My teacher’s boots kicked and swiveled on the scarred wood floor. I counted and copied.
“That’s it. No no, just kick to the left and cross over to the right. Así. Eso es,” praised Caballo.”Now angle your body like this. Así, no. ASI.”
My long, raised arm like a battle pennant, twinned his in the studio mirror, my strutting body at an angle, parallel to his.
Our arms wreathed our heads, a pair of circles in the mirror. I watched and adjusted. My body echoed his directly, without intervening thought. I had that knack. I learned to dance by osmosis.
I glimpsed my greedy lopsided grin in the mirror, my forehead beaded, and large-lidded eyes fierce with concentration. My forearms ached as I drove my whacking castanets in arcs about my head.
Suddenly I dropped my arms. Two people had invaded the studio. An American woman I knew, with a Gypsy man I did not. Embarrassed to be seen here, I blushed. My head lowered, my shoulders rounded. I felt exposed as a novice, as an American “groupy” in Spain, already twenty-four and foolishly attempting this art which locals learned as children. The woman greeted Caballo and seemed to be pressing him for something.
“What’s up, Rosa?”
“Caballo, look, I wanted you to meet this gentleman here, he’s a . . .”
Irked at the interruption, I ignored them and approached the mirror.
Watching my coltish image, I struck poses. I tried to turn my elbows up like Flamenco dancers did, like tarantula spider legs. It pained. My shoulder joints complained and the castanets weighted my hands. I rested them on hips and turned to watch my back in the mirror, my long spine stretched into a Flamenco’s arch. I looked audacious. Busty. But it hurt to sustain it even for a moment. My elbows were angles instead of curves, my brown hair was short, my skin mottled, and my practice shoes cloddish. Great.
I dropped the smile, deciding to dance with somber face and the foreboding hostility I had seen on stages. I scowled now at the people reflected behind me, annoyed that they were wasting my half-hour class. To discourage further talk, I petulantly resumed stomping out my routine.
“One two THREE, four five SIX, seven EIGHT, nine TEN,” I huffed, pounding out heelwork, shoe metal clattering.
“Susie,” the American woman interrupted me. Big, blasé, and drunk, Rose called me over. Just days earlier Rose had appointed herself my guide to Flamenco. Infamous around Seville, with buck teeth and amazing self-assurance, smelling of expensive perfume and expensive liquor, Rose had claimed in nasal confidence that she had personally laid every Flamenco in the province.
“Susie, come here. I want you to meet Curro,” Rose commanded. Reluctantly, I clacked across the floor. This Curro person, swarthy and stocky, with shiny ringlets at the back of his head, was all smiles. I automatically appraised him and dismissed him as too short, too handsome, and too cocky.
“They call me Curro de Alcalá. I’m a Flamenco singer, Cantaor Flamenco, at your service.” With a mocking stare, Curro offered a formal handshake.
I tried to ignore the musty warmth of his voice. I shook his hand around my sweat-moistened castanet, rolled out a pat Spanish phrase, then excused myself and returned to my mirror and my footwork.
They left. But my class was ruined that day.
Shouting, stomping and clapping the tricky, wacky rhythm of Bulerías, everyone was on stage. It was the most alive moment of the evening, the closing group number of the third show at Los Rombos. Five dancers sat in motley Gypsy colors, scarves and bangles, sat with elbows akimbo, taunting the audience.
I sat amongst them on the edge of my chair, my feet apart and skirt bunched between them. My loose hair was a dark mane of energy, my eyes danced devilish. I gestured and grimaced in funky Gypsy fashion, all the while tapping a foot and clapping. Suddenly out of my seat, I drew menacingly up. I circled the floor audaciously, pacing to the beat with bragging toss of head. My weighted skirt of patched gingham strips swirled and billowed. Gold coins cascaded from my ears. Earrings and laughing eyes, I knew, caught the footlights and dazzled the people, as I flipped my skirt, turned in rhythm, stomped some counter rhythm with comical stops and starts . . . Then, over my shoulder I shot a jeering glance at the crowd, and paused dead still for an impish instant. Scurrying back, I landed statue-still with a stop in the music, seated in my chair, grinning, as if I hadn’t yet gotten up.
After each woman danced such a sampling, all came forward together, pounding out the foot rhythm. Accelerating like a cadre of snare drums, we turned, spinning skirts, then paced offstage in a squatting line, with mocking hand gestures, each with her own Bulerías burlesque of Flamenco.
Puffing and chortling, we dancers nudged each other through the green-room door, pattered up the stairs, flocked to the dressing rooms to undress.
“Oh-hoo, that guy at the front table claps constantly - could really throw you off compás.”
“Lucky Chato’s palmas can drown him out.”
“Yeah, well Chato’s palmas drowned out my footwork, too.”
“Well, hey, just don’t work so hard, you’ll get paid the same.”
We chattered as we changed, bumping into each other, handing over a hanger, loaning a hairclip. Amparo and the other girl, hair glued back with sweat, combed and dressed, headed for the bar.
I stayed alone in my robe. Hanging my wet white dance bodice, I pondered again that insignificant encounter in Chato’s house, this afternoon. I wondered why it was so engraved in my heart.
Suddenly, it came clear. I turned quickly to my image in the mirror. My hair still tossed from dancing, stood out like an electric shock around my high-voltage face. The awareness ripped through me.
Was that my initiation. . . ?