"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On Serendipity and the Dance

Flamenco dancer Manuela Carrasco.
The single most important skill of the
craft is attitude.
Dance has been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember.  I started my classical training at the age of eight.  Like many little girls, I dreamed of being a ballerina, though I never quite had the body for it.  The decision to set dance aside as a career option and pursue a more academic line of work happened early in high school.  Even though I did not go on to be a professional, I have never stopped dancing, or stopped studying dance.

In a way, not pursuing a professional career in dance set me free.  From that moment on, the pressure to reach a competitive level of excellence was off, and I could just dance for fun. When I went to college, I joined the dance theater at my university, where I was introduced to modern dance. For the next twenty years, modern dance would be my favorite art form. I studied it with various instructors in Houston, Austin, and most recently in San Jose, Costa Rica.

It wasn't until I moved back to Kansas City, ironically enough, that I plunged into flamenco.  At the time, I was most interested in continuing to study modern, but my sister, a long-time member of the Kansas City dance community, recommended that I check out flamenco classes with Tamara Carson of OLE Dance and Music of Spain.

This was not the first time I'd encountered flamenco.  I had a brief introduction to it in high school, and took a few classes again as a grad student at the University of Texas in Austin.  Though flamenco had long fascinated me, I don't think I was quite ready for it until I stepped into Tamara's class and hit the dance floor with my first golpe.  After that, I was hooked forever.

Why flamenco? 

Well, first and foremost, flamenco is attitude. This was probably the number one reason why I decided it was time to learn it. The steps, the rhythms, the postures and facial expressions all communicate the same fundamental message:  Don't mess with me.  At the time I started taking flamenco, I felt the need to internalize a little more of that kind of grit.

Flamenco is also passion and sensuality. Passion in every sense of the word:  anger, desire, love, loss.  Whatever the emotion of the moment may be, flamenco challenges us to live it to the fullest. 

Me and some of my KC flamenco buddies.  Guitarrist Jarrod
Stephenson on the left; Tamara Carson third from the left.

Most of all, flamenco is support.  I've rarely encountered such a community-oriented, supportive form of dance.  This is an art form that a person can do whether they are eight years old or eighty.  No matter what your age or skill level, your compañeros, both dancers and musicians, unite to support you, to ignite the fire inside and help you show attitude, passion, and sensuality without holding back.

Long before I started flamenco classes, I had decided to incorporate dance as a form of Primitive Magic in Eolyn's world.  Still, flamenco gave me a new window on how that magic might manifest itself.  The dance shared by Corey and Eolyn on Midwinter's Eve, for example, has always had a flamenco style in my imagination.  Not with any taconea (footwork), but with the very elegant movement of the arms, the intensity of the focus, and the studied steps that dominate slower moments in the music.

One curious aspect of my journey with flamenco (and yes, I'm finally getting to the serendipity part) is that it has closely paralleled my journey as a writer, as well as Eolyn's journey as a character. 

When I first started classes with Tamara, I was finishing up the final draft of Eolyn.  So incorporating that flamenco attitude was also about building confidence in myself as a writer and artist as I contemplated sharing Eolyn with the larger world.

One of dances I learned during this period was Sevillanas. A classic introduction to flamenco, this dance is not simple, but the footwork is relatively straightforward, so you can really focus on finding and expressing your own personality as a flamenco dancer as you learn the steps.  It is also a dance performed with a partner, so you are never alone.  Partners cue off each other in the same supportive and playful fashion that makes all of flamenco so wonderful. 

Here's an example of Sevillanas  (and no, it is NOT being danced by me; the artists are Fanny Ara, Marina Elana Scannell, Jason Macguire, and Felix de Lola):

Of course, I found my partners in publishing during this same period, at Hadley Rille Books.  And we've been dancing ever since!

When I started working on my second novel, High Maga, Tamara began teaching us Tangos de Malaga.  This is a very difficult dance that I still struggle with.  It is serious in tone and aspect, and the lyrics are focused on themes of death, poverty and overall misery. The dance fit almost too well with the war-time context of my second novel, and I found I was able to capture the essence of more than one of my characters through learning it. 

Here is Tangos de Malaga; this video features Kansas City's very own Alma Flamenca, with Jarrod Stephenson on the guitar and Margaret Gordon dancing:

After Tangos de Malaga, Tamara gave us a short break with Alegrias, an all around happier dance that lets you smile once in a while. At the same time, I gave myself a short break from the darker side of Eolyn's world.  When I returned to writing to start Daughter of Aithne, Tamara began introducing her flamenco class to Tientos.

According to the story I heard, Tientos was originally crafted to be danced by men. So it has a very masculine feel about it, and often women who perform it will wear slacks and vests.  Tamara couldn't have picked a better dance to get me in the mood for Daughter of Aithne, because in Eolyn's third and final book, it will be the women who, in many cases, must wear the pants.  Figuratively speaking, of course. 

Here's a sample of Tientos, featuring Marina Elana Scannell once again:

Needless to say, I'm, uhm, still working on that footwork. . . 

That's today's post.  I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the dance and music of Spain, and especially my musings on how one creative art can feed into another.

As a finale, I offer this brief medley of OLE's wonderful repertoire. Enjoy!