Posts from the “Following Your Passion” Category

Paris in the 1920s

Posted on August 25, 2014

I’ve been sifting through old letters, old songs, old video footage in preparation for the class I’ll be teaching in just a few weeks time. One of the gems I’ve come across is this vintage footage of Paris in the 1920s, a period which serves as the backdrop for a lot of the history and personalities I’ll cover.

The next time I go in front of my students, I’ll be armed with a microphone. As hard as I may have tried to project my voice in the first class I taught this spring, I just never seemed to project it enough. This time, I want to be sure they don’t miss one scintillating bit of my Francodorkery (she says with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek), even the little surprise I’m cooking up for them.

(Tap tap): Is this thing on?

Better yet, is this instructor on?

We’ll find out on September 15…

Gerald and Sara — Many Fetes

Posted on July 23, 2014

saraandgeralddancing

 Photo:  © Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

I’ve been preparing a new class for LSU Continuing Education that I’ll teach this fall about the Lost Generation. Although it will discuss how World War I impacted the mindset of people in this time and influenced creative disciplines from writing to painting and dance to theater, it will also look at some of the personalities that became so famous — and infamous — during this era.

Obviously, my class will hear about Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. But it will also learn about Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, the Ballets Russes and many others that were pushing the creative envelope in one of the world’s greatest cities — Paris, France. And it will also learn about some lesser-known, but no less influential folks, like the dancing couple up above. They’re Gerald and Sara Murphy, they were American and well-to-do and they mingled with pretty much everyone who was anyone creatively during this period. Ever heard the saying “Living Well Is The Best Revenge”? Well, Gerald Murphy coined it, and anyone in the Murphys’ orbit knew that few lived better and more interesting lives than that particular duo. Random facts about them: They were perhaps the first people in France to own a waffle iron, they had one of the best private collections of African-American spiritual music (which they sang in perfect two-part harmony at their cocktail parties), and they used to enlist Man Ray to shoot their family portraits.

Here is a 1962 profile written about the couple in The New Yorker.

The bottom line is that these were people you really needed to know. And I can’t wait to introduce them to my class in September.

One of the reasons why I can’t wait to talk about the Murphys is because you don’t really hear about the them a lot, unless you read very deeply about the Roaring Twenties. But you might have come across them (sort of) and not realized it, if you’ve ever read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1934 novel Tender Is The Night.

Many scholars agree that Fitzgerald modeled Dick and Nicole Diver after the Murphys for about the first half of the book, recreating their very charmed life in Paris and on the French Riviera for his readership. In the second half of the book, the Divers seem to become an entirely different couple and I’ll be talking about who that couple was and why scholars seem to think Scott seemed to have no qualms about such a mashup in his manuscript. He dedicated his book to the Murphys, but when they first read it, they felt betrayed.

One year after Tender’s publication, the Murphys were undergoing a terrible family tragedy. At that time, Gerald wrote Scott, saying “I know now that what you said in Tender in the Night is true. Only the invented part of our life — the unreal part — has had any scheme any beauty. Life itself has stepped in now and blundered, scarred and destroyed. In my heart I dreaded the moment when our youth and invention would be attacked in our only vulnerable spot…”

The Murphys have a wonderful and ultimately tragic story that I look forward to telling in about a month and a half from now, one that provides an interesting framework for a time and a people who may have felt likewise blundered, scarred and destroyed. If you’re in the Baton Rouge area, I hope you’ll consider taking the class to find out more about them. If not, please stay tuned here as I share anecdotes, pictures, videos and music that I’ll be featuring in the class.

And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask away in comments.

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Posted on July 17, 2014

monticello

 

About a month ago, I visited my mother in Virginia for her birthday. Mom is a big Thomas Jefferson buff, and has probably read every single solitary thing ever written about him. So my sister, brother-in-law and I took her down to Charlottesville to visit his home Monticello. As you can see from his tombstone, Jefferson wanted to be remembered for these three accomplishments:

jeffersontombstone

 

I would like to point out that his tombstone says nothing about his gardening prowess, about how he was someone who brought back all manner of interesting vegetables from his travels and exchanged seeds with his neighbors and really lit it up with his green thumbery (a word I just invented to get the snark out of my system).  Although Jefferson was innovative in his garden designs and techniques, he actually messed up a lot of things (just like I do) and, in fact, died in debt because of his storied plots (which I hope not to do).  These facts are deceiving when you look around the grounds of Monticello and see things like this:

monticellogardenvines

 

Or even this:

spanishonion

 

And then you think “Well, why can’t I grow White Spanish onions that get that big and full? Come to think of it, why can’t I grow onions, period?” Hearing the tour guides tell stories about his gardening struggles, you realize Jefferson might have asked himself the same question at some point. And then you kind of like how that little fact brings a certain someone’s favorite founding father down to Earth a wee bit.

