As a woman, you almost always want to dance more than the men around you do. At a certain age, those few men who might have danced with you have all achieved the only dance objective they ever had—acquisition of a steady sex partner. You might even be that partner. You might even have a child, a mortgage, a dog, two—God help you, two!—Volvos. In any case, the man in your life doesn't want to dance anymore. And why should he? You have no desire to scream at television sets broadcasting football games. We must all answer to our own passions.

Desperate, you turn to partnerless dance mutations—Salsacize, sweating to oldies, Cardio Hip-Hop, Yo! Yo! Yoga!, and the saddest of all the substitutes, tap. You even consider belly dancing, but immediately think better of it.

And then you discover "it," you discover flamenco.

What a revelation this passionate, fiery, aerobically enriching dance form is! You don't need a partner, and it absolutely doesn't matter how young or old or fat or thin you are. In fact you learn, to your immense delight, some of the biggest stars of flamenco are extremely well-upholstered and very suitably seasoned. You feel this could be your last chance to grab at a life-changing soul-body experience.

Well, okay, maybe you don't, but I did—which is why I was delirious to discover that my alma mater, the University of New Mexico, hosts the International Flamenco Festival every summer. For those glorious dozen or so days, the cream of el mundo flamenco descends on Albuquerque to perform and teach complete novices like myself in marathon workshops that compress years of weekly classes.

Is it possible in that amount of time for a middle-aged woman to cut loose, shake off inhibitions and a potentially atrophied sense of rhythm, and get her flamenco groove on? I'm not sure, but I'm encouraged to learn that much emphasis is placed on hand movements and that several all-time legends went by the nickname El Cojo—"the Cripple." Still the doubts descend. I try to recall if I own anything with polka dots. And then, with a go-to-hell shrug that might be the first stirrings of my very own personal flamenco soul, I decide I have to do it. Husband and son will just have to boil their own hot dogs for 12 days. Adiós, muchachos, mamacita is going to dance! Olé!

Let us pretend now that there are no husbands to convince, no boy child to pack off to camp, no dog to board, mail to stop, bags to pack, panic attacks to medicate about this utterly insane thing I am doing. Let me be transported magically to the sun-drenched campus where I was a hip-shaking, totally happening coed.

The heart of the festival is Carlisle Gym, an adobe-brown building where I once fumbled through my one class in modern dance. I rush in, intoxicated by breathing once again the weightless, piñon-scented desert air of my youth and by being so close to the Frontier Restaurant, home of that staple of my undergraduate diet—cinnamon rolls the size of a catcher's mitt. We are greeted by flamenco goddess Eva Encinias-Sandoval, program director and a radiant, unpretentious advertisement for her art.

Next: The first day of class


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