Many women dream of the day they get to design that one, beautiful white dress that they will wear for the best day of their lives. I think about my (possible) future wedding dress too, but ever since the first April I spent in Sevilla, all I’ve been able to think about is what my very own flamenco dress would look like.
Of course, I didn’t just want A dress. I didn’t just want to go to a shop and try some on and say, “Yeah, that’ll work.” Nope. I didn’t even want to try a dress ON until I learned how to dance Sevillanas. Enter step one of Operation Flamenco Dress: two years of dance classes. Also known as: Emily learns she has no rhythm.
Sexy Spanish lady or Arhythmic American?
In high school I had like one go-to move which, for comprehension purposes, let’s just call, “the bend and snap”. I could also work the suburban-teenager-booty dance pretty well, and some of my friends might have even thought that I had rhythm. For a time, I also thought this.
Then I came to Spain.
First thoughts at a Spanish discoteca:
- What the actual fuck.
- How am I the most arrhythmic and spastic person on this dance floor?
- Is it totally obviously I’m American?
- It is, isn’t it? Shit.
- Were they born with those hips?
- How do hips even move like that?
- And knees?
- So many joints moving.
- Keep smiling, everything’s cool.
- Wait, men actually dance here?
- Shit, that one wants to dance with me.
- Ok so I guess we’re doing this.
- So this is basically him kind of throwing me around, I can do this.
- No I can’t do this.
- I am a stiff spaghetti.
- WHERE IS THE BAR IN THIS DARK, DAMP, CAVE?
Now these were my thoughts in a dance club with a lack of light and no lack of alcohol. You can flail however you want at a discoteca and no one will bat an eye. (Believe me, I have). But cut to my first Feria de Abril in broad daylight and before acceptable drinking hour and my dance insecurities multiplied by a thousand. I don’t think I can fully express what it feels like to be in a feria in Andalucía. I don’t care if it is the most famous feria in Sevilla or the tiniest one in a pueblo of Jaén. If you are not wearing a flamenco dress and don’t know how to dance Sevillanas, prepare to feel like you just showed up to an exam you never studied for, you are wearing the shittiest clothes you own, and you also forgot to put on makeup that day.
Being at a feria is an all-senses experience. It is every shade of every color embodied in dresses that seem painted on charismatic and fiery Spanish women, it is the smell of fried green peppers and oily ham, the sound of sweaty waiters yelling to each other in their thick, choppy “andalú” accent, it’s the taste of the sweet bubbles of a cool rebujito, and it’s the feeling that same rebujito will give you when you wake up the next day. For me it wasn’t just one thing, it was everything; the colors, the laughter, the flicks of the wrist, the stomps and the claps, the ruffles on dresses, the sun, the lights, the people…they all held me captive. And after four months, when I boarded that plane home, sobbing, I had three goals; 1) to come back 2) to learn that dance and 3) to make my very own dress.
So in 2014, with the support one of my closest friends, (she’s Scottish, so she had the same stiff spaghetti problems I did–Sorry, J), I signed up for beginners’ Sevillanas. We spent hours just trying to remember four steps. God damn those FOUR STEPS. And that was just our feet. It took us 8 months before our teacher dared to throw in a bit of arm movement. And for the entire first year, we looked like jointless Barbies trying to do ballet. I would go home every Thursday and try to show Pepelu what we had learned. I must thank him now for holding back laughter. But week after week we went to class and we danced. We stomped. We twirled. We “taconeo”ed until we lost count of all of the three count steps we were doing. We added arms, we added head turns, we tried our best to be “pavo real”s (peacocks), just like our teacher told us. And slowly but surely our carefully measured steps were becoming more fluid, more improvised. Sometimes I would catch glimpses of myself in the giant mirror and get chills as I watched my dream slowly become reality. And (only) two years after I began, I said, screw it. This is the year I make the dress.
In April of 2016, seven years after my first feria in Sevilla, I had come back, I had learned the dance, I had made the dress, and I had done myself one better. I had gone and found myself a dangerously charming green-eyed Andaluz to be my dance partner.
Being a foreigner in a different country can often make you feel just that–foreign. People don’t understand you or where you come from, (or worse, they think they do, but they really don’t), your food is different, your accent is different, your customs and culture is different, your manners and the way you act is different, the way you look is different, and people will never let you forget these things. And you shouldn’t. Remembering and being proud of who you are and where you come from is essential when you are far from home. But many times I find myself just wanting to fit in. To just be a little more Spanish. To somehow grab just the tip of the tail of this culture I love so very much. And for me, learning Sevillanas and making this dress was a way for me to do just that.
Nothing can quite describe what I felt when I put on this dress, this dress that I had designed, for the first time, braided my hair, and pinned that flower to my head. That day was filled with everything I had fallen in love with so many years ago, but the difference was that now I wasn’t just a spectator. I was a part of it.
After all this time trying to be as Spanish as possible, I’ve learned that as a foreigner, I’ll always be foreign. I’ll never be as “Spanish” as I would like, I’ll never have the perfect wrist twirls, be able to do the “careos” without messing up, or have the “arte” that burns inside of every Andaluz, but that’s me. That’s my culture, my language, my history, my ancestors, and that’s what makes me who I am. Even if who I am is a (slightly less) stiff spaghetti on the dance floor.
I’ll end with this paragraph I used to caption these pictures from the feria last year, and words I feel still ring so very true to me.
“Every once in awhile we become extremely self aware, even if just for a moment. Our skin tingles, we breathe deeper, our vision sharpens. We realize that wherever we go after this and wherever we have been before matters only insofar that it has made it possible for us to be here, right at this moment, right now. It happened to me seven years ago as i watched them ignite the alumbrado in Sevilla, and it happened this weekend as i put on my own dress and danced my first Sevillana in the feria with most handsome guy in the room. To more moments like these, whenever, wherever, and whoever they come with. May you find them, and may they find you.”
Have you ever felt like you really belonged in a country after feeling like a foreigner for so long? What made you feel that way? Share your experiences in the comments below!