Survived First Dance Class in Four Months!

Okay, how come I always look like an ass in ballet class, but a ballerina in all the other styles of dance I take? Tonight, I took my first dance class in four months now (yikes) — a beginner Flamenco class at 92nd St. Y. Seriously, in lieu of the beautiful palmas (fluidly wrist-bending Latin / Indian hand movements that are one of the three basic elements of the dance), I did the perfect port de bras (balletic arm movements). I mean, I’m sure they wouldn’t have looked like perfect port de bras in ballet class, but they sure did in Flamenco. No matter how much Latin I take, for some reason I always have the tendency to turn my wrists inward so that my palms are toward my body (as in ballet), rather than turned out, away from it, as they usually are in Latin. It’s ridiculous.

And damn do those castanets require patience! We only did basic taps, but tapping the pinkie finger, then the ring, then the middle, then the pointer, then moving to the left hand in a continuous one-two-three-four-five rhythm, faster and faster and faster was so unbelievably trying on my nerves, for some reason. I had to keep shaking my hands like I was shaking off a bug or something. And keeping my arms up in the air was a bit painful, embarrassingly. I am just a bit out of shape here 🙁 And forget trying to coordinate the castanet taps with the wrists with the arms with the foot toe / heel stomps (my favorite part — gets rid of some real aggression :D)… forget it! This dance is so hard. It’s not athletically hard in the way ballet is, but it requires maximum coordination that I don’t have!

I’ll probably stick with it anyway; it’s good for me 🙂 Unfortunately, the teacher has a strict dress code — all black — so I can’t wear my pretty purple Flamenco skirt (above). Don’t really understand this — I took a Flamenco class at Ballet Hispanico months ago and wore the skirt to Paso Doble classes at two different ballroom studios and no one’s ever had a problem with the color. It cost $75 too, so I have no intention of buying another one in black. My black ballroom skirt will have to do, though it doesn’t have the pile of ruffles at the bottom so is not going to look wholly right for Flamenco… I just always pride myself on being different, so was rather pleased with myself for finding such a color.

I’ll never forget the first dance class that blew me completely to Heaven, made me feel like I was experiencing a whole new level of humanity, made my heart race: it was basic ballroom Samba with Roula Giannopolu at DanceSport studio. I remember I was squealing when I came out of there, practically crippled with blisters, my classmates trying to steady me and asking if I was okay. “What kind of music was that?” I screamed out demandingly, collapsing on the lobby sofa. No one knew and Roula had sprinted off to her next class. “That was like ballet and African and Latin and just the whole world!” I cried, flailing about. I haven’t had that same exact experience since and I so long for that feeling again. I think I may sign up for group ballroom classes next month. I like the solitary Latin dance classes I’ve taken — Brazilian Samba at Alvin Ailey and now Flamenco. But ballroom’s really where my heart is.

Anyway, on another note, here are some more pictures I took today during my lunch hour of the Bill Shannon “Window” site-specific dance performance that I blogged about at the beginning of the week. It was funny seeing it down on Liberty Plaza this time, after having watched from the high-rise before. I had thought when I was inside looking down that people were trying to be good New Yorkers and avoid any weirdish person making a “scene,” but being down there with the people, I realized that the area the dance was performed in was so vast, without music, it was actually pretty hard even to notice. You had to really seek him and his dancers out to see him. Dance is also so music-dependent I realized. Upstairs we had the music blasting from the speakers to accompany the movement we saw out on the plaza. It really got you into it, made you move a little yourself. Being down there with no speakers, the movement just didn’t have the same meaning, it wasn’t as fun, it wasn’t as noticeable, it wasn’t as “performancey” which I guess was the point…

One of Shannon’s break-dancers.

The guys in white are the performers. It might be apparent, it might not.

This is Shannon himself, on the crutches. I didn’t notice him zooming around on the skateboard this time; he used it more as a prop than a vehicle, unless I just arrived a bit late and missed that part of it.

On, and another thing, at one point a woman walked up to him while he was on the ground break-dancing. I guess because he had the crutches, she thought he was hurt and tried to help him up! He spoke with her a bit, but with all the city noises, I couldn’t possibly hear what they were saying. I wonder whether he went along with her, told her what was really going on, or if I just completely misunderstood the whole interaction and she was actually part of the performance!


  1. I studied flamenco for a few months about 10 years ago, and loved it. Though the castanets threw me for a loop too. I have a very hard time doing different things with each hand, which made castanets immensely frustrating (same with zills, and touch typing)

  2. Thanks Natalia, that makes me feel better since you’ve now conquered the zills! I guess it’s just something that needs to be worked at…

  3. It’s just muscle memory! Has to be built up, that’s all. I’m jealous – I wish I could fit in flamenco (but it wouldn’t go with my “all things beginning with B” dance history!). I am going to take a Zambra workshop at Fazil’s with my former bellydance instructor on a Sunday in October – we should do it together!

    And OH MY GOSH about Max & Yulia. But definitely for the best. Looking forward to seeing her and Riccardo Cocchi (love an Italian accent!).

  4. What a pretty color skirt! too bad about the dress code. I have never tried flamenco but really want to. Flamenco seems so unique in the the dancers and the musicians interact to create the music and rhythms together. There is a nice DC blog about flamenco at

  5. Thanks for the link to that DC blog, Maria. Yes, that’s one of the things I love about flamenco — the music, and one thing my teacher made clear is that musicians often follow the dancers, not the other way around. So the musicians and dancers really work together.

    Parker, I will definitely take that class with you — just let me know when! About Max and Yulia — what??

  6. Yeah, it’s official. Max has retired and Yulia is partnered up with RC. Should be an exciting year. I’ll get you more details on the Zambra class soon …

  7. Hey, I just wanted to give you one more tip about the castanets… I don’t know if it will help you, but it certainly helped me with the zills:

    Don’t think of the castanets as a dance prop, since they really aren’t. Remember that they are foremost a musical instrument, and aproach your practice and learning from the perspective of learning to play an instrument. Then dance to the music you are making. 🙂

  8. Thanks Natalia — I was actually thinking just that thought. I was listening to a paso doble yesterday and I’m pretty sure I heard castanets in the background (flamenco is often incorporated into paso). They ARE a musical instrument!

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