“So, you ride too?”
This just after I’ve told the story of the last time I fell off a horse to a bunch of professional riders. My rambunctious pony had decided that it was a good day to gallop out of formation and shake me off while he was at it. My stirrup got detached from the saddle, my hand got caught in the reins and I ended up with my arm in a cast and a nice black eye from one of his back hooves. Luckily for me, ponies don’t wear shoes. And I got a month of not having to write any notes or homework in school. Score.
“Um, no, I was ten when this happened.”
“Hey Chris, do you still sing?”
“Um, not really, I stopped taking lessons like thirteen years ago.”
Not that ships and sailors aren’t sexy, but I had to wonder: I used to be this creative, passionate amateur, dabbling in all sorts of things. When exactly did I turn into a Fachidiot of academia and translation? And how beautiful that people still associated me with athletic and creative endeavors, even though I abandoned them decades ago.
And then it arrived. My new joy.
Me: “Honey, I think I am going to take up F L A M E N C O.”
Murdoc: “Come again?” [he actually said something else but I’m censoring it]
Me: “Yeah, I’m an angry little woman stamping my feet all the time as it is. Don’t you think it would be perfect for my character?”
Murdoc: “Well if you’ve put it that way, yes.”
So, yes. I have been dancing.
Twice a week I pack a duffel bag with shoes, skirt, water bottle, leg warmers and other dancer paraphernalia. We practise braceos, marcajes, taconeos. We do ballet. We do the tangos choreography for fun and the fandangos for keeps – we are performing it in February [hyperventilation, thy name is moi]. We laugh our asses off and get yelled at. We do balance exercises in animal slippers. Forget the cheap loud celebrations of soccer chants and French matadors: the olé is something you slip in huskily between steps, a bridge between pleasures, an indication that the fun has only just begun. Planta, tacón, gólpes. Planta, tacón, gólpes. Faster. Keep the beat.
I thought you had to be three years old and bendy to do turnouts and grand pliés. You don’t. I thought my bad posture and nonexisting abs would get in the way. They did. I am inherently musical but have never trained professionally. The newly self-aware middle-aged skinsuit has its limits, its knots, traumas and inhibitions. But the body is such a grateful little instrument. And there is that moment when, with the help of a broomstick, you learn how to bend from the rib and not the waist. When that attitude comes out just right, knees open, feet brushing through the first position, coupled with perfect floreos and a flick of the chin. When compáses stop being something you count, but just dance instead. When you feel your body firming up from the inside, wrapping tighter around itself. The gym makes you bulgy. Dancing makes you spindly. Look Ma, I’m an athlete now. I give the world attitude with a sweep of my skirt. Bam.
It is pure yang. Not everyone would agree. There are many different styles and incredible dancers out there, some very feminine, and I’ll be damned if Eduardo Guerrero isn’t one androgynous little Gitano. But it is pure yang. You have to be soft and explosive at any single time, firm and limber in the same motion, tempered yet ready to pounce. If you appear light or gentle, it is because the yang has allowed it. It is a masculine kind of elegance.
Our bailaor has this down to a T. It is enchanting to watch him move. He does with the body what I do with language. He can do the same braceo in three different ways, and you will be able to tell which one is tangos, which fandangos, and which soleá. He can repeat your mistakes effortlessly, with just a sprinkle of caricature on top, so that you can see what you’re doing wrong. Dancing is always a little schizophrenic, he says. You’re always imagining resistance where there is none.
A few years ago I saw a documentary about the former Formula One champion, Alain Prost. After retiring from professional racing, he found an amateurish kind of pleasure in cycling. There was a scene in his garage, him fiddling with wrenches, bike wheels hanging on the walls, spare parts all over the place. He seemed no less devoted to cycling than he had been to car racing, but he was more playful. Je bricole, he said with a smile.