In Defense of Making a Fool of Yourself, Or Why I Dance Flamenco
As I walked into my first flamenco class, one thing was certain: I had no idea what I was doing.
I love to dance, but I can count the number of true dance classes I've taken on one hand. I participated in my university's Dance Production, which was an annual dance show run and choreographed entirely by students, but then again, so did about half the school. My late grandmother forced me into Cotillion when I was eleven years old, where I learned to ballroom dance. I had to wear silk gloves and my partners also dropped me several times because I'd hit my growth spurt first and was a foot taller than many of them, so I don't really count those lessons. I've always wanted to be a good dancer, but the reality is that I have much more enthusiasm than talent. My ganas (enthusiasm) may count for something when I'm bopping around a club or a rock show, but it didn't help me at all when I tried to learn even the most basic steps of a sevillana.
The flamenco class was in a local gym in Córdoba, where I'd gone earlier in the week with a friend who's already a member. We went to a weight-lifting class, which is much more my speed, and then relaxed in the jacuzzi after. The spa, yoga teachers, and relatively low monthly fee had already tempted me to sign up, but it was when I saw a poster for flamenco classes that I knew I was a goner. One of my resolutions for 2018 was to take a dance class, any dance class, and what better dance to learn in Spain than flamenco? I said to my new friends, "When in Rome, right?" and they taught me the Spanish equivalent of the saying: "Donde fueras, haz lo que vieras." Wherever you are, do what you see.
So I signed up for the gym, and I walked into my first real flamenco class.
The teacher, a perky brunette with hips that seemed to swivel of their own accord, blasted music from the stereo and clapped at us until we all got into (what was apparently) the introductory position. I stared at myself in the mirror on the other side of the studio. I really wished there wasn't a mirror. I already avoid full-length mirrors for a variety of reasons, but the last thing I wanted to see was how bad I was going to be at dancing flamenco.
Within a few minutes, it was clear that the class consisted of dancers of all levels, and I was very obviously among the worst. Possibly the very worst. Much as I love dancing, attempting to learn choreography makes me feel like a baby giraffe, all gangly and uncoordinated limbs. And it may be cute for baby giraffes to stumble around, but it's significantly less so when I do it.
We continued learning new steps of the sevillana, a traditional type of flamenco dance, and I barely kept up. Then we'd do them double-time, and then the teacher would add the music, and then she'd add the arm movements. I kept my arms folded firmly behind my back. I was having a hard enough time with my feet as she added step after step - how many are there?? - and had to concentrate just to avoid bumping into my partner.
All in all, I was objectively terrible at dancing flamenco. I twisted my wrists above my head and looked about as graceful as I felt, which was not at all. But as I watched the teacher in the mirror, my eyes drifted over to my own face, and I was grinning. I was making a total fool of myself, and it was so much fun.
It is much more comfortable for us to stick to what we're good at doing in life. Humans are hardwired to seek comfort, and we like to find our own grooves. It feels good. There's nothing wrong with that; I write because I enjoy it and I'm good at it, and doing something well gives me an immense sense of satisfaction. Of course it makes sense to play to our strengths. As one of my best friends recently reminded me, however, it is when we are far outside our comfort zone that we grow the most.
Travel helps us grow for exactly this reason; in a new place and new culture, we're forced well outside of our comfort zone in even the smallest daily tasks. There is something so utterly liberating about stumbling through every day. Yeah, I can't find coffee at the supermarket, but I just arrived here. Sure, I'm terrible at flamenco, but I didn't grow up hearing sevillanas in my local taverns. Hell, we don't even have taverns where I come from.
Accepting that I will inevitably make a fool of myself simply because I'm a foreigner is freeing, especially for a recovering perfectionist. This truth is not an excuse to be incompetent or culturally insensitive, but rather an invitation to abandon our egoistic pretenses. I think of myself as someone who is good at doing things, and the reality is that here in Spain, I'm not. I make mistakes and get lost and say things wrong and buy dish soap instead of laundry detergent, and I dance flamenco terribly. It is not in spite of, but rather because of these experiences that I'm having such a great time. I'm able to shed my old skin and approach everything as though it's brand new, and I have no idea what I'm doing in any of it. And you know what?
It feels fucking magical.