"I want to be in class with Mercedes ALL of the time."  That is what I wrote in my journal on April 13.  But let's go back in time.

I came back to Jerez on Friday, March 25 and began investigating classes to take.

But I secretly didn't want to go to any.

A week in Jerez by myself.  Poor planning by Laura.  When will I learn that it simply is not fun for me to do these things alone? A week spent looking for studios, making calls, trying to understand when and where the different classes took place, feeling relief as I kept arriving at the wrong times and missing them.  There is a semi-funny reason for this, but you'll have to wait to hear about it in a future post...I would like to say that this was on account of Spanish unpredictability, but it wasn't.

Anyway, on the way from Peña los Cernícalos - where I was supposed to take bulerías class, except that noone was there - to Chiqui de Jerez's studio one afternoon, probably Monday, March 28, I passed by a studio on Calle Baro.  I was walking on the other side of the street, the very little street, and I noticed some dancers in the doorway chatting and thought I ought to go inquire about who teaches there and what kind of classes were going on.  But they were all talking and smiling and carrying on as if they knew each other really well...I was scared.

So I just kept on walking.

Later that same day, this time on my way from Chiqui's studio to the peña, I passed the studio yet again.  This time I was on the right side of the street at least.  I read the plaque on the building: Escuela de Baile Mercedes Ruíz.  What?!  Mercedes Ruíz, are you kidding?  Isn't she supposed to be touring all of the time?  She is amazing and wonderful and NO WAY!

And the door was ajar.  I peeked my head in to find a student sweeping the studio and chatting with some guy on the couch.

And the student was friendly.

She told me when the classes were and what they were doing.  "Were they far along in the choreographies?"  Yes, but I could still come.  "But what about the level?"  Apparently there were no levels.  No levels?!  Demasiado difícil entonces, I decided.  "And what time were classes?"  Almost all overlapped with bulerías class.  No big surprise, it seems all of the classes in Jerez are offered at the same time más o menos.  Everyone says it's because the siesta there is so long that it doesn't leave a lot of options.  Who knows.

So, there was my answer, I couldn't sacrifice bulerías class, the reason I was even in Jerez right now and part of what the RACC grant was helping to fund, for a too hard class far along in the choreography...

However there was no bulerías class the next day, so I could try out the bata class with Mercedes.  I went but arrived late only to find a closed door.  I heard stomping, and, naturally, it scared me.  So, rather than go in, I left a note in her mailbox with my phone number asking when classes were offered, etc.  I did not hear back.

Later in the week I encountered this same student, Estefania from Grecia, in another class.  "Ah!" she said.  "I forgot to tell you there is a class with Mercedes on Thursday and Friday evenings."  Supposedly this class was a bit easier than the others not to mention it was offered at a time that didn't conflict with anything.

So, I decided to give it a try.

It was the day Diana arrived.  "Maybe she'll want to come."

And she did want to come!  Phew.  Though just to watch.  Fine with me.  I felt so much better not having to go alone.  And Diana..she is nothing but encouraging.

We got there and met Mercedes.  I had actually "met" her once before, a couple of years prior, an extremely uncomfortable scenario, but again, a story for another time... I asked her if Diana could watch the class.  And that was fine.  So, while Diana made herself comfortable on the couch I changed then took my place.

And Mercedes turned on the music.  The beautiful music.  I think it was El Londro.

She started moving.  We started following.

And it felt good.

The studio was dark and cozy.

Everything felt right.

Finally.   I relaxed.   I felt it.   I was in my body.   I danced.   Por fín.

This was exactly what I needed.  I had found my place in Jerez.

After class all of the students wanted to know about me and Diana.  Where were we from?  What were we doing here?  They told us about a peña show coming up that Saturday night with el Torta...I'll tell you about it later I promise. They were friendly and nice, all of them.  On the way home I couldn't stop talking to Diana about how good it felt to be there, how excited I was for the next class...

First I thought I'd just do this class what with all of the other conflicts.  But it became doable to attend her other classes with bulerías often being canceled for this reason or that reason.  So as my time went on in Jerez, I went to more and more classes with Mercedes.

Because I couldn't get enough of her.

Tangos, bata de cola, castañuelas (possibly my favorite class of all.)  The only problem was that she so often left town to tour, but very luckily she was all about rearranging and making up for lost time.

Downside?  Yes, there were downsides.  Like the humid studio; it was ALWAYS humid.  Yuck, "I love everything but the mildew smell," I wrote in my little book, but it could have been worse I suppose.  And, yes, there were times I felt frustrated and confused and lost in the choreography and just wanted to rewind to the beginning of class where we worked on technique...

But upsides by far overrode that small annoyance.

Her passion.

Her focus on the details.

The feedback she gave.

And she made me feel importante.  (Ok, I admit, I love it when they make me feel importante.) The thing is, she made all of us feel this way...

And class served as a window a into her practice.  A ventana showing me the importance of los detalles, of taking things slowly at first, of spending a long time on one thing, of repetition.  No wonder she's so amazing.

But most of all, in the moment it almost always felt good being there.

Which is what I wrote on April 11,  "Feel so good after or more importantly in Mercedes's class - so happy I was brave enough to go in..."

And someday (hopefully soon) I'll go back there.  Maybe you'll even come with me.

I would love to hear what you think.  What types of classes do you like?  What inspires you?  What marvelous tips have you learned from a favorite teacher?  What fears do you have when going to a new place?  When putting yourself in an unfamiliar situation?  Leave a comment here.