Being a flamenca & the reality of having 2 young kids

By Kasandra La China
April 12, 2012

KIDS = MAKES MY BRAIN LOOPY
So I haven’t blogged for a really long time.  As I look at the time stamps on my blog page, I realize I haven’t written many blogs since the kids were born and for good reason.  Having babies and toddlers not only reduces one’s free time substantially, but makes one CRAZY.

Being a mother is not linear or sequential work. Much to this flamenca’s chagrin, I’ve become a bit of a scatterbrain.  I have even noticed that my signature has become messier and more flowery (ew) with more loops.  Let’s see, I miss dentist appointments, private lessons, meetings.  I forget things I’m supposed to do, lose my train of thought and my brain flipflops.  Honestly, I feel like I’m just starting to get it together again, as my kids will be turning 2 and 4 this spring. (YESSSSSS.  I can see this is going to be really good in a couple more years….)

Having babies makes you multitask.  You’re halfway between heating up your food in the microwave when the baby needs a diaper done, so you drop everything to tend to what is urgent and forget about what you’re doing.  Only to find your food is cold again when you get to it 40 min later.  Let’s not even talk about work…it’s really hard to focus anymore.  Thank God for Michelle Harding who is now doing most of the school’s administration.

FLAMENCO = LIFE BALANCE

Having a schedule and teaching flamenco has really been a great way for me to be myself and get some balance.  When I leave the house I get to be myself instead of someone’s mom.  I must be the luckiest person in the world to be able to go to work, see my friends, get some exercise, do flamenco, sit with cool musicians like Gary Hayes or Juan de Marias, not to mention get on my soapbox and actually have people listen to me.

It is really something of a relief to get to class, focus on what curriculum I am teaching, and then find creative ways to impart knowledge.  The latest is my Chopstick Analogy for torso centring.  My students have now called me “The Impaler” because I get them to imagine I have skewered their upper spine and neck with a chopstick, while teaching torso and hip exercises.  ALAS. More nicknames for me.

I guess what most people want to know is: how is the flamenco career going since having kids?  I have so many peers who are around my age, with no children.  Most of ’em are pushing 40 now with no plans to have kids. All I have to say is … knowing what I know now, anybody who wants to have kids seriously needs to think about having them earlier and get it done.  I had my kids at 36 and 38 and labour is no walk in the park.  It’s a challenge in your late 30s to be energetic, patient, playful and upbeat.  Although people think I’m tons of energy, I can personally now see why it would have been beneficial to have kids in my 20s.

Post-kids, I can say that I’m probably a kinder, more compassionate and patient instructor as a result of having children.  I can “see” each individual in my class a little better and realize that flamenco is the exercise and expression in that person’s life.  I’m not as in a rush to get through choreographic material and “shock and awe” people anymore.

NEW EXPERIENCE WHILE PERFORMING

As a performer, I go through a lot of self-doubt and it is a psychological battle to get on stage.  Once I’m on stage, I’m ok and the performer emerges.   Years of dance and violin performance makes for a steely performer.  But getting to the point where I’m going on stage is a challenge.

When I was performing multiple times a week, it was a way to stay in shape, on the edge and simply be ready.  Now that I don’t perform in the tablao/restaurant circuit, I only perform intermittently through the year and I walk onto the stage generally feeling ill prepared.  As a parent with little spare time, I find myself practising only about 2 hours a week as opposed to 2 hours a day which generally means that I’m playing catch up, trying to regain technique that I had once before, but need to acquire again. THAT REALLY SUCKS. Flamenco was fun when I was on the upswing of the learning curve.  I always tell that to my beginner students when they complain, “But you are in a GREAT position because you have nowhere to go but UP!!!”  Just like anything else, it’s always fun when you have no direction to go but up.  When you have to recapture something, that sucks.
I’m not gonna lie.  Body-wise, I’m probably 10-15 lbs more than before.  I just started going to Bikram’s Yoga again and trying to power walk the dog like I used to.  I don’t think it’s cutting it, despite all the flamenco and exercise, so I think I’m going to have to do some cardio (hike or jog) and the d-word, DIE-T, which ultimately means cut back on some favorite mochas and chocolate.  Dammit.

The good news is that I performed my Farruca at our CUADRO! show in March 2012 which means that I CAN DO IT and I STILL GOT IT!!!  I’m baaaack!

Here’s me dancing an excerpt of Farruca with Juan de Marias.  The costume is no good but it’s what I dug up in my closet.  I’m currently in the process of getting Martha Yebes to design a Farruca outfit for the fall.  But alas, nothing from my pre-kids life really fits.

It was a huge milestone to be able to do that dance again, with all its footwork and technical accuracy.  I think there’s still a lot of training to be done regarding cardio and endurance, but I didn’t lose anything aesthetically or artistically.  On the contrary, I think my arte is more natural, inherent and “comfortable”.  I’m not striving for technical perfection or struggling to be someone else or dance like someone else.  I’m just me.  And I think that’s the biggest difference between me performing “now” versus “then”. I am comfortable being in my own skin, I make no apologies for my dancing and I can go out there with reckless abandon and just do my dance, without my head getting in the way.

People have commented on my various recent performances of solea por bulerias, solea and farruca and I’d say the real die hard flamencos like me better now.  I’m less choreographed, more in the moment and emotionally accessible.

In a December 2011 performance of Solea, I pretty much went out there with no real prepared choreography.  I knew Jafelin Helten was going to sing 3 solea letras and 2 bulerias letras for me.  But instead of choreographing every move, I just prepared a few remates.  If I heard power in the cante, I would execute the solea remates, if not, then I’d just continue marcaje.  Honestly, it’s a scary psychological place to be.  To not have movement or choreography to hide behind.  Not moving much.  Only responding if the cante calls for it.  I can see why this is revered in flamenco puro and why this is the true art form.  The dance responds to the cante and you can’t do it any justice moving around superfluously…

Anyways, the big lesson there was to just “give up choreography” and just “be in the moment” because I really had no choice.  We didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse and I didn’t have a lot of idle time to practise in the studio.  And VOILA!  The Solea went well, people enjoyed my interaction with Jafelin and thought it was so different.
I suppose motherhood makes one multitask, be a bit scatterbrained, “give up” control and within all these qualities/attributes, something really cool and flamenca happens.  You get to just BE.  There is no why, when, how, where….there are no excuses.  You just BE.  And this would be the start of giving up “perfectionism”.

And you know what, these days I don’t give a flying crap what anybody else thinks or says about my dancing.  People should be damn glad I’m dancing and teaching at all.  When I step out on stage is, “THIS IS MY TIME.  I AM GOING TO ENJOY EVERY MOMENT OF IT.”  I also suppose that is also the difference being 40 instead of 20.

I remember being in the hospital giving birth to my daughter and thinking, “I’m going to die.  This is it.  God, just let me have a healthy baby and I can go.”  And you know what, that life and death experience was repeated when I didn’t think I was going to make it with my son.  It is this particular defining moment that makes me cherish doing flamenco at all.  I almost cry going onto stage now and I’m thankful that I am able to dance at all.  Whenever Jafelin and I go on stage, we always think THIS IS THE LAST TIME I WILL EVER BE ABLE TO PERFORM AGAIN, and we give it our all and then magic happens!

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