Not Flamenco

I know close to nothing about flamenco. Like many other people, I've seen bits and bobs of it on the Internet or in the movies; I've heard flamenco-inspired guitar playing, recorded and live; and I've play-acted my ignorant version of flamenco for fun, stomping my feet and clapping as I twirl around the room. But this blog post isn't about my scant knowledge of flamenco, or even about flamenco, period. It's about a voyage we all take in our lives. It starts in innocence, passes through crippling self-consciousness, and ends (for some of us) in mastery.

As young kids we dwelled in experience and sensation, not spending much psychic energy on discernment  (anything goes into the mouth!) and only occasionally on judgment (hunger not good!). Our minds were free from constraints, preconceived ideas, "shoulds" and "musts." And we were so, so very adept at learning! We learned our "mother tongue" like we learned breathing and walking--without intellectual calculation, playfully, easily, joyfully.

The toddler below is learning his "mother dance" of flamenco through a process of observation, imitation, and improvisation. He already has the spirit of it, the energy of it, the flamenco-ness of it. He "embodies flamenco."

Talented children can take this native ease very far. The young fellow in the next clip embodies his native flamenco with terrific virtuosity. He's called Juan Manuel Fernandez Montoya, better known as Farruquito. To my eyes, he's focused, centered, and "invisible," by which I mean he allows us to watch "the wonder of flamenco" without getting distracted by "the particular individual who here embodies flamenco." His dancing isn't about Farruquito; it's about flamenco--something much bigger than him. Flamenco itself seems to be about the paradox of holding energies tightly within, the better to propagate them in every direction. The young Farruquito "becomes" containment and propagation, and watching him "I contain and propagate, by proxy."

Farruquito will grow up and leave his child-prodigy years behind him. Tragedy will struck--real-life tragedy, in the form of a hit-and-run accident that landed Farruquito in jail; and existential tragedy, in the form of a loss of innocence, a loss of freedom . . . in short, a deep loss. The invisible dancer who let us "watch flamenco" becomes visible, and begs us to "watch him." It's not the same kind of show, and it doesn't have the same effect. Don't get me wrong; the adult Farruquito is very accomplished, and obviously he dances the flamenco a thousand times better than I dance it myself. But the clip below leaves me uncomfortable. In earlier times, Farruquito danced with a steady core that rendered him stable despite his gyrations, and watching him "I became stable, by proxy." Now Farruquito is making the periphery (arms, clothes, hair, surface) more important than the core, and watching him "I become unstable, by proxy."

Farruquito is the grandson of a masterly dancer: Antonio Montoya Flores, El Farruco. In movement and in expression, El Farruco does very, very little . . . and yet he lets us know how much he's capable of doing. It's as if his flamenco were completely internalized, "not needing to come out anymore." Containment has become "it," and propagation is now only latent. El Farruco has nothing to prove, and watching him dance "I myself have nothing to prove, by proxy." I find it very healing. Perhaps Farruquito will one day pass from self-consciousness to self-forgetting again.

There you have it: innocence, loss, mastery. As I said, it's not about flamenco.