A lifetime ago I lived in Madrid. I wore polka-dotted short skirts, tiny heels, and drank like a Spaniard in the city's many bars and nightclubs. I learned to speak Spanish, a fondo, with a petite bearded Radio Nacional disc jockey named Javier. Boy, did we have fun. I still grin remembering it all, decades later.
This was about 5 years after dictator Franco's death, near the beginning of La Movida, a riotous time of social, sexual and pharmacological experimentation by Madrid's youth, artists and intellectuals. Naturally I considered myself all three, except my art form was more of the, um, intimate kind.
Feria in Sevilla captured my heart, but even more, the impromptu Flamenco dancing I saw among men and women in their street clothes at the smaller village fairs. Those proud hips, arms and shoulders, that unspoken and delicious conversation! Not to mention the mesmerizing music and song, which in part derives from Arabic culture, an intrinsic part of Spain for 700 years (711 - 1492, yes, some things I remember from college.)
Somehow, I now find myself, via the wonder of email to my humble cottage on the mountain, (and courtesy of Santa Cruz dance teacher and choreographer Janelle Rodriguez) at a beginning Flamenco class at Pleasure Point Fitness Studio in Soquel, California.
Fourth generation Brisas de España Flamenco dancer and master teacher Carolina Lugo and her extraordinary daughter Carolé Acuña greet us on Sunday afternoon, two dynamic beauties patiently teaching a room full of mostly belly dance students. We begin with floreos, those perfectly formed twirling hands, almost like mudras, our wrists spinning around as we raise and lower our arms (elbows up!) in different combinations.
We translated middle-eastern dance moves into their Flamenco variations, worked on some complex footwork and challenging spins, moving into intense combinations. Soon, those of us who dream of undulating in the desert to a swirling violin see ourselves instead in a candle-lit tavern in Andalucia, snapping our skirts to a dramatic guitar.
Flamenco feels staccato, strong, a study in contrasts, the powerful arms, the delicate handwork, the concentration in the footwork, the serious faces, all of the energy pulled in tight, close to the body, inward.
"Your back ribs meet your front ribs," says Carolina, "shoulder blades down and moving towards each other. And what does this do?" she continues, with a broad smile and thumbs up gesture, "Yes, the twins (our breasts) Arriba! (Up!) and proud." This is the only dance form where women, she adds, have balls. And with all that stomping, they hurt!
Attending a new dance class always takes me back to the first grade. Some amateur dancers are shy, hiding in the back of the class, working out the moves, eternally grateful for the teacher's guidance. Others with more experience help lead the class by example. We ask questions, smile sideways at each other, gasp with exasperation. There is courage here, and a deep desire for real beauty.
The community of dance never fails to make me happy. Carolina introduced students to perform the famous Sevillanas folk dances at the end of class, with a beautiful singer as well. Suddenly I was in the countryside outside Huelva, (where some of my Spanish friends lived and where Columbus, having recruited local sailors, departed from) watching teenagers in jeans dance perfect Flamenco. I can still see them, downing shots of local sherry and laughing in the sunshine.