This article, Flamenco Dancing by Lesly Vaillancourt, was originally published as part of a series on Integrating Self-Care Practices into Daily Life in the American Bar Association’s GPSolo magazine June 2019 issue on Mindfulness and Lawyer Well-Being.
I wasn’t always a flamenco dancer. Eleven years ago, I quit my job in Washington, D.C. and moved to my home town of Tampa, after fourteen years away for school and work. I decided to start my own practice, and, as I began to build my client base, I found myself with a little free time. I had always loved dance and grew up surrounded by Spanish and Latin music, so the rhythmic artistry of flamenco appealed to me. I initially thought that flamenco dance class would just be a good workout in nail-soled heels, but I found so much more. For that hour, I gained a bit of peace and a break from life, work, bills, and clients. While I was dancing, nothing else mattered apart from what I could make my body do in those 60 minutes.
Flamenco is an artistic tradition of storytelling that originated from people who were on the outskirts of society (Christians, Jews, and Romanies in Spain under Arab rule) and that was later influenced by Cubans and Latin Americans. At its essence, Flamenco is about the expression of emotion, grace, and pride.
As class begins, you stand in front of the mirror, look at yourself, extend your arms above your head and stretch all the way out to the tips of your fingers. Then rotate your hands clockwise and counterclockwise circling your body, starting with the right and then adding the left hand. The flamenco dancer stands straight and tall with grace and pride, as if a string extends from the top of your neck, past your shoulder blades and down to the center of your lower back. Tighten that string at your shoulder blades and drag it down. Elongate your body with your shoulders back. If it hurts, then you are probably doing it right. The flamenco dancer emits fire and elegance from the tips of his fingers down through the soles of his feet. This elegant form is nothing without meaningful movements that pay meticulous attention to the emotion and beauty inspired by the flamenco song.
Flamenco can evoke feelings of happiness, anger, romance, jealousy, mourning, and celebration, depending on the performers and the music. The task for the flamenco dancer is to determine how to make beautiful movements inspired by these emotions. That is the great power, beauty and culture of flamenco. The music, song, and dance all partake in the storytelling.
As my teacher would say, “la música lo pide.” Do what the music asks. The feet are the percussionists and can make any sounds through a variety of footwork combinations, the zapateo, as long as those sounds stay within the compás, the rhythmic pattern of the particular musical style. The arms and hands are the accompaniment, along with a fan or an embroidered shawl, a mantón, on occasion. Add emotion to the movements and give good face: con carácter. Then there are the castanets, a hand percussion tool of flamenco, adding another rhythmic accompaniment to the dancing. The flamenco dancer must focus on sound with body and mind, dancing through mindfulness in motion.
I know it sounds a bit intimidating, and if you have seen any real flamenco then rest assured great dancers make it look easy to achieve the correct form, sound and speed. There are so many elements to consider, I have never been on auto-pilot during a class or practice, and I have always found it incredibly stress relieving. Studies have found that dancing does make you happier. In some cities, there are classes now focused on dancing for mindfulness. I know dancing makes me feel better after a long work day.
Even after babies and illnesses, I keep coming back to flamenco. At eight months pregnant, dancing and twirling, I appeared to defy the law of gravity. At one point I was dancing flamenco as often as five hours a week. I even spent a month in Sevilla studying dance – my kind of a “wellness retreat” that included dessert and wine daily. But a couple of years ago, I was in a horrible car accident, and my neck and back injury led me to give up flamenco for quite some time. I thought my injury and the chronic pain I suffer prevented me from dancing. When I found out that my first flamenco teacher, the incomparable Curra Alba, was retiring, I dragged myself to a class and found that I had been missing so much.
When done correctly, flamenco dancing offers the opportunity to think of only dancing with good form while focusing on emotion, sound and the sequence of movements. Flamenco dancing allows you to put away your to-do list and discard thoughts of “oh my belly looks big; this is too difficult; will the Judge grant that motion?” A flamenco dancer focuses solely on what the body must be doing and what sounds the feet are making.
I love flamenco. Flamenco makes me happy. And when any of my fellow flamencos need an attorney, guess who they call?