Pecho Arriba!

By Michelle Harding
April 4, 2011

I’ve noticed something remarkable happens to people when they start studying flamenco.  Shy, quiet people gradually come out of their shells.  They start to talk more, they walk straighter and taller, they start to sparkle.

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it’s worth a look because can be such a striking transformation.

I’ve now been a teacher at Al Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy for a year.  In that time, and in two years of being a TA, I have seen an incredible change come over some of my students.  I’ve discussed this with other teachers and they’ve seen it too.  For lack of a better word, I’d say it has to do with confidence.

Mozaico-Michelle-Pecho-Arriba-2008

What is confidence?  It’s energetic and attractive.  A person appears to be confident when they somehow silently communicate the message that they are secure in themselves.  They don’t necessarily have to do anything special – it’s in the way they walk, talk and hold themselves.

In flamenco, we often start by talking about posture.  I had a teacher in Spain – Antonio El Pipa – who would make his students recite a litany before doing any kind of movement: knees relaxed, pelvis tucked under, chest lifted, shoulders down, neck aligned, head up.  “Pecho arriba!” (chest high) he’d yell periodically throughout the class.

Class with El Pipa, flamenco royalty from Jerez de la Frontera

Class with El Pipa, flamenco royalty from Jerez de la Frontera

Then he’d make us pretend we were flamenco superstars on an enormous empty stage.  He’d make us “enter” and command the audience.  He said that when he walks onto a stage, he wants everyone to look in their programs and go “Who’s that!?”   So we all sucked in our stomachs and pulled up our chests and did our best.   It was an exceptionally uncomfortable experience, but also a very powerful one.

For most of us who are not entirely secure about ourselves, opening up the chest and walking tall feels like an intense exposure.  It seems to say “Look at me.  I am awesome”.  That’s actually very difficult.  Isn’t this the sin of pride?  It can bring tears to our eyes because it goes against all our lifelong lessons in humility and self-doubt (the correct and accepted stance we should take, or so the story goes).

But what can happen, when we start to get used to the idea that we have to present our bodies this way if we’re going to do flamenco, is that it spills out into other parts of our lives.  Ever tried walking down Robson Street or Commercial Drive in your best flamenco posture?  Try it.  You’ll be amazed.  I will bet you that heads will turn:  people will look you in the eye and smile at you.  Try it when you go to the corner store or the bank.  I can guarantee that you will experience more friendliness and more respect.
Then, the more respect and friendliness we receive, the more we start to believe that we deserve it.  The cycle begins – we feel good, we feel more confident, so we walk taller and with more openness.  We begin to broadcast this positive energy from within.  We talk more, meet more people, smile more and laugh more.  We get noisier and more outgoing (two more things we’ve been told we don’t have the authority to do).

Fish-Hook

So when you’re in class with Kasandra and she starts talking about the great fish-hook of God coming down and hooking your breastbone up, give it a good hearty try.  When Michelle talks about your shiny wrestler belt and its superpowers, and when Andrea talks about zipping up your torso, humour us and try it.  Really try it and see what happens to the rest of your life.

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