And We Did That Together– Excerpt from Call to My Soul – Dancing the Path to True Love –A Flamenco Romance Memoir

Dancing the Path to True Love –A Flamenco Romance Memoir

“What are we going to do when we get too old to travel to Spain?” we asked ourselves, anticipating studying Flamenco at its source. “Spain will have to come to us,” we answered ourselves. And to our delight, it started. After our first house concert, we were approached by friends from Spain and quickly became a landing place for Spanish Gitano (Gypsy) artists. As more Gitano artists performed at our home, they also started to give Flamenco classes. Our reputation grew and even more Spanish Flamencos made their way to Paraíso, what we called our wonderful land – Paradise in Spanish. Freddie and I as a combination, as a couple, became a Flamenco magnet and doors effortlessly opened for us. All we had to do was to walk through those doors, and we did that together.

©2023  Marianna Mejia

Flamenco Romántico – Excerpt from Call to My Soul – Dancing the Path to True Love –A Flamenco Romance Memoir

The venue was wonderful. We temporarily took the barn doors off the dance studio, and performed on the wonderful oak studio floor that Freddie had designed. We strung a curtain for a backdrop and placed chairs for the performers, strung up lights, and draped Spanish shawls. The full and enthusiastic audience of friends, family, and Flamenco aficionados, sat on folding chairs and pillows placed over Oriental rugs spread on top of the asphalt driveway that wound itself between the barn and the house. We used the community kitchen in the breezeway to prepare food and serve drinks. We strung lights outside and had stage lights in the studio where we performed. The stage looked like a fairytale scene. 

Freddie and I performed a dance we were working on, a Garrotín, which I did with a hat. Freddie played guitar and sang for me. At the end, I put the hat in front of us both and we kissed behind it. The audience loved it. By this time, Freddie and I had named ourselves Flamenco Romántico. 

©2023 Marianna Mejia

Breathe – Excerpt from Call to My Soul – Dancing the Path to True Love –A Flamenco Romance

Freddie’s mother Bea called all Freddie’s girlfriends floozies, perhaps influenced by Freddie’s unfaithful father. According to Bea, none of Freddie’s girlfriends were good enough for him. Because Freddie and I were just friends, Bea and I got along. Like me, she was interested in nature, natural and healthy foods and natural medicines. “I believe in nature,” she told me. “Nature is my religion.” She seemed very unlike what I had heard about her dead husband. When her children were still young, after she had moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles and had finally learned how to drive, she would drive them into the Berkeley hills, make them go outside the car, and tell them to breathe. She wanted them to feel the clean air and to be a part of nature. Bea was always doing some kind of cleanse, whether with lemon and cayenne, or juice. Alternative health was one of her favorite interests. Although she had only gone to school through the third grade, Bea was inquisitive and original. She had a mind of her own and a stubbornness to go with it. She called it “tenacity.” Born in 1919, Bea was certainly unusual for her time.

©2023  Marianna Mejia

Flamenco – Excerpt from Call to My Soul – Dancing the Path to True Love

Freddie first moved into our small, silver Aristocrat trailer that Marc used when he had to work out of town.  …  The little trailer was perfect for a single man. When Marc was home, it sat empty, next to the garage and Elun’s swing set. A small rose garden brightened the area. Freddie’s presence brightened things further, with the sounds from his Flamenco guitar filling the air we breathed, and his cheerful energy infusing our lives. Obsolete thoughts of romance were easily replaced by Freddie’s and my deepening friendship.

We spent hours together – I would dance freely to Freddie’s music, Belly Dancing, because that is what I knew. Freddie began to teach me the Flamenco compás (rhythms), moving my hands to clap in the rhythms, or tapping the beats on my thigh, helping me learn the complex counts and accents. I was one of those weird people who danced almost exclusively to the melody, and I had to specifically learn to incorporate the rhythm into my consciousness. Perhaps it was the ballet and modern dance that I had studied as a child, which did not stress the rhythm the way Flamenco demanded. But now I had to develop the rhythmic side of dance with intense focus and concentration.

Flamenco permeated my life. In my house I heard Freddie practicing outside the window by our koi pond, the sounds both calming and exciting me, wrapping me in their world. Often Freddie would sit on the couch in the small dining room area that opened into the kitchen, playing music while I cooked. Flamenco filled my being. I played Flamenco tapes while I slept at night, wanting the complex rhythms to incorporate themselves in my psyche.

One evening, Elun toddled out of his bedroom in his pajamas while Freddie was playing guitar. Loud semi-musical sounds were wailing from his three-year-old mouth. He looked proud of himself and he was definitely not crying. “He’s singing!” exclaimed Freddie, impressed. A love of Flamenco was ingrained in Elun from that early, constant exposure. While he never became an artist, an affection for Flamenco has stayed with him. He tried to learn guitar from Freddie when he was a little older, and the tips of his tender, little fingers were blistered and raw from practicing. But the guitar didn’t call him enough to keep him.

©2022  Marianna Mejia

Bert – Excerpt from Call to My Soul – Dancing the Path to True Love

Bert, originally from Germany, started his show business career as a young boy with the European circus. Eventually he migrated to the United States, where he had danced in Las Vegas. In the 70’s, when I started classes with him, Bert lived on a small farm in the country an hour away from San Francisco. He had to drive to San Francisco every Friday night for his class, but he never seemed to mind.

When teaching, he wore his cowboy boots and jeans and simply tied up his shirt at the chest. His gentle German accent gave us encouragement, words of wisdom, and stories. We danced to Baladi, Bolero, Chiftateli, 7/8, 6/8, and 9/8 rhythms. We rarely did floor work or separate finger cymbal patterns. Instead, Bert would teach us a combination of steps, and then around in a circle we would go, repeating them until we learned them. Often, he would choose one or two students in the class to demonstrate the step or combination as it looked when done well. The dancers would have completely different styles unique to themselves and their body types, so the combinations looked very different on each person. Bert consistently and emphatically supported the individuality of every dancer, a quality of his teaching which strongly appealed to me.

 Bert was who people studied with when they wanted to get jobs in the clubs. The talent scouts for the local night clubs would occasionally come to class to watch. They loved it when Bert had the dancers demonstrate his steps. On those nights, the more advanced dancers would wear their finest outfits and hope to get hired. Then the scouts would choose people to perform at one of the famous North Beach clubs such as the Bagdad or the Casbah. It was both exciting and intimidating for us newer dancers. At the next class we would feel the absence of the lucky women (I don’t remember men in that class, except of course for Bert), usually the best, who were now working on Fridays and so were unable to attend class. 

©2022  Marianna Mejia