GUEST POST:  Below read reflections from a flamenco workshop with Manuel Liñan at the 2011 Festival de Jerez from Heather Williams, flamenca from Portland:

March 1, 2011I'm writing this from Jerez, Spain, where I'm making my first important flamenco pilgrimage: the annual Festival Flamenco de Jerez; an opportunity to study baile with the best dancers, to see performances every night, and just soak up the lively Andalucian culture. Jerez is definitely a flamenco town- walking the narrow winding streets you can hear it everywhere; the guitarist practicing a soleá in a rooftop garden, thundering footwork coming from a tiny studio, and the ubiquitous town drunks, who sing (in several cases, quite beautifully) for a cigarette or a few spare coins. Ah, it's so wonderful to finally be here!

I decided to take Manuel Liñan's Tientos workshop, partly because Laura twisted my arm, and partly because I saw him perform in Albuquerque, and he absolutely took my breath away. Without a doubt, one of the best dancers I've ever seen. So I was absolutely terrified the morning of our first class- stomach in knots, petrified that he'd see how terrible I dance and ask why I even bothered to come. Like one of those anxiety dreams where you end up naked in front of the class.  Only worse. This workshop was a "medio" level, which means intermediate, and I've only ever taken beginners workshops because I've only been dancing for less than 3 years, so I was quite convinced I'd jumped into the deep end. With Spanish maestros, even the beginning workshops are quite challenging. Anyway, the first day started relatively slow- we learned a beautiful falseta- and I kept expecting some difficult technique that I'd be unable to perform; I had convinced myself that it was ok to do only what I could, and try to take away just a few snazzy moves that I'd be able to execute. So I kept waiting for the terrible moment, up until class was over, and I realized, not only was I able to keep up, I'd also gotten a total rush of exhilaration! Oh my god! I did it! And I was so happy that I wasn't the worst in class!

But wait a minute. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I shouldn't be comparing myself to the other students. Maybe a sneak peek every once in a while to see if there's a head tilt or floreo technique to steal, but while we can certainly learn from each other, the most important thing to remember is that we're all on our own flamenco journey, and we don't do ourselves any favors judging ourselves relative to the other dancers (except maybe the maestro).  And knowing that I'll never be as good as Manuel Linan is totally ok with me. But I will do my damn best to try to get my arm to flip just like his. So cute!

Once during class I heard him say to another student, "sin miedo" (and actually at first I thought he'd said "sin mierda", which is just rude). I'd heard that expression "without fear" from another teacher not too long ago, and it really resonates with me now. Part of my own journey is to be a little kinder to myself, and work on my weaknesses without judgement, and learn to let go of the fear that I'll never be a good dancer, because it's such a waste of energy.  Energy that should be spent practicing footwork drills, or vueltas. Yikes.  Vueltas are the bane of my existence. But like a dedicated yogi, I hope to overcome that fear with plenty of patient, hard work. Sin miedo. What is your fear? Recognize it, embrace it, then let it go. Sin miedo mis amigos.