How Flamenco Saved This Doctor’s Life

By Susan Biali, MD
April 6, 2008

In my teaching career I have met and taught hundreds, maybe thousands of students.  Susan Biali is one of the students that has made an impression on me over the years.   She is multi-talented person with multiple successful careers as doctor, writer, speaker, photographer and dancer.  She is energetic, compassionate, smart, creative and highly self-actualized.  What impressed upon me most was that she was very unhappy being a doctor several years ago.  Most people would be only too proud and happy to say they were an MD, but Susan would walk into my studio with a long face, mope around and lament about how stifling her job was and that it was draining all her energy. In the last 4 years, she’s completely turned her life around to include all the things she loves to do including Flamenco.

Here is her story:

“That’s it, I’m going to quit everything and dedicate my life to flamenco!”
If you’re a flamenco dancer, this might sound familiar.  I’ve thought that so many times that it’s become predictable.  It happens to me whenever I’m in the middle of one of Kasandra or Oscar’s classes. It happens to me whenever I do a course in Spain.  And, lately, it happens when I gather for a rehearsal, juerga or comida with my brilliant guitarist friends, Guitarras de Luna, here in Los Cabos, Mexico.

When I moved to Mexico from Vancouver in 2004, I did it because I needed to get away from the frenzied pace of the big city.  I wanted to be warm, and I wanted to be able to write in peace.  The only difficult part of the move, for me, was giving up Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy and my nights dancing at the Kino Cafe.  The worst, by far, was giving up my flamenco “mama”, Kasandra La China.  I never imagined that Mexico would turn out to be a place where my flamenco career would flourish beyond my wildest imagination.

It’s taken me this long to mention the fact that I’m a medical doctor – I think that’s because I see myself as a dancer, writer, life coach, speaker, and medical doctor, in that order.  Back in late 2002, when I took my first flamenco baby steps with Oscar, I was working full time as a doctor, and totally depressed.  I realized quickly that flamenco would save my life.  And it did.

Have you ever heard a dancer talk about “flamenco therapy” or “Solea therapy”?   I remember laughing with Elvira Yebes and Kasandra about this at Kino.  I also remember practicing my Solea solo, on my own, to express and soothe my sadness when something difficult was going on in my life.  I remember feeling a joy that truly knew no bounds, when learning and executing a particularly cool piece of a new choreography in class.  I’ve even been interviewed on television about the curative powers of flamenco – on the show Urban Rush, they filmed me dancing a few steps and then talked to me about the topic: “Can Flamenco cure depression?”
I’d wanted to be a dancer since I was born, and never got the chance.  I never got dance lessons as a child, and would never have imagined that life would finally give me the opportunity to be a professional dancer, in my 30s!

When I was living and dancing in Vancouver, my goals were pretty small.  I wanted to continue dancing at the Kino Cafe, and hoped to eventually qualify as a company dancer in Mozaico Flamenco Dance Theatre.  I didn’t know anyone, other than my teachers, who were full-time professional dancers.
When I moved to Mexico, I learned that it would be hard to earn my papers as a physician.  But I was amazed to discover that I could get them as a flamenco dancer!  When I heard of flamenco guitarists who earned $10,000 USD a month performing in hotels and restaurants, I was convinced that I could and would do the same.
It took me two years to finally get my papers, and then I dedicated a year to growing my flamenco business.  I got pretty good results, I’ve got a big client list, and have danced for all kinds of high profile audiences from around the world, including Hollywood movie stars, owner of major sports teams (like the Dallas Cowboys and the L.A. Lakers), and major corporate clients.  I also still can’t believe how much people are willing to pay me to do what I love.  Just last week, I was the entertainment at a gala dinner for 500 people!  I also teach workshops and private lessons, and I’ve learned a lot about the business of flamenco since I started.
So would I quit everything just to be a dancer, now that I probably could?

I don’t think so.  Through the process of pursuing my dream, and giving myself permission to create the life of my dreams for myself, I’ve realized what aspects of life matter most to me.  I need to have flexibility to travel when I want to, so signing a lucrative contract with one of the world’s best hotels wouldn’t really work for me (though I would have given anything for such an opportunity, years ago!).  I like the good things in life, and though I could earn enough to cover the basics through flamenco, I’ve discovered how much I value having additional, more reliable sources of income.  There are also a number of other ways I’d like to make a difference in the world (by writing, speaking and coaching), that I can’t do through dance alone.

Would I ever give up flamenco?  Never.  That much I know about myself.

There is one more thing I’d like to say.  If you want to truly reach your potential in flamenco, if you love this more than anything in the world, you can’t give up.  Kasandra once told me, sitting at an outdoor table eating tapas in Jerez, that if you’re a real flamenco dancer you will first be tested by flamenco.  You can’t really dance flamenco unless you’ve paid for the right in blood, sweat and tears.

Other than my trips to Spain, I haven’t had a teacher since I left Vancouver in 2004.  I use videos, make up my own choreographies, and do whatever I can to keep dancing and growing.  When I see Kasandra and Oscar, even on an old Al Mozaico Christmas Recital video, I cry.
I’m going to be back in the halls of Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy now, whenever I go to Vancouver.  That place and my wonderful teachers are just too important to miss out on for one more day of my life.

Ole!

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