It feels as if it were a lifetime ago when I was last in Madrid — I was traveling through Spain with two little boys and a husband in tow. Now my boys are both in college, and David was thousands of miles away at our home in Los Angeles.
For all purposes, we can say that a lifetime for me is considered to be more or less 13 years. I know it sounds cliché, but I can’t believe how fast those years went by.
I remember the boys running into the adjoining suite at the Palace Hotel in Madrid. Of course they proceeded to use the bed as their trampoline. Exhausted from the long flight, and wanting to nap, David and I bribed them to stay quiet. “Guess what boys, this hotel plays the Disney Channel,” we announced. I turned on the TV and went to take a nap. It didn’t take more than 10 minutes before the boys burst into our room screaming and squealing, “There are naked people on T.V.!”
What we soon realized, to our horror, was that the hotel had failed to block the adult channels on our kids’ television. The theme of naked people continued into our visit at the Prado Museum that afternoon. The boys cackled and hooted at all the old master paintings asking, “Why does this country have so many pictures of naked people?”
Now, I am here, in the very same hotel. It’s quiet. It’s just me, my syllabus of classes at the local academy, and my flamenco shoes.
I was only a kid myself when I first harbored dreams of doing something like this. Don’t ask me why a little girl in Iran developed such a peculiar fascination for flamenco dance, but I did.
Oh, how I used to gaze at that flamenco doll in our living room vitrine, inspecting the ruffle of the polka-dotted outfit, the arch of the dancer’s back, and her erect posture.
This intense fascination did not abate with age. I decided to take flamenco lessons in Los Angeles.
Now, after 6 years of classes, I was sitting in my hotel room, pouring over the city map and figuring out the general location of the Amor de Dios Dance Academy.
I was too jet-lagged and timid to take the classes the Saturday that I arrived. I worried: Will I be able to understand all the technical instructions of the teachers? Will I be tagged as the underachiever in class? For someone who was a straight A student all throughout my schooling, I am now coming to terms with the disappointing fact that at best I will be a B student in my dance classes. (The compensation is that I am an A+ in respect to enthusiasm.)
Nevertheless, I made my pilgrimage to Calle Santa Isabelle, where the academy is located. While walking down the street, I could hear the rapid-fire foot stomping from half a block away! There were 14 studios in the academy, each with different classes—one dedicated for advanced students, one for choreography, one for castanets, one for arms and posture only. I peaked through the classes and I had this sensation that I had turned into a wide-eyed, five-year-old little girl bursting with excitement.
The very next day, I went back and took a class with a male teacher with disheveled curly hair and bright-red shoes. His name was Antonio. I must confess, Antonio looked more like a gaucho with his Levis jeans and polo shirt. But, looks are deceiving for he was more like a sage philosopher of flamenco dance.
When we could not imitate the accent on his complicated footwork, he would look into our eyes and bark, “You need to dance flamenco with your heart. You need to listen to the rhythm of the music with your heart. Then you have to take the rhythm outside and bring it into your body!”
We would do another round of footwork and Antonio would gesture wildly with his arms. He would grimace and act as if he were pulling this invisible force into his torso, “Pull the rhythm inside of you. Pull it! Find your center. Don’t lose your balance. Where are you putting the weight of your body?” he shouted.
While I was doing the footwork, he came over and propped my hands above my head and commanded, “Activate your arms and stomach. You will then find your center.”
This was obviously flamenco boot camp and I didn’t know it.
To my relief he dashed over to another unsuspecting woman on the other side of the studio. Obviously, she had been a long-time student.
“Ana, you can’t keep thinking to yourself, ‘I can’t do it. I can’t do it.’ With this attitude you won’t be able to get anywhere. Say I can, and you will,” he ordered. Then he propped her arms up and demanded that she do the footwork again.
“I can’t do it,” She murmured, teary-eyed.
“I said you can do it. Listen to the rhythm. You can do it,” he responded still holding up her arms.
“I can’t I said!”
That was it! She freed her arms from his hold and stormed out of the class, crying.
That was my induction into the footwork class at Amor de Dios (translation: the Love of God).
For the love of God, I couldn’t believe what just happened. I swear, I could see Antonio’s veins popping out of his neck.
It was only a few minutes later that an older, more maternal woman interrupted Antonio. “I would like to go out and check on Ana please,” she said.
Antonio shrugged and looked at her with an air of disdain.
Ten minutes later, the older woman opened the door and explained to Antonio, “You know she is under a lot of pressure. Its not you or the class, but she hasn’t spoken to her father for 2 months. She’s been fighting with him.”
Once again, Antonio started gesticulating wildly. His arms going up then down, and then landed his waist to show his exasperation. “I am a teacher, not a psychologist! How am I supposed to know what is happening with her. I am trying to teach her footwork. That is all.”
Throughout this drama, I was just very proud of myself. It was wonderful to know that I could follow their conversation in Spanish. Now learning the footwork was secondary.
It wasn’t long before that class ended, and as we were leaving, Ana popped back in.
She tip-toed over to Antonio, put one arm on his shoulders, drew him close, and kissed him on his cheek.
His face softened, a smile came over his face. He turned to look directly into her eyes. “I am just trying to teach. Don’t say I can’t. You can….okay?”
Ana nodded and smiled.
I walked out of class, click-clacking through the halls with the other boot camp accomplices. The five year-old in me was delirious with joy.
That joy in living is ever present in the people of Madrid. They not only dance passionately, but they infuse passion into their food, conversations, and relationships with others.
What came about with that day in my first session of Flamenco, was how important it is to keep learning, and to stay connected to that fire that burns inside of yourself. Antonio had wise words that afternoon that can be applied to life: “we need to listen to the rhythm of the life that is calling us with our heart, and follow the footwork.”