judging, by the way. We all do it. There's no escaping it. We can control how we choose to treat other people, but we all have emotional attachments to flamenco. We experience love, jealousy, envy, sorrow, joy....the entire gamut of the spectrum, and these feelings do a lot to shape our perspectives about both the art and the artist. After all, aren't we tricked into thinking we know more than we actually do about the person by what we see of them on the stage or in the classroom? At any rate, as is true with many things, our views change as we mature, both as people and as artists. This maturity is what eventually enables us to know honestly what we enjoy (or not) in flamenco.

It may seem like I've made things more complicated than they need to be, and maybe I have. There are those out there who can just walk into the studio or the theater and be in the moment, without giving much attention to anything outside the simplicity of the event; I, myself, can be that person. It just seems to me that if someone loves what they do, they pay homage to their art by giving it thoughtful consideration. This has been my homage to art and the artist.

by Jason Martinez

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

According to this promise...

Since we moved from Albuquerque to Tucson, Jason and I have had a particular conversation that pops up every six months or so, like a recurring dream... one with some of the same characters, sometimes the same setting, always recognizable. Inevitably we sit down and talk, and talk, and talk. Inevitably, we end the conversation knowing that the end of it is never really over. We wonder when it might come up again next; will it be three months this time? Or will it be just three weeks? Sometimes we get angry. Sometimes we even sob quietly to ourselves. Sometimes it seems like the topic is too unimportant "in the big scheme of things" for us to be discussing again. Mostly, I think, we get tired of the repetition. We get tired of reaffirming what we thought we had already confirmed before. Yet, the question always rolls itself back over to us... should we quit flamenco?

When I say "quit," I don't mean QUIT. I don't mean that we mull over whether or not we should say goodbye to flamenco forever, though often it feels like that. What I mean is that we wonder if we should continue to try (and try again) to make flamenco our career. If we were making a living - even a modest living - on flamenco, then I guess it wouldn't be in question, but that has never been the case. And I'm guessing that that has never been the case for a whole lot of flamencos, flamenco families, and artists in general.

I usually wonder if we have set out aims too high. After all, most of our parents were not working successfully at something they were passionate about. They simply graduated from high school, got a job, then didn't quit that job until they got a better job, and so forth. Passion had little to do with it. But that same generation told us we could believe in dreaming. I don't remember much from school, but I know the idea of turning what you love into a career was definitely in there somewhere. That wasn't just a fluke idea I made up on my own. "Whatever you put your mind to," they quipped. All the way back to kindergarten we were practically singing the mantra of the American Dream. So, when it doesn't happen right away - which we were also warned about - we are told to hang in there and stick to our guns. But sadly, Jason and I often feel like we've run out of ammunition. We try this, and we try that. We roam around in the artists' world looking for our niche, hoping that we can somehow use what we love to do to pay the bills. In the process, we attempt to not "sell out." We attempt to keep whatever integrity we can. But integrity and money don't always make a good pair.

So then comes the doubt - either for one or both of us. Suspicion slowly creeps in. We ask ourselves again, do we need to wake up from the impractical dreams we've manufactured for ourselves? Then comes another round of talking. And year after year we realize that we haven't "woken up" from much. At the cost of financial instability for ourselves and for our family, we find ourselves swimming in dreamland, and it is only in those moments of near paralyzed consciousness that we wonder if we should go ahead and take that alluring (and probably irreversible) red pill.

As frustrating as this process can be, I have solace in something that not everyone has - I am not alone in it. Jason and I have to go through this grind, but at least we get to go through it together. That is what makes us a family. That is what marriage is. It complicates things, yes. It doesn't always make it easier, no. But when it comes to flamenco, his strengths can cover my weaknesses, and vice versa. And that can be a powerful thing.

I can't say that I was smart enough at the beginning of our relationship to know this would be the case for us, and that we would have the same "stupid" conversation so many times over. But after nearly ten years of marriage, you could say that I'm acquainted with the concept now. Years ago, I half believed that when you made a big commitment in your life, you were forever bound to that decision simply because you made it in the first place. Almost like magic. Even at our wedding, I half believed that saying "I do" meant "I will." But just like committing to a marriage, committing to a dream doesn't really work like that. You don't say "I do" just once - not in a successful commitment, anyway. You end up having to say it over and over. You constantly decide to be committed. You say "I do" every single day, and on some days, every single hour. Repetition, I'm learning, can be a wonderful thing. Recommitting to dreams can be like falling in love again and again.

On the other hand, love and passion aren't exactly the same. Of those of you who know me, probably none of you have ever heard me say, "I love flamenco," and to be honest, I don't. (What a shock, right?) But I'm sure you've heard me say it about Jason. I'm glad I can reserve that word for people in my life. No matter how passionate we are about our dreams, they will never totally fulfill us. And I can almost guarantee that they didn't teach your THAT in school.

Luckily for me, if Jason and I someday divorce ourselves from flamenco dreams, we get to stay together. Actually, its not luck at all; its a gracious blessing.

Friday, January 6, 2012

"Out of The Mouths of Babes...."

For those who don't know me, my name is Jason. My wife, Mele, and I are both professional flamenco dancers. We met when she uprooted her life in Tucson, AZ to come to Burque (Albuq., NM) to become a member of a flamenco dance company there in its infant stages. We fell in love (ahh yeah), got married (ahhh yeah), and had a wonderful baby girl named Lola (ahhhh yeah!). We have since taken this ancient wisdom that is flamenco back to Tucson where we now teach and perform; in fact, it's part livelihood, part labor of love for us.

We find ourselves in an interesting position. You see, for years we've exposed Lola to flamenco. She was in the studio everyday for the first 2 years of her life. She's joined us on stage....sometimes willingly, most times begrudgingly. We have always thought it best to keep her exposed to it and to leave the door open should she decide this is something she would like to do. We know the benefits to the soul and the financial struggles as well, so we wrestle with the prospect that she might one day consider this way of life when pondering career possibilities. Ironically, Lola has, in her innocence, given us the perspective we were hoping to give her.

We're about a week away from beginning kids' flamenco classes in our studio, which Lola eagerly awaits, but not for the reasons we had originally hoped. She has a friend from school who will be joining her, and she has always loved playing with other children. It's clear that Lola is much more interested in socializing than structured dancing. At first, we wished her motivation for participation would be her love for flamenco as music and as art. Mele and I shared an epiphany however, and realized it was we who needed to learn from her.

We've always preached that flamenco begins in the home and in the community. We've always been aware that we, as Americans (USA) come at flamenco backwards, that is to say, we take the discipline of our choice (mostly guitar and dance) and approach flamenco from a soloist's point of view. We realize that flamenco, in its purest form, is people communicating things to each other that they can't fully express through simple conversation, and with no concern about who might be watching.

In reminding us of these things, Lola has proven to be more flamenco than either of us. We can easily get caught up in art and forget the life and community the art is supposed to be reflecting! Flamenco is best done in innocence and with honesty, just as child does it. Ole tu Lola.