Monday, July 30, 2012

"Count the Cost"

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Callejón Flamenco

by Mele Martinez

The last few months have been a flurry of flamenco madness – workshops, travel, shows, performances, artists, photo shoots, parties, patadas, flamenco, flamenco, flamenco!  It has been so many blessings in such a short amount of time, I can barely wrap my mind around all that I’ve seen and felt for weeks now.  It’s a problem I like to have! The best part is that it is not over – we have some wonderful things to look forward to just on the horizon.  Though not long ago it seemed we might actually have to rethink our dreams of a flamenco studio in Tucson, God has instead taken us in a new (and better) direction.  While we make plans, He gets the last word – just as it should be.

The biggest flamenco project that Jason and I have worked towards in the last couple of months was the renovation of our studio.  Actually, we can finally now call it a studio!  Before, in all honesty, it was just an old garage/storage space with little hope of inspiring the creative expression flamenco demands.  We studied there, we taught there, and we grew as artists in that old space, true.  But it needed serious work.  I’m convinced our practice was hindered by the horribly uneven floor, cluttered pilings of our studio belongs, cracked mirrors, mix-matched awkward furniture, unruly electrical lines . . . well, you get the picture.   But things have changed.  And change can be very good.

We cleaned the slate of that old garage, and with the help of some great people, we were able to transform it to a simple and lovely place to study what we do - flamenco.  The ironic thing is that this pleasing new studio looks so much different now on the inside even though it is exactly the same on the outside.  Right outside the door, absolutely nothing about the place has ever been impressive, and it still isn’t.  Our door opens to an alley that is unkept, and many of the buildings lining it (along with dumpsters) are covered with graffiti and littered with broken glass.  Paper trash and alley cats meander down the path.  The cratered road of the alley is not inviting, and many times, neither are the individuals who walk that road late at night, early in the morning, and even in the heat of the mid-day.  Any business-minded person would tell us that our location is not ideal for attracting anyone – especially women.  And yet, it is the location that we have been given.   It was definitely not the kind of location we had in mind when we planned for a studio, but it has been God’s answer.  And knowing that, I also know that we are exactly where we are supposed to be.

I haven’t always felt that way.  I’ve gotten very frustrated in the last few years with the state of our alley.  I’ve called 911 more times than I care to admit.  I can’t stand the look, the sound, or the smell of that alley.  And no matter how hard I’ve tried to figure out how to make it different – how to “beautify it” - I’ve had to take a deep breath and realize… there are some things you just can’t change. 

I can’t change my face, I can’t change my color, and I can’t change most of what people see when they look at me.  But I can be renewed inside.  I can clean the slate, I can get rid of the clutter, sweep out the dust, and make a new, simple, and satisfied person on the inside.  I can do that.  Sometimes we don’t get what we ask for; sometimes we just get what we get, and what we get can be the beginnings of something wonderful, something true, and something special just to us.

Maybe God wants us doing flamenco in a dark alley.  Maybe we are supposed to be bringing that light, that rhythm, that smell of sweat and fresh paint and newly stretched guitar strings to a place where no one would have ever thought to put them.  Maybe this is what flamenco is all about - abrasive outside, spirit inside.