Ending thought: I wonder if he struggled with pesky red ants too.

****

My little backyard plot has been producing Ichiban eggplant. I am the only person in my household who will eat eggplant voluntarily, so I’ve been looking for ways to trick the other two folks in this household into eating it too. Otherwise, I will be drawing a lot of uneaten eggplant for the rest of the summer.

Like this:

ichibaneggplantsketch

I found the solution to my eggplant problem Saturday night: Fried eggplant crisps, a small plate on Beausoleil’s dinner menu.

Here’s what you do: You skin the eggplant, then slice it into thin rounds. Then, you prepare three separate bowls, one with flour, the second with an egg white wash, the third with Italian-seasoned Panko bread crumbs. Put the rounds into the egg wash first, then into the flour, then back into the egg wash and then into the Panko crumbs. Fry the rounds in a cast-iron skillet full of hot vegetable oil until they are golden brown. Drain the rounds on paper towels and then season lightly with sea salt. Serve with a tangy marinara.

friedeggplant

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And finally, web addresses of a few things I liked from this Virginia trip that I think you might like too:

* Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The founding father’s home, gardens and family cemetery are open for tours every day (except Christmas). Visit the web site for more details.

*L’Etoile Restaurant. About 10 minutes from Monticello, the restaurant offers French-Virginian style dining Tuesday-Saturday. The menu showcases fresh and seasonal ingredients, so it is subject to change from time to time. When I visited, they had an excellent hanger steak with roasted potatoes and asparagus, a delicious Korean braised pork belly, and a tender seared duck breast with caramelized local peaches. Definitely worth a visit!

* Riverby Books. My mother is also a big fan of Fredericksburg, Va, so we spent the day there the day after her birthday. She and I both like independently owned bookstores and this one is a new addition to my favorites list. There’s great overstuffed vintage chairs, and an interesting mix of used books, old maps, antiques and other little what-nots.

The Power of Habit

Posted on July 15, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with New York Times-bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, who is finishing a new book about habit formation called Better Than Before. Here is a recent post she wrote that distills the ideas she’ll cover in her book, which comes out in March, 2015.

I interviewed Gretchen because I was working on a forthcoming story about exercise for USA Today‘s Best Years Magazine. The story will give pointers on how to get back into the habit once your kids become more independent or leave home altogether. Although I interviewed several excellent health and wellness experts who could speak to reps and research about how 10 minutes of walking a day will benefit your blood pressure, I thought Gretchen would be a good source about starting a new habit and sticking to it.

Some notes from our conversation that didn’t make it into the final piece:

* She got the idea for Better Than Before while she was working on her blockbuster The Happiness ProjectShe found during her research for that book that people who tried to become happier and succeeded could often point to some sort of habit they developed as the reason for their success. It didn’t take long for her to become “obsessed” with how to change habits.

* If you’re having a hard time starting a positive new habit like exercise, she said it’s important to look at the reasons why. Maybe the gym is located in an inconvenient place with bad parking. Maybe you hate the music they play in the gym. Maybe exercise machines aren’t your thing. “Rather than saying ‘I hate exercise,’ you need to face what it is that’s actually the problem so you can see the solution,” she said. “If you hate loud music, find a place that plays music you like or go for a walk in nature. If you don’t have time to shower after your workout, do some sort of exercise where you don’t sweat.”

* Some people say they want to start a new, healthy habit because people say they should, or because there is some other sort of external expectation. But deep down, they don’t really want to make that sort of change, which makes them feel worse. “You really need to look within and see whether this is something you actually want to do,” she said. “It’s better to say [that this habit is] not a priority than to pretend it is and feel like a failure.”

I hope you’ll look for the piece when it hits newsstands this fall, because Gretchen was a lively and fascinating interviewee. In the meantime, have you ever had trouble starting a new habit? If so, what was the habit and why did you have trouble starting it? What steps did you take to make this habit part of your everyday life? Please let me know in comments.

In the meantime, check out Gretchen’s web site  and visit this link to start a Happiness Project of your own.

