Ana Lucia Jardim
This Teenager Found What We Spend A Lifetime Searching For
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
It’s Friday night, and I'm sitting in the patio of Peña Torres Macarena, one of the few remaining flamenco culture clubs of Seville. People of all ages are gathered in small groups around plastic white tables, chatting and laughing, enjoying the balmy evening. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, and you can tell everyone knows each other. Becoming a socio of the club is an intricate process, but luckily non-members like myself can attend the weekly flamenco shows, which I do whenever I’m in town. The first time that someone recognized me and said "Hola, Ana!", I was thrilled. It was like becoming a regular at the Cheers of flamenco.
When the president rings the cowbell by the patio door, we all know it’s time to transition indoors. The show is about to begin in the Peña's tablao, an intimate performance space dedicated to live flamenco music and dance. Both famous and aspiring artists perform here all the time.
The stage takes up most of the room, and is surrounded by simple wooden chairs and by tiled walls covered in in portraits of legendary flamencos. I got a seat in the back row, one of the few that non-socios can occupy, so that I can stand up anytime during the performance and get a closer look at the dancer’s footwork. As a dancer myself, I want to soak in as much as I can from the opportunities to see the pros in action.
The crowd goes silent when the announcer climbs onto the stage and introduces tonight’s artists. The headliner is Paula Carmona, a largely unknown 17 year-old dancer who nevertheless is a member of the famous Carmona flamenco family. I had never heard of Paula before but when I saw the Instagram post announcing the show earlier that week (above), I had a sense this would be a good one. Something about Paula's gaze in that photo immediately pulled me in. She reminded me of a vintage poster for the Feria de Sevilla , both innocent and ancient.
A feeling I had again as soon as Paula stepped onto the stage. She wore a dark green velvet dress adorned by black tassels, an outfit I would categorize as old-fashioned elegance. An interesting choice for a teenager in the age of TikTok.
What followed was one of the most satisfying flamenco performances I've ever attended. I say satisfying because it felt NOTHING like a performance. She started a little shy and tentative, but very soon her eyes met the musicians´ and off they went on their private journey together, with all of us there as accidental witnesses. There are certain things I'm used to seeing dancers do to elicit awe and excitement, but there wasn't much of that going with Paula. In fact, she seemed quite uninterested in performing. And yet, she danced exquisitely. She was so liberated from the role of performer and the need to look good, that I, too, was set free from my role as audience member. I had no need to pay attention, or to have an opinion. I could just relax and be there, be in the dance with the artists.
Paula Carmona embodies excellence without performance. An effortless being and doing combined. For years, I had studied, taught and sought this state of flow, the ultimate rung of the ladder that so many of us spend a lifetime reaching for, and often never get to. I have been blessed by moments of it, and seen some people operate that way, but nothing this powerful and clear. What was different?
I tried to deconstruct the experience: what was she doing, exactly? Was there anything particular going on at the Peña that night? Was I in some special mood that allowed me to feel that way? I twisted my brain into knots searching for an answer. And then, wisdom arrived in the form of a question: why is it important to know, anyway? I could just let it be what it was- a mystery.
A friend once told me that “if you spot it, you got it”. If I was able to recognize the magic of mastery in Paula’s dance, maybe it's because that freedom is within me, too. A divine gift for ordinary beings like you and me. Lucky us.
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