"I want to be in class with Mercedes ALL of the time." That is what I wrote in my journal on April 13, 2011.
But let's go back in time.
I arrived in Jerez on Friday, March 25 and began investigating classes to take.
Though secretly, I did not want to go to any.
A week in Jerez by myself.
By myself not really wanting to be by myself. In the plane on the way home from Portugal I sat next to Spanish couple. The husband and I got to talking. He told me I was valiente. Brave to be there all by myself. But I did not feel valiente. I felt scared and kind of stupid. Not to be traveling alone. But to be going to do flamenco alone. Because I knew I'd rather be doing it with a friend ...
A week spent looking for studios,
Trying to understand when and where the different classes took place,
Feeling relief as I kept arriving at the wrong times and missing them. This had everything to do with daylight savings time, and me, and nothing to do with cultural confusion as I had thought at the time. But I won't get into that right now.
So one afternoon on the way from Peña los Cernícalos, where I was supposed to take bulerías class, except that noone was there, to Chiqui de Jeré’s school, I passed by a little studio on Calle Baro. Later, three years later to be exact, I would learn that this little studio had previously been Peña la Bulería.
I was walking on the opposite side of the street, the very little street, and I noticed some flamenco dancers in the doorway chatting.
I should inquire about who teaches there and what kind of classes are going on, I thought. But the ladies were all talking and smiling and carrying on as if they knew each other really well.
So I just kept on walking.
Later that same day, going from Chiqui's studio back to the peña, I passed the little studio yet again.
This time I was on the right side of the street, the studio side of the street. This time there were no flamenco dancers gathered outside the door talking. This time I walked up to the door and read the plaque on the building:
'Escuela de Baile Mercedes Ruíz'
¿En serio? ¿Mercedes Ruíz? ¿La Mercedes Ruíz?
Isn’t she supposed to be touring around the world? All of the time?
The door was ajar.
I pushed on the door and peeked my head in to find a very smiley student sweeping the studio and chatting with some guy on the couch.
Yes, there was a couch. It happened to be the same couch I had at home. A sign perhaps?
The student told me when the classes were happening and what dances they were doing.
"Were they far along in the choreographies?"
Yes, but I could still come to class.
"What about the level?"
Apparently there were no levels.
"What time were classes?"
They all seemed to overlap with bulerías class.
And there was my answer.
I couldn't sacrifice bulerías class, the reason I’d come to Jerez, for a too hard class that was far along in the choreography.
As it happened, there was to be no bulerías class the next day. Meaning I could, theoretically, give the bata class with Mercedes a try.
So I made myself go.
I arrived late only to find a closed door. I’m pretty positive that I arrived late on purpose.
I heard stomping which, naturally, scared me.
So I stood there. Listening to the stomping. Watching the closed green door.
Closed door. Stomping. Late Laura.
I did not attempt to go in.
Instead I left a note in the mailbox full of junk mail with my phone number inquiring about classes.
I did not hear back. And I'm not sure I wanted to.
“You tried,” I told myself. “There’s nothing more you can do.”
So I went about my business
Later in the week I encountered the student, the smiley cleaning student in bulerías class.
We greeted one another.
"Ah!" she said. "I forgot to tell you there is a class with Mercedes on Thursday and Friday evenings."
There were two good things about this:
1. Supposedly this class was a bit easier than the others, the ones with “no” level.
2. It was offered at a time that didn't conflict with any of my other classes.
I had to give it a try
And this time, I actually wanted to.
It was the day Diana was set to arrive. Perhaps she’d want to come with me.
And she did. Just to watch, but that was good enough for me.
A friend to go with. An especially encouraging and enthusiastic friend.
I picked her up from the train station, we walked to the apartment, and then off to class we went.
We arrived and met Mercedes. I had actually "met" her once before, a couple of years prior. An awkward and uncomfortable scenario which I won’t get into right now. I asked Mercedes if Diana could watch the class. That was fine with her. So Diana made herself comfortable on the couch while I changed and took my place among the other students.
Mercedes turned on the music
The beautiful music. El Londro.
She started moving. We started following.
And it felt good.
The studio was dark and cozy.
Everything felt right
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 everyone had questions for us.
Where were we from?
What were we doing here?
Did Diana do yoga? (They were all convinced that she did from seeing her sitting on the couch, legs crossed, and pretty perfectly still for the entire class.)
They informed us of a peña show coming up that Saturday night with El Torta. We had to go.
On the way home I couldn't stop talking to Diana about how good it felt to be there, about how excited I was for the next class. I loved Mercedes as a teacher. I loved the pace. The students were genuinely happy to have us there. They were friendly and fun. They wanted to talk to us.
I had not felt this way about any class yet in Jerez.
This was big.
I started out taking just the Thursday/Friday class, what with all of my other conflicts. But with bulerías often being canceled for this reason or that reason it became doable to attend other classes with Mercedes. And as my time went on in Jerez, I found myself in more and more of her classes.
I couldn't get enough
All of the classes scared me at least slightly, but I kept going back.
Mercedes left town often to tour, but she was all about rearranging and making up for lost time.
Sure there were a couple of things I could have lived without.
Like the humid studio. It was ALWAYS humid it seemed.
And, yes, there were times I felt frustrated and confused and lost in the choreography and wanted nothing but to rewind to the beginning of class where we worked on technique.
But the upsides most certainly canceled out those small molestias.
Her focus on the details.
The feedback she gave.
She made me feel importante
I love it when they make me feel important. And, Mercedes, she made all of us feel that way.
Class also served as a window a into her practice.
Her obsession with details, with taking things slowly at first, with spending a long time on one thing, with repetition.
No wonder she's so amazing.
Y sobre todo, it almost always felt good being there.
Which is what I wrote on April 11 in one of my little books, "Feel so good after or more importantly in Mercedes's class - so happy I was brave enough to go in..."
And let me say here to you right now,
I am so glad that I went in.
Had I not I’d likely be perusing YouTube videos of Mercedes right now lamenting over how I’d missed my chance to take classes from this incredible woman in her personal studio in Jerez.
Had I not I may never have met a group of really cool ladies to hang out with while there, some of whom I’m still in contact with today.
Had I not I who knows if I would be putting together these trips to Spain to study flamenco. I guess I'd be offering something, but nothing as special as the FlamencoTour to Jerez.
So Go In
At least give it a try.
Whatever your it may be.
... And I'm talking to myself too. Because sometimes I do. And sometimes I don’t.
But I never discover the good stuff unless I go in.
I'll be heading back to Jerez
Perhaps you’d like to join me.
Tell me 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.
*This article is a reworking of this.