 

 

Monday Reader: Bastille Day Edition

Posted on July 14, 2014

bastilleday

 

Today is Bastille Day, the French equivalent of our July 4. Here are a few interesting reads and things about it from around the web:

From Deceptive Cadence, NPR Classical’s blog, here’s a quiz about the French national anthem, known as ‘La Marseillaise.’ I scored six out of six on it. But then again, I am just the type of person whose ears perk up and eyes get misty every time this tune is played.  For a wonderful old recording of the song, visit Gallica.fr, the web site of the Bibliotheque Nationale, for this treat from 1908.

From USA Today, an explainer about why Americans should care about France’s fete nationale.

From France24.com, an interview with Christophe Bertonneau, the mastermind of this year’s breathtaking fireworks display, which was fired straight from the Eiffel Tower. If you can get your hands on YouTube video of this spectacle, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of World War I, you won’t regret it.

From The New Yorker’s News Desk, an item about this annual military display and the struggle to acknowledge contributions from colonial troops from countries like AlgeriaThe Christian Science Monitor reports that for the first time ever, three Algerian vets were invited to take part in the parade. But it also gives a good primer on the complicated relationship between the two countries, which has existed since the early nineteenth century.

From cbsnews.com, a slideshow about the celebration.

From The New York Times’ T Magazine Blog, a timely ode to le grand aioli complete with a recipe.

Did you read anything about Bastille Day that you found interesting? If so, what was it? And if you have any questions about Paris, Bastille Day, or France in general, please don’t hesitate to ask me in comments.

 

 

Summer Hours

Posted on July 9, 2014

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

This blog has had a major case of summer hours for the past two months. It’s partly because of travel, partly because of work and partly because of the usual sweep of family life when school is out of session. Since I last posted, I went to South Florida and (among other things) learned how to cook Greek food, sat in a near-deafening bar in my hometown and watched Miss USA contestants wage karaoke war, and ventured deep into the heart of Texas to discover a treasure trove of European historical manuscripts. I’ve sampled microbrews with my mother in a Northern Virginia RV park (Seriously), bought matching French National Soccer team jerseys with my daughter (oh, la tristesse), and done a fair amount of home improvement projects in this old house, which we moved into a little more than a year ago now.

This list is by means a comprehensive rundown of the past few months. But it does paint a picture, no?

Finally, there is the garden, which is producing plenty of tasty treats. One of the most exciting: Butternut squash, which is pictured above. I tried to grow these in my last garden, but an unexpected frost wiped out all of my plants. This year, I was determined to make sure that didn’t happen. So far…knock wood.

More dispatches to come.

Monday Reader: 5/5/2014

Posted on May 5, 2014

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

My husband sent me to Paris for my 40th birthday. When I tell people about it, they say “Oh that must have been so romantic for you two.” They look either disappointed or surprised when I say “Oh, I went alone. And it was really beyond perfect.” And that’s nothing against him, because my husband is beyond perfect. But because of his perfection, he understands that I really like going to Paris by myself. There’s nothing better than setting your own schedule, following your own interests, getting lost — and then found — in that beautiful city.

I posted the above picture because it reminded me of the last full day of this particular trip. I had spent the day walking through the rain, stopping here and there to pick up a few things I could bring back home with me to the States. I ducked into this cafe at the end of my walk to dry off and have a drink. But as I sat there and really settled in, I lost myself in watching all the people walk through or past this front door. It was pretty fun, holding court at that spot and (I’ll admit) eavesdropping on the people around me and watching them come and go. When I asked for the bill, the waiter brought me newspapers and another drink. I told him he misunderstood me. He said that no, he really didn’t. “You look like you’re enjoying yourself. Stay longer,” he told me.

He was right. So I did.

And that afternoon was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, right up there with my daughter, this wonderful birthday jaunt and so much more.

That’s why I enjoyed Stephanie Rosenbloom’s “Solo in Paris” article in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Travel section. My husband likes to joke about the way I take a lot of pictures of the green park chairs in the Jardin du Luxembourg (“You really like those chairs, don’t you?” he smirks), so it was nice to see that Rosenbloom’s story featured them too. And there were great touches throughout the piece about lingering over cold, briny oysters and white wine, and spending a luxe evening at the Palais Garnier. More than anything, she captured the feeling you get after staying in Paris for an extended period of time:

Could I bring back with me the feeling that I had cultivated here?

At my feet, two men with a wheelbarrow were tending to the tulips. I saw a shadow of myself on the dirt path, and of the buds on delicate branches above me, on the verge of opening. I looked down at my oxfords, covered in a fine layer of dust.

