Just the fact that I was able to attend this workshop was a small course in miracles. Well, not that small. Fear almost stopped me from going right up until the last minute. Thankfully I got over it.
Ronnie McKee was a brand new person in my life, a Flamenco student who had just been studying intensely in Spain for five years. A strong woman, she can readily take command of a situation and it was no surprise to learn of her previous elite business associations. I was both intrigued and daunted by her presence in my class considering she had studied with some very astute Flamencos.
She was best friends with the late great La Faraona, Farruquito’s beloved aunt and thus is friendly with the family. When she told me she was going to attend a four day workshop in San Francisco with Farruquito, I sighed my customary mental sigh of longing as it was so far out of my financial reach I could not even take her urging me to go seriously. But then she made me an outstanding offer I could not refuse – she offered to pay my way in exchange for private lessons. I will always be grateful for the gift of this opportunity, which to my view was nothing short of miraculous.
As one would expect, the material Juan had to share was juicy. We worked in the Tangos, Bulerias and Solea palos. His approach to Bulerias stuck in my mind – think in sixes, and know that a remáte can happen at any point in the compás. He was not keen on numbers and urged us to fall out of the habit of thinking choreographically in those terms, as numbers are for accounting. As artists, we want to use a different aspect of our being, apart from the reality of our day to day structure.
At the same time, he spoke often of finding the dance expression as it naturally comes through you. He urged us to learn the various parts of the choreography with our whole bodies rather than isolating the upper body work from the feet.
At one point he watched as we struggled with something and turned up his attention on our struggle. What he saw was a group of students fall into nervous embarrassment and he stopped, taking the opportunity to deliver a very important impression. Respect and an open state of receptivity are appropriate and useful to learning, even essential – but never shame or embarrassment. Never be ashamed of the body as it learns. He emphasized that he does not put his attention upon students to illicit shame or embarrassment, but to see how the body can better facilitate the movement.
He went on to say that though he has been performing throughout his life he still can get nervous prior to going onstage – such as at a recent big show in Spain where out in the packed audience were top notch Flamencos. However when he gets on stage his mind is as it must be, not on himself and his nervousness, but expanded to include all the elements contributing to the present moment on stage. He moves in present moment. We all were quite moved by his speech.
Flamenco is not just about the dance and music, it is about presence in one’s life. Everything present in the performance space will affect the dance. If his hair is down it is one thing, when worn pulled back it will be another kind of dance. He demonstrated with his shirt how he would use it if unbuttoned as opposed to buttoned. He obviously is a person with a lot of attention that has been developed through his craft. That attention combined with his years of experience infused the space in such a way that it felt as though these impressions were being burned in deep.
I imagine it was much like this when his grandfather taught him as a young child. Juan would refer to his grandfather as el Maestro and his respect and love were clearly evident. He spoke of how el Maestro was capable of performing fast and fancy footwork, but he noticed that it would be that single perfectly placed full forced gorpé (striking the floor with the flat foot), done with presence, that would receive the olé.
Something happened during those four days of study with him that continues to unfold. While other choreographic concerns have had to be prioritized over practice and study of what was given during the workshop, nevertheless his influence remains present in my work. He gave me the gift of potential – I walked away from his classes more alive in my potential. This surprised me. I danced those three hours nightly with a hairline fractured big toe, on four or less hours of sleep. I was among young experienced dancers with capabilities that were way beyond my own, and there were other factors present that I found daunting. But through this the power of my potential remained. According to Juan if you can feel, as he pinched his own arm to demonstrate, you can dance. It seems he created a magnificent space for this to be realized.
This experience is now conjured up in memory when life feels like one big demolition derby which is often, I must say. It helps me to feel grateful. I am grateful for the dance. I am grateful for gratitude. Gracias, Juan.