4. In our reserved Canadian culture, it seems to be less socially acceptable to express our passion openly. Do you think flamenco gives people permission to express passion in a way that we normally wouldn’t feel comfortable?
It’s more than that. Art in general gives our wildness a place. When used to work in the health care system, I deliberately wore glasses because when I was having professional conversations, I noticed that I seemed to be given more credibility. One day, my boss asked me if I would please tie my hair back, ‘so that it doesn’t look so… wild.’
Some people struggle to let go of their normal life. As a teacher, I have to determine whether a person truly wants to even do that. You’ve got to feel that sensuality, even sexuality, as a basic life force because without that energy, we don’t play with the edge. Without that edge you don’t play with the vulnerability, without the vulnerability, you have no humanity and without that, it becomes very academic.
As a dance teacher I see that even moving the hips and opening the ribcage is very loaded for many women and likely has been for them since puberty. When people come into my class, I don’t assume that they’re necessarily looking just for flamenco, so I’m careful about how I conduct my classes. I know that people are coming in after a full day of work, which may or may not have gone well. So maybe I’m not going to take them to that edge today.
I had one person who was performing and creating work who came in for a private lesson asking, ‘How are you able to improvise and still carry on?’ I asked her, ‘how willing are you to wear your heart on your sleeve publicly? You’re asking me to help you break through the emotional part of your work, but the first question is, how willing are you to expose your vulnerability? Because demonstrating your vulnerability doesn’t mean necessarily exposing your weakness, but quite the opposite. You can only expose your vulnerability when you have the strength to endure it. And when you don’t have that, you need to contain it.’
I ask for permission, which is really getting that person to realize that there is an opportunity to open that space up, but they have to make the decision to go there willingly.
5. There is an obvious difference between professionals & students in terms of knowledge, understanding and technique. Do you think flamenco’s passion is equally accessible to students as it is to seasoned performers? How do you balance technical study with emotional expression as an instructor?
I don’t think there’s any difference in passion in a pro or student because passion doesn’t have anything to do with skill. Passion has to do with being human, whether you expose that or not.
If you are aware that skill & passion are separate, then it’s an understanding of how to utilize those two things. Technical study is regimented, structured and cognitive. It requires attention and concentration. The technique is a tool, like a paintbrush. But the expression is like the stroke hitting the canvas.
You rehearse the crap out of something and you know you have to build it into your neuromuscular system. Then there is risk, which takes you to expression, throwing caution to the wind. You’ve studied it enough and you just have to hope that your body has learned it, because taking something to the edge is risky. There has to be a moment when you just let it rip. Physical limitations can be overcome with passion. In our performance [in April], I found the floor to be slippery, especially in the pink shoes I wore in my first number. The reasonable part of me said, ‘if you push this to the edge, there’s a possibility you’re going to end up on the floor, because there’s a part of this you don’t have control over. So my head was holding me back. And then there came a moment when I turned to you guys, who are my source of inspiration and said, Carmen, it’s ok.’ And then I let it rip. But my quads were tight from my nervousness, so a couple of times I went into footwork runs and had to abort because I didn’t have the muscular energy and power to go through it. So the balance is to train, teach the body, teach the brain. Passion is the part that says, ‘Go!’ And then you’re at the point of no return, which is where the expression comes in. It’s exciting to be there but you have to bring it back down to earth, to balance those things.
6. After dancing for so many years, what incites your passion for the art form? Do you find that passion needs to be cultivated deliberately, and if so, what are some of the things you do to stoke your enthusiasm for it?
Flamenco is not something I do, it’s a part of who I am. So my passion in flamenco really comes from my day-to-day life. Sometimes we have to transcend our situation in order to ‘bring it’ – that becomes more of a mindset. Something has just happened, but you have to go to work, or teach a class. You have to bring yourself to a point where you can express, where you can emote. Even when you’re teaching, you’re not cold, you have to connect. Teaching is about transferring information and sentiment; if you can’t connect, you shouldn’t teach, or perform. That passion is always there. What’s not always there is the ability to shut the other stuff off. It’s about being in the moment. At this moment, the earth is not gobbling me up, everybody’s alive and well, and that problem is not going anywhere.
The moment before we all went on stage when we all held hands – I always do that. That’s the moment we all transcend, when we go from ‘prep’ to ‘entering the space.’ It’s also important to exit the space when it’s done. The passion you have, and what you do when you perform needs to be protected and given its place, but you can’t take it with you after the performance and carry it around with you. You can’t be in duende all the time!
To answer the question, we need to nurture, protect, feed and inform our passion. There are things I’ve experienced in life unwillingly that have been very difficult, and that’s part of my public struggle when I dance, to make that palatable to people. There are other things I’ve subjected myself to willingly just because, I wonder. And I either come out unscathed, or not. I’m aware that I’m intentionally doing something because, in the concept of contemporary dance world, I’m researching. I’m informing my passion and my being, you know, and I feel so privileged to bring that to the stage. Having said that, I don’t show all my cards. That’s part of the intrigue, and that protects me.