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Yup, I'm searching for duende, too

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

I want to start this post off by saying that I reserve the right to allow continued learning to modify my perspective. I admit to being a lifelong learner. I am not the same as I was two years ago, and I will be different two years from now. I am surprised by the number of things I find myself wanting to write about, and my hope is always that what I say will spark further thought or possibly even conversation. This blog is one of the places where I re-process some of life’s events, where I look at how I have metabolized my experiences. Lately, as I have been crafting bailes for upcoming performances, in addition to wondering what choreographies I want to revive and which I want to chuck out altogether, I find myself also thinking about what it is that makes Flamenco interesting to me and whether I am capable of bringing that to the stage. That could lead to an angst-ridden discussion about my worth and talent, but what I actually want to think about "on paper" is duende, that hard-to-describe thing that is so often referenced with respect to Flamenco and that, like most great, fleeting things, escapes any definition that would bring it squarely down to earth. I tried to find comprehensible explanations from others’ personal experiences, but my (brief!) search showed me that many roads seem to lead back to Federico García Lorca, the one and only. I turned to a book in my collection, “Flamenco gitan”. Originally written in French, the title translates to “Gypsy Flamenco”. The author, Caterina Pasqualino, refers to some of Lorca's descriptions of duende. That it is sacred inspiration, that Flamenco singers can be possessed by it in the most intense of moments. That it is like, or is, communion with God. This is pretty heavy stuff, the kind that makes me stare into space, silently willing my brain to unravel the complexity of the concept. And while I am not sure that I ever witnessed anything quite so mystical, I have had moments where I felt like a willing captive of what I was witnessing, like a receptacle with swirling contents, not quite sure what I was feeling, but wishing to feel it always.

I’m not sure if duende is something that you feel while dancing or that you make others feel, or some combination of both. From my own practice sessions, though, I think that duende can sometimes be like what psychologists sometimes refer to as the “flow state”. A person finds themselves in the flow state when they are engaged to the point of complete immersion in a challenging activity that requires their knowledge and creativity, allowing them to block out external problems and judgments. In the flow state, a person’s awareness is limited to their own thoughts and activities. It’s like being in a meditative state, and I can attest to this. I think it's one of the reasons why I’ve always preferred to practice solo than to go to class. I find immense benefit from going within. While the first hour or so can be immensely frustrating, once I have the metronome on and I’m repeating steps to the rhythm, the rewarding combination of repetition and muscle memory take over, and I find myself getting lost in what I’m doing. A certain freedom happens there when the body is so engaged, an internal freedom, and that swirling of contents that I mentioned earlier happens. It’s kind of like I’m my own snow globe and I’ve given myself a good shake to make the magic happen. It’s impossible to leave those kinds of practice sessions unhappy. And that state of being in the zone of contentment is what I wish to bring to the stage. It’s as if: if I can get there, maybe I can bring others with me, and then we can all leave different, happier.

Lole y Manuel ... a duo with duende in spades ...

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