No, it's not a coincidence that I decided to tackle this topic just a few months before hosting my next guest artist - stay tuned for details :) I hear many concerns and field countless questions every time a new workshop is announced, and I think this is a good time to help navigate some of those doubts and fears.
Let me start by sharing with you why I host artists at my studio on a somewhat regular basis. Long ago I made my peace with the idea that, like many interpreters of this art form, I have my limitations. I know what my strengths are and I rely on those to teach, build a choreography, and find better, more creative ways to communicate my love of this dance form. But I also have my weaknesses and doubts; my moments when I need inspiration in order to push through the dance equivalent of "writer's block."
During workshops, it's rare that I don't take class right along with my students (makes no difference if it's a beginner or advanced class). I find tremendous joy and relief in taking a break from decision making and simply enjoy the process of being taught! I've always felt that while I'm a teacher first and foremost, I'm also a life-long student of this art form and that has kept me hungry after all these years.
I also host guest teachers because inevitably, after every workshop, I see my students light up. Not just in their renewed excitement of the art form, but in more subtle ways. They carry themselves just a little bit differently. They look at themselves in the mirror and catch an adjustment before I get a chance to comment on it. Their focus is more specific and it lasts far longer than the duration of the workshop.
So who exactly are these artists and where do they come from?
The dancers I've brought in have always been carefully curated and I believe they've all made tremendously varied contributions to how we view flamenco. From the playfulness and elegance of Miguel Vargas embodying the very spirit of Seville, to the more classical and disciplined approach to castanets of Paloma Gómez from Madrid; the explosiveness of Raquel Heredia from Granada, and the versatility and athleticism of the malagueño Adrián Santana.
All workshops require tremendous planning: financial concerns, artist visas, lodging, scheduling, timing, marketing, publicity, etc... It’s a truly exhausting and all-encompassing proposition but the rewards far outweigh the sometimes difficult logistics involved. In the end you have the satisfaction of making a new connection, or strengthening an old one, you live in someone else's culture even if for a short while, and most importantly, you challenge your own preconceived notions of what you can do.
So what holds a student back from wanting to take a guest teacher's classes?
I think students are often intimidated by the idea of taking a class with someone they don't know... and from a different country no less. "What if I can't follow the instructions and make a fool of myself?" But there is another side to this that we don't often think about: guest teachers are nervous too. And they have far more to lose! They take a big leap of faith by traveling across an ocean to try and connect with people they've never met. "What if no one shows up!?" they're wondering...
I think realizing that successful and exciting workshops require a leap of faith for BOTH student and artist can reframe the idea and make it far less intimidating.
I always caution students against thinking that when they step into a guest artist class they need to "prove themselves" in some way: not stumble, not make mistakes. The point of these workshops is to be exposed to information in a short and concentrated period of time. Classes happen DAILY, giving you the luxury to repeat information over and over again and start to process movement by sheer intensive exposure. It's remarkable how the true test of what you learn with a guest teacher is never in the moment, but months and years later! Truly, the information builds over time, things I say in class may trigger a physical response or recognition of something Miguel Vargas said or demonstrated months ago and things just start to happen in your body that weren't happening before.
With each workshop you acquire just a little more confidence. Movements and concepts become just a little easier to assimilate. And all the while, you are building a relationship with people that will impact your life in surprising ways.
How many times in our busy, exhausted lives do we allow these connections to occur?
Finally, there's the issue of money and time... and God only knows time is a huge commodity in this crazy world we live in. Especially in this country. All I can say is this: the money and time are worth it 100% percent because you're investing them in an EXPERIENCE, not a THING. You're connecting with a culture, a new prospective, yourself. This is for you and when it's all said and done, you get the bragging rights and it goes something like this....
"Hey what did you do last week?" "Oh, not much, took flamenco classes with this gorgeous dancer from Spain, learned how to mark my steps to the rhythm of a soleá, had a few drinks afterward with said gorgeous dancer and several of the women in class and found out I'm part of this crazy cool community that I never knew existed! How was your week??"