Sunday Lifestyle

Confessions of a flamenco widower

- Scott R. Garceau - The Philippine Star

My wife recently had her yearly flamenco show, which means that for the past months there’s been more than the usual amount of emotion flying through the house and through our lives. By November, everything starts to revolve around “the show,” as this event, staged by Centro Flamenco in mid-December (for maximum stress, of course), sucks up a great deal of time, money, practice and feathery costuming to make it all come out right.

During this time of year, flamenco frippery is everywhere. It’s almost like a bird’s migration season: you will see polka-dotted black dresses, red flowers, castanets and many, many flamenco heels taking over the environment. In addition to this, you will hear the thrilling trill of flamenco guitar and Castilian singers ululating at high volumes. And you will hear the rat-a-tat of hard wooden heels tattooing the hell out of hard wooden floors. 

And you know what? I’m really proud of her. She’s found something that makes her heart beat faster.

True, it’s not me making her heart beat faster. But that’s just one of the adjustments we spouses make when we become flamenco widowers.

Do you know someone who’s a flamenco widower? That is, somebody — a male spouse, typically, though sometimes an exception is made for Richard Gere — who spends hours at home while his wife is out taking flamenco classes?

That’s me. Sitting in the corner, nursing an Estrella Galicia, trying to avoid eye contact with the bandana-wearing lead dancer at Barcino’s, who has a tendency to pull audience members onstage — primarily, I am sure, to embarrass them by having them try to duplicate his footwork (badly, to much laughter). I resist 100 percent of the time; I am an earnest spectator, not part of the night’s entertainment. (One time, though, to my lasting shame, I did offer up my 12-year-old daughter to the stage in my place — a fact she’s never let me forget.)

On the other hand, my wife puts so much skill, effort and preparation into her performance that it would be churlish to merely play the part of second banana for the guy in the bandana. It seems… unearned, somehow.

I watch my spouse, during the buildup to the Big Show, studying YouTube videos for moves and inspiration. She will grow frantic as the text messages flood her iPhone (and Apple Watch) nonstop, days and hours before the Big Night, telling of a change in the footwork, a new routine, an extra minute to fill here or there. It seems calculated to drive performers insane, this frenetic hive of activity. My wife takes it with all the professionalism that she applies to her other career paths — capable fashion editor, brilliant writer — but I know what goes on behind the scenes; I know that every brilliant moment is built upon a thousand moments of panic, a thousand gestures of self-flagellation. Nothing comes for free in art.

And me? I stay at home during those long rehearsal hours, naturally. It’s a hard gig, but I try to take it like a man. I catch up on episodes of Walking Dead or Fresh Off the Boat or Veep. I’m not swept up in the Castilian frenzy, like she is. My admiration is from afar, usually perched in front of a TV set. Or out having a few beers. Think for a moment, though, about all those things the flamenco widower must do to fill the empty moments while the wife is somewhere else, tap-tap-tapping away:

• Watching Better Call Saul and Ash vs. Evil Dead downloads.

• Listening to vinyl records at full volume.

• Napping.

• Sipping wine in tribute to the fine Spanish Granache and sangrias.

• Drinking cold cervezas, both local and imported varieties.

• Eating salsa and chips, and the occasional queso manchego (in tribute to Spanish cuisine).

• Searching YouTube for evil cat videos.

• Occasionally writing articles, like this one.

The flamenco widower finds it necessary to develop these skills to endure the long, lonely hours. Fortunately, we males are a resourceful lot: we know how to kill time in a million mindless ways.

Ah, but for the spouse it is very different She is spurred on by the passion to learn new things. There is always that segment in a flamenco dance — the paso libre — which in essence is supposed to be spontaneous, like a little jazz improvisation of footwork and arm movement. But guess what? Turns out it’s not so free and easy after all; rather than a Charlie Parker riff, it’s like painting a masterpiece in motion. It turns out my wife chose one of the most stylized art forms ever invented to perfect, and for a perfectionist, you can see the inherent pitfalls.

This doesn’t stop her, somehow. Nor does the frenzied Christmas rush that always accompanies the yearly show, the terrible traffic, the demand to sell tickets for the show, the need to hold and attend parties before and after. All this is somehow swept up neatly, like a flamenco dancer’s hair bun, along with the thousand things she needs to accomplish to get it right.

This year was a particularly crazy lead-up to show night. Five or six costume fittings. Practicing her steps almost 24/7, even in the office, tap-tap-tapping next to her desk — wearing the thousand-yard stare usually only practiced by Jedi Masters. The show, when we finally watched, was that very rare thing: art in motion. Maestra Emma Estrada and director Leo Rialp had stripped the lighting and stagework down to the dramatic bone; I could see the effort inscribed in every taut maneuver onstage, but I also saw something I’d never seen before: my wife was smiling up there. Maybe it was a smile of relief. Or exhaustion. She was affixing the last piece in a complex mosaic, something larger than her that had been set in motion for months.

And me? I was handling the part the flamenco widower masters so well, a role so complementary and necessary it almost becomes a pasodoble: holding a video camera, smiling back, shouting out “Ole!”

But I’ll let my wife’s FB post say it so much more clearly: “Flamenco is a celebration of life, with all its sadness and joy. It’s about claiming your space, and baring all your emotions in an art that expresses ‘This is who I am.’ If I look transported (in the photo), that’s because I am!”

This flamenco widower can only add: we seek the things we love, not for a moment of perfection, but because they push us and attract us in equal measure. They are both the goal and the means to that goal. We practice. We live. We fail. We rejoice. We weep. We sweep up. We make up. We break down. We rise. We fall. We breathe again. We dance.















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