If you ever get frustrated with flamenco, feel like you don’t belong, or feel like you’re too old to be doing this, read on for some words of wisdom from Mercedes Ruíz taken from past interviews along with a video to inspire.
(And if you’re curious to know more about this incredible woman we spend so much time dancing and learning with on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez, check out the links to all of the interviews I’ve done with her in full at the end of this post.)
When You Feel Like You Don’t Belong:
In our first interview Mercedes mentioned that she encountered a lot of problems on her way to becoming a professional flamenco dancer. This got me wondering, about what those obstacles were, and more importantly, how she handled them.
I thought about the flamenco world and it can be easy to feel left out or like you don't belong. (For me at least, because I let myself.) I wondered if any of that went on for Mercedes. Especially coming from Jerez, where people have some strong opinions about flamenco, how it is to be done, and who ought to do it. Prior to Mercedes, no one in her family had anything to do with flamenco. They still don't. Nor do they even like it really. So, I wondered how it must have felt for her, an outsider, to enter into this community. I learned that Mercedes, well,
She doesn't let stuff get to her.
Here is what she had to say:
Artistic work is very closed. It takes a lot of effort to get accepted into places, and this has a big effect on your everyday life because artists have a lot of aspirations, and they want to improve everyday, and if you don't feel good about yourself it's horrible. I have encountered many obstacles, and I continue to encounter them, but you overcome them through daily work and without paying attention to others… I am a person who does her own thing, and I haven't tried to be accepted. If I am, great, and if not, what am I going to do? Things in life cannot be forced. Things happen as they're meant to happen.
When You Feel Like You’re Too Old
I’ve met so many people who began dancing as adults (like me, ha!) And many people who become interested later in life ask me, can I learn to do flamenco? Is it too late?
Here’s what Mercedes has to say about that:
It’s never too late to do what you want to do. I started when I was four because I was lucky enough to have been born in Jerez and because my mom took me to a flamenco academy. Art is art, and there are people who discover it earlier, and there are people who discover it later. But it’s no big deal…It’s all about dedication and interest and the time that you want to give to each thing.
It’s never too late to start anything. And if (you) discover that (you) like flamenco and that it makes (you) feel good and everything then it’s never too late. You can always dance. Always.
When You Feel Frustrated:
Sometimes learning flamenco can feel so frustrating. It is an enormously challenging art form. The coordination, hands doing one thing, feet another, the body, understanding the compás, speaking the language, hearing the cante, sending clear signals with your moves… I know other students feel this way.
But could someone as out-of-control-amazing as Mercedes Ruíz feel the same?
Here are some of her thoughts on frustration:
Of course. Of course, everyone (gets frustrated). In my opinion with patience and work everything will come out in the end. Everything. And everyone in the world can dance. Everyone.
Speaking of patience and work, here’s what she said when asked how she developed her style:
By working on my own, searching for sensations, working, in front of the mirror and looking for what made me feel good and what made me feel bad.
Patience and work.
See below what all of that patience and work has led to. It's Mercedes in action performing with her husband, Santiago Lara, and his group in Málaga last May:
Before the very first Flamenco Tour to Jerez I did a Skype interview with Mercedes. We had been planning the trip for a year via email, and it was set to happen in a matter of months. Still there was this little part of me that couldn’t believe it, this little part of me that feared all of the messages back and forth had been between me and some impostor who'd hacked into her email and was only pretending to be Mercedes. It all just seemed too good to be true. That Skype conversation put my mind at ease and that first Flamenco Tour did indeed happen, and many more after that. If you’d like to join me this fall to study with Mercedes, there’s still time! Get all of the details here.
Stay tuned later this week for another video of Mercedes from last weekend's Fiesta De La Bulería in Jerez and a letra.