About two years ago I was having lunch at a local sushi restaurant with a group of friends. Suzanne, who happens to be an arts patron and connoisseur, was dipping her spicy tuna roll in soy sauce, when she looked up and said, "Guess what guys? I am going up to Santa Cruz this week to visit my friend from my graduate school years. You won't believe it, she was an art consultant 20 years ago. She was one of those women who was at the edge of all trends-- had a BMW, had the newest coffee maker and gadgets, and was married. Well after her divorce, she went to Peru and became a Shaman and is now married to a mountain range."
We put our drinks down and one by one the comments started flying around: "That is crazy." "How can she be married to a mountain?" "What a break with her other life!" Without even realizing it, I heard myself say, "Oh. I would love to know an interesting person like that." It is not the fact that she married a mountain range; shamans have a symbolic union with nature as a part of their healing tradition. I was more curious about her need to do something that is on the outskirts of mainstream culture. Little did I know that my fascination with her had something to do with me.
While raising my kids, teaching at the university, and going about my life, I was searching. Even before I knew what I was looking for, I was searching. Then came the flood of images, all gypsy-like women, a bit off-center and quirky, and the flamenco dancers-- another variation of the gypsy, with their rouge-red shawls and their fiery dance. It made no sense, but how I wished to be like them.
I believe that somewhere deep in our hearts is the archive of all our intimate memories and desires, and the experiences we were meant to have. And we go through life as if it were a cosmic treasure hunt, uncovering those experiences that are waiting to be born. Perhaps the future enters us long before it happens, and waits for the hour where we find something in the outside word that calls us to attention. We just need to refine our listening skills and recognize and attend to such calls.
For me it happened while I was leafing through the Christies art catalogue. Lightning struck--a familiar image was staring back at me. I showed the image in the painting to my friends, to my husband and family. They looked at the woman in the painting and looked back at me. "Why this is you, Angella," was the resounding reply. It was not that the gypsy woman in the Van Dogen painting looked like me, but there was something of her that I embodied.
By Kees van Dongen
Painted circa 1920-1911
Lot 34, Sale 7831, London, King Street
Sometimes we need to wander away, go get away from the safe and the habitual to look for ourselves. I yearned for more spontaneity. I wanted to meet people who were not in the radius of my life, who had nothing to do with my work and did not share in my sensibilities. Years and years spent in academic settings, I swayed toward the intellectual rather than the experiential. So, I decided to enroll myself at the Gypsy Camp. No, this is not a school on how to become a gypsy (although it would have made my life easier). It is a studio that teaches flamenco dance. The owner of the place has curly hair that is cut in a bob, and she parades up and down the dance studio with off-the-wall clothing ensembles. Her clothing choice is dictated by the given month. As she puts it, "She wears red and 'glittery stuff' in January and February because of the holidays and Valentines Day. She wears green in March because of St. Patrick's and Earth Day." Now tell me where I would have met someone like her in my life?
During the week, I counted the days until my flamenco dance classes. There is a certain innocence about beginnings, with its excitement and promise. I found myself in love with the music, the emotional intensity of the dance--the strong, defiant, almost explosive character of flamenco. My teacher is all about technique and precision, so I had to listen for the rhythmic cycle of the music, feel the accentuations, which I still have trouble with. I had to learn to do palmas--clap my hands with beats and in counter beats to Bulerias music. And how utterly frustrating but delightful it is to learn those lightning fast footwork and feet stomping! "Planta, punto, tacon, tacon," my teacher calls out, and I have to follow her orders with my feet-- if they ever listen to me. While in class I feel the rush of light and happiness spread slowly inside me. Outside of class, I listen for beats--"Was that honking in bursts of four beats or what?" At the dinner table, my shoes are off and I am practicing doing planta, punto, tacon, tacon. My days are filled with color and beats of a new found world.
I added another class during the week -- one that is pure movement, without dance or choreography. People can do whatever they feel like, dance like no one is watching, lie on the ground, or just walk around in circles. It doesn't matter. The point is to do our own thing with the music. There is an elderly man who shows up with his violin and starts playing music to whatever part of the music he fancies. Last week, I spotted a couple in wheelchairs moving back and forth to music, smiling at each other.
There is a middle aged man who comes in, dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, and changes into a men's Indian Sari. He starts out at one of the dance studio with a beautiful rose in hand. Slowly and intently, he makes his way to the other end of class, where the stage is located. He is deep in meditation, takes one slow step after another and finally lays the rose on the stage as an offering. This is his ritual every time.
I get this man. Beneath our feet is the luminous stage of our life, and each of us is an artist of our days. These days become the emerging lacework of our life that slowly bring us to our invisible destination. Each of our days could be seeded with something that brings us closer to that sense of joy and wonder, whatever that may be. But no one can open the door if we can't reach for the latch ourselves. No one knows what that may be, but ourselves. I surely did not take dance classes to become a professional dancer. My teacher will vouch for that. I am doing it because it is making me feel more alive and whole.
When you hear this simple story, maybe it will resonate in your heart. Although each of us lead different lives, and express the spirit which we carry in infinite ways, we are all headed to same place -- our deepest being. If we go deep enough in the encounter of the moments that reach us, we all arrive at the same destination, our yearning for a meaningful experience that connects us to ourselves.
Why not treat ourselves and our lives as a piece of art? Just two weeks ago, as I was leaving my movement class, I spotted a man riding a unicycle in the middle of Venice Boulevard traffic. I stopped at the grass divider to take in this surprising sight. I laughed and laughed. I thought to myself, "I don't know the woman who married a mountain range, but now my world collides with so many like her." I felt that by taking those dance classes I somehow have opened another door of my own self. I have put one foot into the door way, I am leaning out and listening.