Working with a load of lifetime artists over the past few years has been enlightening. I didn't have much chance to swim around in a community like this in Arizona; I'm sure it existed, and my endless writing and play-by-post RPing might have even qualified me to be a part of it, but I never really found them. I probably would have been too apprehensive to talk to them in any case. Other people don't generally scare me, but I do go to some lengths not to scare them.

One of the flamencas was talking to me at the desk the other day, about the passion of Persian mythology and what I thought of the flamenco showcase I worked a few weeks ago. It was interesting to hear the parallels she drew between her own native culture and the Spanish dance she'd learned. Persian poetry, it turns out, tends to be incomprehensible to Westerners because it draws heavily on the persistent wanting of eros without necessarily being what we think of as erotic. Love is less sweet without an element of longing, and does not have to be centered on a sexual partner, or even any specific person. She told me of one particular poem, written by a man about a (male) (platonic) friend, simply as an ode to what a wonderful person he was and how wonderful it was that such a person existed. And linked me to a famous song about how the singer was in love with the feeling of love itself, and the joy of pondering the many unanswerable questions of life.

Los flamencos have, at least within their art, the concept of duende. Wikipedia will give you a tremendously academic definition, and it's accurate about to the extent that it's accurate to describe a well-made cheesecake as 'a dairy-based food item'. What duende actually refers to is that feeling of falling into sync with some piece of art or performance, somewhere between a quiet comfortable 'click' or a galloping 'kapow!', where you realize that you get what is going on, and are moved to follow. The flamencos use it especially to describe what happens when a dancer 'tunes in' to the person who is singing their music, and understands their underlying habits and patterns well enough that even an improvisational piece seems to follow naturally. Psychologically, it's roughly equivalent to two (or more) people entering to a mutually-dependent state of flow for the duration of a performance.

It occurred to me that the Iranian dancer I was talking to was following the model of Persian longing-love in her pursuit of duende. And also that it accidentally explained something I've been turning over in my own head for weeks now.

I've mentioned that ye ballroom dance instructor offered to give me lessons. It struck me as something personal and specific in some way that I couldn't articulate without feeling I sounded like a 12-year-old doodling hearts in the back of my Trapper Keeper, which was entirely the wrong mood for whatever it was I was trying to get a grip on. I could not for the life of me figure out what he was trying to get out of me. Nine times out of ten, that kind of persistent wants my attention means someone has a smashing great crush, but I operate on the assumption that any man who spends as much time in a dance studio as I do is very, very gay until told otherwise. (It's not always right, and may in fact not be right here either, but the demographics are such that it's easier to start there and take corrections than the other way around.) A minimum of one of these postulates had to be wrong, and I could not work out which one(s) it was.

I gave him the opportunity to politely back out of teaching me himself, in case he was just preaching the wonders of ballroom and had let his mouth run away with him; no, apparently he didn't, and doesn't. I also explained my issues with proprioception, and that my attempt at taking a salsa class had ended in disaster, because -- and I quote myself here -- "I really don't like making awkward small talk with strangers all up in my airspace." I warned him that the way my brain codebreaks things meant that whatever I learned was likely to be very partner-specific -- if he taught me how to waltz, I probably wouldn't learn how to waltz with 'other people' so much as I'd learn how to waltz with him.

He spent all of this looking at me very earnestly, wearing an expression that I've since come to interpret as, "...well, yes...?" I think I accidentally grokked something there without being aware of it. I went through that conversation assuming that the offer was 'hey, I have this fun skill, I'll teach it to you and then we can both do fun things'. It does indeed sound like a fun skill to have, and I have in fact always been slightly sad that I'm not Ginger Rogers. I wasn't going to inquire about it, because this is the sort of thing he does to pay his rent, and I don't ask people to work for free. (I know for a fact that I'm not the only person he's made that offer to, but the list is very short. And he is openly attached to the people on it: One of the things he does in the office is coordinate the shows I manage house for, and I am now on the roster for everything he works on.) But both the offer of lessons and the persistent wants my attention make more sense if giving me some basic skills is more of a means to an end: If what he wants, as an artist, is to see whether interesting things happen when he dances with me.

I threw his name into Google, because I'm not an idiot, and when someone offers me free dance lessons I want to see what all I can absorb from it. I stay out of personal stuff, but the nice thing about dealing with someone who has a championship title is that competitions are public, and YouTube is forever. Unbelievably colossal skill gap aside, it turns out that stylistically, I fit in rather well with the people he's picked as competitive partners. They're all very pretty, very charismatic, and very eclectic. 'Steal from everyone' is my motto, and apparently it was all of theirs, too. I was especially entertained by the one who figured out how to do camel spins on a dance floor, during a... foxtrot? That might have been foxtrot. Haven't a fucking clue! I have no idea how he would have known that, since he's never seen me do any dancing of substance, but I suppose if that's the kind of human you investigate for the possibility of duende, you would learn how to spot them.

I picked tango, if any of you were wondering. The footwork tends to be very close, inside a small bounding box, which gives me fewer chances to lose track of my own feet. And the flourishes are crazy. Lots of deep lunges, high kicks, and other things that emphasize flexibility, especially in the back and hips. I'm going to be awful at negotiating space with a partner, at least at first, but getting my foot up over my head? Hell, I can do that.


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