Whether it’s dust on your shoes or (for me) yellowed chestnut tree leaves tucked into the pages of a journal, it’s the little things that make a solo trip to the City of Light a must and why I’ll book another one the first chance I get.

I’ll end on this note, another one of those special Paris moments I’ve had while wandering around last year:

Friday Interview: Peter Shankman, Adventurist and Entrepreneur

Posted on May 2, 2014

shankman

 

 

Typical Peter Shankman tweet: “For the love of all that is good…Stop telling people to ‘like’ you. Do REAL THINGS that make them LIKE YOU.” Shankman has made a name for himself for doing real (and sometimes totally wacky) things and inspiring people all over the globe to look at their brands and businesses in radically new ways. He’s started companies, written books and basically inspired people to be nicer, better and braver in their pursuits. I caught up with him briefly by phone this week, while he was waiting to hop a flight to Atlanta for one of his typically busy weeks. Here some excerpts from our conversation:

You’ve built an interesting career for yourself with four simple words: How can I help? Case in point: Your start-up Help a Reporter Out (HARO), which connected reporters like me with sources from all walks of life. Why is it difficult for brands and businesses to see the power of just helping someone to the best of their ability? And how are you helping them reconnect with the lost art of customer service with your new consultancy Shankman/Honig?

I think the key here is that some companies don’t realize that customers will give them more money if they don’t feel like they’re being sold to and if they feel helped. When people go out of their way to do little things for someone else, that’s huge…You have to think of the little things you can do to be decent. They’re so simple and the simple act of a smile can do a lot. I mean, think about how you’d like to be treated, or how you’d like your mother to be treated.

I have four rules for success with customers. They are:

1. Be transparent. If you screw up, own it and move on.

2. Be relevant. Give your customers what they want, how they want it and they will become invested.

3. Be brief. We don’t have tons of time in this world.

4. Stay connected. When you’re connected with customers, you’re front of mind, so they’ll go straight to you.

You started your first business poking fun at the movie “Titanic.” Your “It Sank. Get Over It” t-shirts made enough money to start your first company.  You’ve masterminded or advised several other companies since then. How are you using that experience to help other entrepreneurs grow their businesses in your ShankMinds series? What sort of wisdom or guidance do entrepreneurs need most right now?

Entrepreneurs need to understand that the end customer needs to be the result.  When you do all of these great things, like focusing on what the customer wants and what are they looking for and how you can make their life better, then everything falls into place.

You know, people came to this country looking for a better life and they wanted to have the freedom to build what they wanted in the way they wanted. When customers come to your store looking for something that can better their lives, giving it to them guarantees that they’ll stay.

With Shankminds, CEOs, entrepreneurs and small business owners spend a day looking at new ways they can take their businesses to the next level. They network with other people like them, who face the same challenges they face and who can help them come up with new ways to communicate, chat and do business. Because the thing is they can often be too busy to see what’s coming up ahead. Talking to other people can help you do that.

You’re a big skydiver, marathon runner and jack of all daredevil trades. How have these pursuits made you a better businessman? And why is it so important for entrepreneurs to eat their fears when they’re following their passion?

I believe that in a given day, I’m three bad mistakes in a row away from being a junkie in the streets. Doing things like starting a business give me the focus to do the right things. When we get afraid to do things we look toward things to satisfy us and those things aren’t always good. So it’s good to eat your fear, with things like starting a business or skydiving, for example.

You’re working on your fourth book now. Can you tell me a little bit about what it’s about?

It’s called Zombie Loyalists and it’s about having such amazing customer service that you’re able to turn your customers into zombies that will bring more customers to your store again and again and again. It’ll come out in Spring of 2015 with Palgrave Macmillan.

Now that you’re a new parent, how do you balance your business concerns with family life? What has been the most exciting or surprising thing for you about becoming a dad?

It’s family first, really. I still travel as much as I used to do, but I make sure that I do what I can to get home sooner. I’m more focused on how I can be home and present for my family.

One of the most surprising things about being a parent is watching how this kid reacts to me. I remember screaming at someone on the phone one day and to her I was just some loud guy with a red face. She thought it was funny. So it was a good reminder for me that there are some things that you just have to let go.

What else do you have on tap for 2014 and beyond?

It’s really all about having fun. I’m having fun right now.

