Of all the things Louise Slyth expected when she began taking virtual flamenco classes during the COVID-19 lockdown, forging a deeper bond to one of her favourite cities and making lasting connections wasn’t one of them.
As first meetings go, this was one of my strangest.
I was familiar with the territory, but way out of my comfort zone. I’ve been a regular visitor to Andalucía’s capital since living in Spain ten years ago. It was love at first sight: From the charming Moorish architecture and the fallen oranges scattered through the cobbled streets to the eternally temperate weather, there is nothing not to love about Seville.
The people are as warm and friendly as the weather, but it was one particular person I was on my way to meet. Seville is known as the home of flamenco, and that day I was nervously making my way through the searing Sevillian heat to a dance school in the heart of the hip La Alameda District.
Long before I ever visited Spain, the passion and dynamism of flamenco captivated me. I often thought about learning, but it just seemed so unlikely. I’m not naturally graceful and always dismissed the notion in favour of more sensible pursuits.
Yet sometimes the universe has a way of giving you a much-needed kick up the butt. I was born in Edinburgh but now live in Dublin. Ireland spent most of 2020 in some form of lockdown, and it was during the first of those, out of sheer boredom (and hoping to gain some tenuous link to far-off shores) that I signed up for Zoom-based flamenco lessons with a bona fide Sevillian flamenco school.
Learning flamenco seemed improbable but not impossible. At the very least, it would be a connection to the outside world when I was limited to a five-kilometre radius. I embarked on my lessons with a mixture of hope and trepidation. Not only was I learning to dance, but I was also learning in Spanish. My Spanish was rusty; would that be an impediment?
I had two amazing flamenco teachers, Carmen and Lourdes. Lourdes became my regular teacher, and we often had a bit of a chat at the start of our lessons. Despite the miles and the differences in our backgrounds, over the course of 18 months, we made a connection. Even over Zoom, she saw that I was afraid to let go of my inhibitions and constantly overthought everything.
Lourdes is a wonderful teacher and beyond patient with me but would often berate me: “Menos concentración más pasión,” she would say: Less concentration, more passion!
She explained that I was concentrating so much on getting the choreography right that I looked unhappy. Flamenco is about passion and pride, so regardless of whether I was getting it right, I should just keep my head up and enjoy it.
“Keep your head up and enjoy it” is a pretty good mantra for life. Over time I improved and could successfully complete a little choreography, but I realised that it was never really about being a great dancer. It was about ticking something off my bucket list and feeling that I still had a link to my beloved Spain.
When COVID-19 restrictions ended, Seville was the obvious choice for my first holiday.
I hatched a plan with the dance school coordinator to turn up at my regularly scheduled Zoom lesson in person. As I waited nervously in the cool air of the empty dance studio, I felt like a fool. Would she be touched that I’d made the effort, or think I was crazy?
When Lourdes entered the room, her flamenco shoes tapping staccato on the floor, I could almost see the thoughts crossing her face.
“Who are you and why are you in my studio?”
Then, “Do I know you?”
And then finally, recognition.
She rushed over and embraced me warmly. I had been a bit skittish about hugging people but didn’t hesitate to reciprocate.
We all made and lost connections during the pandemic. Some of the most profound ones were those we least expected. There we were: a Spanish dance teacher and a Scottish student, clinging to each other with tears of joy in our eyes. “Que mala,” she chastised me, wondering why I hadn’t told her I was coming.
Our first and only in-person lesson ended far too soon. As I left the studio and headed off for a tapa and cerveza in the sweltering evening heat, I was greeted by the joyful squeals of children playing in the Alameda de Hércules.
Seville will always hold a special place in my heart. Of all the things I expected when I began flamenco classes, forging a deeper bond to one of my favourite cities and making lasting connections wasn’t one of them.
I’m glad I made the effort to meet Lourdes in person. I’m glad I took the risk.
After all, if you don’t live life con pasión, you aren’t really living.