I hope dancing flamenco gives my daughter a lifetime of confidence

I hope dancing flamenco gives my daughter a lifetime of confidence
My daughter, eight years old at the time, performing with Studio Mangiameli ©JohnBoehmPhotography

I could watch my daughter dance for centuries.

Four years ago, when she was six, she and I began our weekly trek from the Southwest side to a flamenco studio in Logan Square.  Studio Mangiameli was where my daughter learned to follow the flow of a guitar’s strum and the echoes of patterned hand claps.

From the beginning, my little girl felt the music.  She swooned to the rhythm and fluttered her little hands like butterflies.

Now that the studio moved to Evanston, we take the drive once a week so she can learn complicated sevillanas.  I watch her during practice trying to count the footsteps and beats and attempt to predict in which direction she’ll turn and which hand she’ll lift and expand like a flower in the wind.  I can never figure it out.  Still, I watch my little girl entranced.

Next weekend, my ten-year-old daughter will perform with over thirty dancers and musicians in Rose of Damascus, a story of a Syrian father and daughter who dream of escaping to Spain.

But when a desperate rescue at sea leaves them separated, they have to wonder: can their faith in the possibilities of a better life sustain them through this agonizing trial?

My daughter’s teacher and show’s director Chiara Mangiameli understands the struggle of starting a new life as an immigrant from Italy who mastered a Spanish dance form. 

“I moved around a lot when I was young,” she wrote in a recent blog post.  “I changed school many times due to my father's job. I think that because I never developed roots, I become an accomplished mimic to try and seem more of the place and of the people. To try to seem authentic. I learned different languages. I was a quick study. I wanted to fit in, get by unnoticed so that I wouldn't be made fun of, or so kids wouldn't be able to tell how uncomfortable, scared and awkward I actually felt most of the time.” 

She goes on to say that “years later, all those skills I had learned as a child to cope with insecurity and uncertainty were deeply ingrained. So much so that I chose performance and the theater as my profession. On stage, I was in control, full of self-confidence, resilience, strength, emotional honesty...all those things that had eluded me in real life.”

I hope flamenco gives my daughter an ever-lasting self-confidence.

My daughter with her flamenco teacher Chiara Mangiameli in the Logan Square studio

My daughter with her flamenco teacher Chiara Mangiameli in the Logan Square studio

A recent Atlantic article discussed how puberty kills girls’ confidence.  Researchers explain how “the girls surveyed were asked to rate their confidence on a scale of 0 to 10, and from the ages of 8 to 14, the average of girls’ responses fell from approximately 8.5 to 6—a drop-off of 30 percent.”

The interesting part of these findings is that “until the age of 12, there was virtually no difference in confidence between boys and girls,” according to the researchers.

The article goes on to highlight how the negative implications of low confidence last far beyond adolescence. “It can mean that risks are avoided again and again, and confidence isn’t being stockpiled for the future,” explain the article’s authors.

Every time I drop my daughter off for dance class, I remind her to own her spot on the floor.  

Last Christmas, inspired by other flamenco dancers I'd seen, I gifted my daughter three hair combs. 

One has a row of pearls to remind her of the importance of patience: good things take time.

Another is a bejeweled peacock so she always remembers the elegant creature's confidence during her uncertain moments.

The third is a feather with glassy stones the color of her birthstone so she never forgets the importance of her existence—especially in my life.

My daughter complains about going to dance class sometimes, and sometimes she wants to quit.

“You’re good at it,” I tell her. “And you always gotta do something difficult. So let's go!”  She doesn’t always agree.  But she packs her bag and gets in the car.

I savor driving down Lakeshore Drive with her.  When it’s not too cold, we lower the windows, put the music on full blast and, and revel in the wind that fills the car and the space between us.

Looking at our city’s lake, I could never imagine grabbing my daughter by the hand and stepping forth into an ocean to save our lives.

But this is what Rose of Damascus can give us: an understanding of what it means for a parent to be willing to sacrifice everything—even life—for a chance to give a child opportunities.

We hear about parents and children getting tear gassed at our border.  We learn about the separation of families after questionable arrests.  And we wonder, “How can this be?”

I hope my daughter’s experience in this performance helps her understand that these cruel acts are not how the world has to be. 

I look forward to watching my little girl perform with the group of talented people next weekend.  My hope is that she grows into womanhood with confidence and always, as she must do on stage, owns her spot on this earth.

For tickets to Rose of Damascus, December 7, 8, or 9, go to the Vittum Theater's Web site.

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