A Night of Gypsy Dance (novel excerpt)

JOIN IN FLAMENCO with my novel CHILD OF DUENDE (blog intermission):

Duende stepped reluctantly deeper into the tavern. A short, stocky Gypsy man began to sing in Spanish. He called out the anguish of a people who swore they would never forget the beating of their hearts. One, two, three. One, two, three. “I am Gypsy, and this port carries the tears of my people…aya… aya…” His voice elbowed its way through the room. “Aya… aya…aya… my warm tears fall in a cold sea.” The man sang from the deepest part of his throat, producing a sound like the bow off the strings of a reverberating cello. (Child of Duende Website)

“Paquito, Paquito,” the crowd cheered, but Duende remained still, watching at least a dozen spirits dancing fiercely in a circle around her, almost dizzying her by the time Paquito ended his song and broke the spell she was under.

“Come here, darling,” the singer said, his voice as full as the ocean. 

Timidly, Duende stepped toward Paquito, who took her hand and introduced her to Graciela, the dancer. “Show her how to dance Gypsy,” he told her, releasing Duende’s hand. His sweat remained in her palm and thickened with her own. All eyes were on her.

Graciela moved forward with her masklike face—black eyebrows, blood red lips; her wrists wrapped in multiple colorful bracelets resting on her waist. With her hair pulled back in a ponytail, stretching her mouth into a broad smile, she lifted her arms as her hands hit each other, making a loud, clanging sound. The woman smiled through her missing teeth. Graciela’s eyes held Duende’s gaze. The girl stared, frozen, waiting for some signal to call her into action. The woman nodded a subtle invitation to begin and lifted her skirt to her knees. 

Duende looked down at her pants, her little fingers grabbing what material she could. The room remained quiet. The other dancers had stopped moving, their eyes on the girl who now watched Graciela intently. Tap. The dancer pressed the toe of her foot to the ground. Tap. Her heel lifted. Tap. She looked at Duende. Nodded. Duende felt the stiffness of the pants she wore. Her hands shook as she noticed her sneakers. She shrunk in front of this queen and her black-heeled shoes. The room broke into laughter, the crowd clapping, calling out in a clatter of exclamations: “How adorable.” “Look at the little one.” “Look at those shoes.”

But then a loud clap broke the noise. Duende’s heart thumped. Her eyes darted back to Graciela, who directed fierce concentration toward her. Clap. Graciela commanded the room. The girl’s feet pressed forward against the floor, her heels, one at a time, lifted. She fumbled for balance as she looked up at her hands attempting to come together. Clap. She raised her hands to the left, slightly above her, imitating Graciela. Duende didn’t dare take her eyes off the woman.

Again, she clapped, but this time the flats of her palms met like discs of rusted metal. Smack. Graciela’s eyes turned to fire. Look, her eyes insisted. Clap. Her hands cupped slightly to produce a fearless sound. Hollow on the inside. Solid on the outside. The lines of her hands found each other like suction cups.

Duende followed suit, this time producing a sound that echoed the dancer’s. Clap. The corner of Graciela’s mouth revealed a quick grin. Duende let her thin lips stretch across her face, while cupping her palms to clap in time with her feet. Point, clap. Point, clap. Graciela added more. Duende’s eyes remained fixed on Graciela’s. The dancer approved. Never lose your partner’s eyes, she seemed to tell the girl. That night Duende knew at least this. Point, clap. Point, clap. The crowd picked up its pace, becoming louder and louder, cheering olé, before others joined in the dance. Paquito sang and Duende became lost in other people’s movement, and inside a bubble of spirits encircling her in dance and celebration.