Lost in Translation: Finding Confidence in Flamenco

I think I'm in love.

It's the type of love that's energetic and fiery. It's confident, unstoppable and cannot be ignored. If it's not real love, then I'm pretty sure we are getting serious.

It's FLAMENCO--the form of Spanish music and folk dance that originated from Andalusia in the south of Spain. Involving four different artistic elements from singing and guitar to dance and hand-clapping, flamenco is at the heart of this rich culture for tourists and natives alike.

When I decided to take flamenco lessons in Spain, I wasn't just following a touristy cliche. I was also fulfilling a childhood fantasy of becoming a dancer. I distinctively remember having wallpaper with pointe shoes in my childhood room as well as using our living area as my "practice space" for my future performances. This wannabe Britney Spears/ballerina would be the toast of the town one day.

But somehow, I let go of this passion. The fantasy died as I started focusing on more "realistic" dreams like getting into a good college and attaining academic success. Instead, I left the dancing to my sister, an actual ballerina whose grace and poise I envy.

But I reawakened my dream this semester when I left school to study abroad. As fate would have it, my host family's house is right above an "academia de baile" (dance school). I bought the skirt, the shoes, and signed up for two lessons per week. If all went well, maybe I could skip this college thing and a Latin dance company would discover my latent talents.

Did I mention that I'm sometimes delusional?

Flamenco is extremely complex. Involving intricate hand and arm movements with simultaneous movement of the feet, it requires a lot of focus and athleticism. Embarrassingly enough, I was also the student my teacher corrected the most. Then I grew frustrated. I hated being reminded of things I'm bad at.

But most of all, I hated the glare of the mirrors in the studio. As I hopelessly imitated our teacher, I tried to avoid looking at them. I'm not ashamed of my body but I''m not amazed by it either. I'll even be the first to admit that self-confidence isn't one of my strong suits. Maybe that's why I envied dancers so much--they always carried themselves with more of it than I could ever dream of.

I kept avoiding looking at them until I realized that the only way for me to actually get the moves right is to look at myself. Gradually, I got better with each lesson and kept returning even though I knew the movement would never be absolutely spot-on.

Soon enough, looking at myself became less and less scary. I allowed myself to get lost in the image, feeling like the best version of myself. Whenever I danced, I felt a surge of electricity. It was addictive and flamenco was a way for me to release all the stress I felt from school. I also realized it was okay for me to look in the mirror and see a "pretty girl." I was much more drawn to the Isabella who was smiling rather than the one who seemed self-conscious.

But what I love the most about flamenco is the liberty. I remember seeing my first show in Sevilla, where the guitarist was constantly improvising to accompany the dancers. He wasn't following any particular sequence or technique, just the soul of the dancer's movements. Perfection doesn't exist in this world because how can anything be perfect if it's made on the spot? I left that show breathless and eager to continue learning despite all my shortcomings.

So when 8:30 rolls around on Monday or Wednesday, I follow the same routine with bated breath and butterflies.

I enter that dance room, ready for an hour of diversion.

I draw my hands up, ready to repeat the sequence over and over again to get it right.

I stand tall, knowing that while the movement isn't perfect, it's better and that's all that matters.

But best of all, I look back into the glass and smile, knowing that what stares back isn't perfection, but it sure is beautiful.

I have only one thing to thank for that.