On January 25th I am hosting a workshop called The Unbroken Spirit. It is a workshop designed to explore our beliefs and make them our own through dance, specifically through Flamenco. I will say more about this workshop, and about flamenco, throughout January. Today I want to focus on the concept of spark of genius, and a related Spanish concept, duende.
“I’m a looser!” “I am never going to get this!” “I guess I’m just not cut out for this.”
Sound familiar; this feeling of utter misery and dejection? This belief that I am not going to realize my dreams because I’m just not good enough, or smart enough, or … ?
What if what I realize in my life isn’t entirely about me or because of me? That I personally contribute something to my dreams, and fate – the universe – contributes the rest. What if all I have to do is show up (as Woody Allen says) and be ready? The Greeks and Romans thought so.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love speaks of the idea of the external genius – or genie – that periodically visits us mortals in her TED talk On Genius. She begins by speaking of the anguish that every creative person goes through in trying to capture those moments of creativity that move us. If we believe that we should be able to capture those moments on demand or at will, this can make us truly miserable. But on the other hand, if we see them as gifts that enlighten and delight, that turn on a light within us, then our misery disappears. It is the difference between “having” a genius and “being” a genius.
We can think of this as a source of divine inspiration that comes into our lives from time to time and leads us to great and wonderful creativity. It is not something we can conjure up or control; it is outside of us. But when it enters our lives, it enriches us and all those around us. It is a universal gift. All we have to do is be open and ready for it when it comes.
Elizabeth went on to give an example of a dancer who, in a rare moment, transcends his or her part and becomes the embodiment of the dance, shining and stopping time, as if “lit up with divinity”. At these times, the spectators would shout God! God! God!, or Allah! Allah! Allah! in honor and recognition of this rare moment. When the Moors settled in Spain, this morphed into what we hear now as Ole! Ole! Ole! during bull fights and flamenco. When a flamenco dancer, singer or guitar player is so inspired, he or she is said to have duende.
Duende means having soul, expressing authenticity with passion and with no apology. In the flamenco world, it is a spirit that temporarily possess us, an essence that shines through us and is more than us. It begins with our own passions and beliefs that are turned into dance and song and music for the eyes and ears of everyone, expressing the spirit or genius, not of that person, but for all people who are touched by it.
What do you strongly believe in? What moves you to express through song or dance or music? Have you ever experienced a moment of genius, or duende?