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Gender, shoes, and pining after the greats.
I want to dance like Antonio Gades.
I don’t consider myself a flamenco dancer. I’m a person who knows how to dance flamenco. I try, and I have fun, and I think that’s all that matters. There’s an immediacy of rhythm I’ve always felt that lends itself well to a style so concerned with the numbers it plays against itself—one-two-three, four-five-six, seven-eight-nine-ten-eleven-twelve. Children learn how to count the basic palo with a clock face.
I want to take up more space than I think I know how.
I used to joke that when my growth spurts hit, I grew so quickly my body lost its sense of where it was in space. Swim coaches used to flail their stopwatches at me, Longer! Reach! Use your legs! But for the life of me I didn’t know how to be long, how to reach, how to kick from my hips instead of my knees. It wasn’t innate. I had to force it, be conscious of every movement that went beyond the safety of my core.
It was as though something had been severed or simply never developed in the walnut part of my brain by making it across those precipitous bridges between childhood, adolescence, adulthood. I was both foal and nag, uncertain and rangy but with none of the boundlessness. It exhausted me to try. My own body was a foreign place.
I won’t dig too deeply into the annals of the maybe’s, the primordial psychological soup of why I might have quit learning to feel my body as a thing that has breadth and depth and brims with potential and kinetic energy alike (conjecture, the all-you-can-eat buffet: was it this bowl of puberty? Maybe rather the plate of patriarchy. Try a mouthful of comphet, it tastes of basil).
All I know is that I started taking flamenco classes again. The first time I took them up as a six-year-old, it was because my ballet teacher told my mother I didn’t always know what step or position I needed to be doing but I always knew the beat I had to keep. I only returned to the palos, the sweet cacophony, twenty years later when I was grasping at the straws of my own self and needed a reason to feel new. And finally, I found a home for this body of mine.
“You’re so much,” one of my first teachers told me soon after I got back to it as she adjusted my arms from behind me. It wasn’t an admonishment that stressed her passion. It was awe.
She prodded just-so at the set of my shoulders, gave my arm an extra illusion of length that hadn’t been there before, and suddenly everything made sense.
I don’t have the time or the discipline on my side to become a truly great dancer, but I’ll never tire of watching them at work. I watch Saura films, Bodas de Sangre and Carmen, because as comfortable as I’ve gotten at inhabiting my own bones lately there’s still always going to be a hole in my understanding of how I exist, physically; a piece of me left on my own banks that will never make it across those bridges.
That piece needs to be a third party to the greats and won’t be satisfied by going through my own motions. I don’t know what it is—mental, physical, it isn’t something that particularly plagues me or demands an answer. It, like many things about life in general, just is. But when I watch other people dancing in a way I know how, a way I can aspire to, with rhythms I’ve felt in the soles of my feet and the beating of my palms and the flex of my jaw, my teeth tsk-tsk-chak-ing as I count each beat to myself, for brief stretches of time I am transported into someone else’s body.
Last time I watched Bodas de Sangre, I had a profusion of edibles swirling around in my gourd. There’s a scene at the beginning in which Gades is warming up briefly on his own in the mirrored studio before the rest of his company comes in ahead of rehearsal (the whole story is a play-within-a-play sort of deal, and one of the finest examples in my opinion). Watching the lines of his body and the careful way he moves through each step made me so emotional I had to pause the playback and take a moment just to stare through the screen; prepare myself for the rest of it, the reckoning I was about to have with some low, roiling layer of me that I’d either been too afraid to look at in full before then or just plainly ignorant of its teeth for upwards of twenty-odd years.
I want to dance like Antonio Gades. Do I want to be him? Perhaps. Perhaps everyone wants to be something of the bodies they idealize. Perhaps I want more machismo on my side of the rope than I’ve really been allowed to have, in a cosmic sense.
Perhaps I want all of that, and a deeper sense of trust that I can take up space—and look exactly like I want to while doing it. I don’t think I need a different body to do that. Just a different sort of mirror in me, so I can look at myself as something that matters.
A new pair of botas arrived for me the other day. They’re bright blue, the color of unnatural and vibrant things; ornery, un-speckled robin’s eggs with nails hammered flat into the soles. I put them on. I feel them clutch my feet, clak heavy and satisfied against the floor. I don’t wear a skirt with them.
I break them in with aplomb, my form messy and my hair wild, but I look at myself sheened with sweat as my teacher’s palmas crack against the slapback of the studio walls and for the first time I feel as though I fit in my own frame.
I reset; count off; draw myself up tall and long. I go again, and again, and again.
I don’t think Gades would ever wear shoes like this. I think he would probably have thought them gauche.
But I’ll wear them, and that’s really all that matters.
~~~~~~ Book Updates ~~~~~~
SHOOT THE MOON, a story about wormholes and clinging to the time we have left with the people who love us, comes to Putnam Books in fall 2023 — stay tuned for more information 🚀💞
~~~~~~ Reading Recs ~~~~~~
ON GOOD AUTHORITY by Briana Una McGuckin (out October 11, 2022)
Briana and I are agent siblings, but I had her gorgeous, scintillating book preordered even before receiving the ARC. It is perfect Gothic fiction with all the right twists and turns, and I quite literally couldn’t put it down.
LIEBESTRASSE by Lockard, Fish, Barros, Gattoni, and Dennis
It’s simple: I love historical fiction, I love queer art, and I love the ache of adoration persisting in the margins where it is not allowed to flourish. This heartbreaking graphic novel is a keystone fixture for any shelf that leans on love.
ALL THIS COULD BE DIFFERENT by Sarah Thankam Mathews
I’m a sucker for a messy main character, and Sneha’s story is nothing short of a quiet disaster as beautiful as it is harrowing. It’s that quiet sort of dissolution that hits like an atom bomb, and I wanted to frame every single syllable of this book.
~~~~~~ Currently Listening ~~~~~~
SIM SIM SIM — Bala Desejo
Portuguese disco neuveau? Hell yes.
Photograph — Rose Droll
A misty bon mot of an album that sounds just like autumn tastes.
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