January 28, 2005

South Bay’s Gypsy Pride

By J.D. Hawk

While some people find solace in passive hobbies like painting, writing or bird-watching, Flamenco dancing offers an opportunity for others to actively live their art. “Your body is just an instrument used to decorate a song,” dance instructor Diana Aragon-Weisner said.

Aragon-Weisner leads a class full of eager students in the art of Flamenco dancing every Tuesday at 6 p.m. in The Heritage Recreation Center, located at 1381 East Palomar St. in Chula Vista. Whereas many other forms of dance seem to be merely beautiful, Otay Ranch’s Flamenco, as the eight-year Flamenco veteran teaches it, seems to bring it up a few notches. “ It’s about maximum sorrow and maximum joy. There’s nothing in between,” she said. “It’s either you cry because you are very happy, or you cry because you are very sad.”

Instructor Diana Aragón and Flamenco dancers Tori Davis (left) and Jennifer Lopez

The class of 20-plus students, dressed dominantly in red and black, follow her lead to the beat and rhythm (called compas), moving their shoulders, bending their elbows, whirling their wrists and snapping their fingers — all seemingly at opposite angles. How anyone can learn to bend in such positions is hard to believe, but the class does do it, and they do it very well.

But the beauty of Flamenco is the undeniable air of Spanish pride and Gypsy power. With the class’s collective feet digging, stabbing into the ground and their follow-up heels stomping and slamming, one can’t help but feel sympathy for the unmatched earth below. As flamboyant as the legs move, Aragon-Weisner manages to maintain all steps within a two-tile radius.

The class swivels their heads from the left, to a low right, snapping at the point of destination with military-like purpose. (Perhaps nobody can stare despairingly downwards with such dignified defiance like a Flamenco dancer.)

A series of exercises is given by Aragon-Weisner in order to improve one aspect of Flamenco or another. On Jan. 25, it was the spin, or twirl. The girls and ladies who range in ages 6 to 60, paired up in groups and helped each other to spin — except one lady who was happy just being by herself, and a little girl who just liked to flip her Flamenco dress vigorously back and forth.

Aragon-Weisner explained that the twirl, spin or whirl can be as big or as small as the dancer wants it to be. The huge twirl is called a barrel roll. But once explained that a barrel roll doesn’t have to be attempted, a girl inevitably tries to attempt it and subsequently helicopters right into the ground. “Don’t hurt yourself, okay?” Aragon-Weisner warns.

The class went on, along with “twirlee girl” to one side of the room because the day of reckoning had arrived. As Aragon-Weisner puts on foreboding music that seemed to go to the beat of a series of clops. The clop, clop, clopping continues like the crusading of conquistores on their war-horses hoofing off to glory. If it weren’t for the cell phone that hung on the swiveling hips of one student, one might imagine that a gypsy had magically transported you back to old Spain. The students would have their turns, in a trial-by-fire, to demonstrate their skills by dancing across the room in small groups. As if a battle-trumpet had sounded, the first wave of Flamenco dancers stomp, twirl, and snap across safely to the other side. Aragon-Weisner watched approvingly. Then, the second wave of dancers follow. The process follows with short interruptions for critiques, until only two dancers — timid dancers— are left. “I’ll go with you,” Aragon-Weisner said in the spirit of unity.

And that is what all this beauty and passion can breaks down to. Aragon-Weisner speaks of using the compas like Yoda of Star Wars speaks of the force. The compas dictates what the dancer does, yet the dancer doesn’t have to follow any rules. But if the dancer follows the compas, she will find herself in unity with guitarist and the clappers and the singers. Their egos disappear and they act as one complete unit. Thought and intellect surrender, and the compas takes over. “As soon as we learn the compas,” Aragon-Weisner points to her heart. “you are able to dance the Flamenco,” she said. “If you don’t know the compas, you can learn a thousand choreographies and never be able to dance.”

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