I took a short trip this weekend to see some flamenco. I would have loved to have gone to Seville, but it’s not in the cards this month.
As a traveler, someone who is willing to submerge themselves in another culture, it’s important to keep exploring, even when we are rooted.
It’s so important, not only for us, but for the people who want to bring the gifts of their culture to share.
It might even be more helpful to explore a culture when you are settled in your own world instead of being overwhelmed by immersion in a culture to the point that you miss subtleties because you are just trying to keep your feet on the ground and function.
One huge cultural difference I noticed during this performance was that the dancer (Salli Gutierrez) and the singer rarely smiled. When I was a young girl I took ballet classes and they taught us to put vaseline on our teeth and to smile the ENTIRE time we were on stage. Almost like we had to prove that we were enjoying the experience of the performance.
In contrast to that forced expression of joviality, the flamenco experience was much more impactful emotionally. The singer was not trying to make eye contact with us as an audience, connect with us, or really even impress us. She was holding such intense internal concentration that she barely even opened her eyes.
That experience had so much more depth for me. I also had the chance to sink inside myself and FEEL what she was singing about. I didn’t have to think about giving her feedback at all till the end because she wasn’t reaching out to connect with me as an audience member.
My ex-husband is from Bhutan, a tiny country in the Himalayas. When he showed me pictures of his family, they all looked so stern. I thought to myself “They must be intense people that have faced so many hardships. They can’t even smile for a picture”. But after a trip home, my husband showed me his pictures. He wasn’t smiling either.
“Did you have a good time on your trip?” I asked.
“Yes, it was really amazing. Why wouldn’t it be?” he replied.
“Well, you aren’t smiling in any of your pictures.”
It was then that he explained to me that his family really valued being authentic and they thought that mugging for a camera was too insincere. They are right actually. It’s as if we are constantly trying to pose with a happy face to communicate that we are having a good time.
No wonder depression is so rampant in the US. We sweep anything besides a “go-fund-me” level emergency under the rug with representations of our “happy” lives because that’s what we believe is acceptable. We don’t have the courage to wallow in heartache on a stage.
That’s the value of perspective.