 

 

Friday Interview: Katherine Warren, artist

Posted on April 18, 2014

mainpainting

Nepotism alert: Katherine Warren is actually my younger sister. I wanted to feature her because I’m really proud of her for a wide variety of reasons, one of which is that she has decided to follow her passion after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about a year and a half ago. At the beginning of April, her work was featured in a juried art exhibition in Fredericksburg, Va. Although she did not win, it was good exposure for her and work and something that gave her the added confidence to keep doing what she’s doing. Because the thing is, she’s really good at it. What follows are excerpts from a recent conversation I had with her about her work and life:

When did you decide to become an artist and why?

It never really dawned on me until I was applying to colleges that that was even an option for study. But it was all that I really wanted to do because it made me happy.

How long had you been painting before you decided that you wanted to pursue this line of study and work? What about the discipline appealed to you?

I can’t even remember when I started painting. It was just who I was. It was a complete escape that helped me express myself. It’s really that simple.

Why did you turn to painting as opposed to sculpture?

I preferred two-dimensional art because I saw things as pictures. I thought it was more artistically exciting for me to explore on a 2-D surface. And to be able to add shape and volume and texture on a 2D surface was more of a challenge.

You didn’t originally go into painting as a career. Why was that and how did you journey back toward your passion?

Art school does not show you how to be a professional working artist. In my twenties, I worked as a makeup artist and I worked well into my thirties in that field. That was a creative outlet for me because I was able to paint faces. Now I’ve had some changes in my life where I have been afforded the opportunity to focus solely on my art.

You’re referring to your diagnosis of M.S. How has that diagnosis helped your art and how has it been therapeutic for your disease?

At this stage, I’m just looking to create beautiful things that make me happy and touch people. My diagnosis has taught me to slow down, be more aware, and to really listen and see what’s around me. I don’t stand every day when I paint. Sometimes I have to sit. But I still have the same emotional meditative relaxing experience when I pick up a brush. The act of pushing paint will never change for me. It’s magical.  Being able to portion out the right colors, mixing the right amounts makes me think a little more. I’ve messed up and I’ve created colors by accident that I’ve put in sealed containers for use at a later time. I’ve learned to balance and I’ve learned to create ways to simplify the process, such as I have my paints organized by tone and my brushes organized by the technique they offer.

Tell me about your series of flower paintings. How did that come about?

Fatigue is a common symptom of MS. With that said, when I was finally prescribed a medicine to address that fatigue, suddenly my creative juices started flowing. I became consumed by the idea of growth and reaching toward the sky. It became a metaphor for me and my life. And I do prefer wildflowers, things that grow in abandon, things that aren’t planned.  I’ve made 40 paintings over the course of two months.

How has social media helped you get attention and buyers for your work?

When I began painting again, I had posted a painting on Facebook. But it wasn’t as a “look at me. Buy me.” That was never my intention. I just wanted to show people I was painting again. Within the first hour, I had sold two paintings. Shortly thereafter, I gained two commissions and I built a body of work. Now I am looking forward to exhibiting on my web site and becoming more active in my community. I believe this has given me the opportunity to stay active, even with my MS. This is my business and I can choose to do it in any way that my MS will let me. I think that what draws me to art and painting and drawing is the process of seeing something, not just looking at it. I want to embrace the lights and darks of it. I think that’s the thing you have to learn in life, that there’s always light and dark, and you have to find the balance and accept that.

Friday Interview: Julie Galle Baggenstoss, Flamenco Performer and Educator

Posted on April 11, 2014

Photo: Julie Galle Baggenstoss

Photo: Julie Galle Baggenstoss

 

Julie Galle Baggenstoss worked as a journalist before she took the plunge and followed her passion. Now she’s bringing flamenco to a wide variety of audiences in the United States. She has performed and choreographed Flamenco with the Atlanta Opera, Georgia State University’s School of Music, The Latin American Association, Coves Darden P.R.E., and at universities and museums from the Southeast to the Midwest. She also teaches flamenco for Emory University’s dance program and for organizations such as the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the Foreign Language Association of Georgia, and Georgia Public Libraries. She spoke with me recently about her work, flamenco’s rich history and about following your passion. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

How do you explain flamenco – real flamenco – to a general audience?

I tell people that Flamenco is an improvised art form based on poetry that was most likely first composed extemporaneously during a gathering of family and friends during late-night hours.  That usually stops people in their tracks and gives them pause, because they normally envision a wild-haired woman in a low-cut, polka-dotted dress doing this animal-like dance with castanets.  The setting straight goes on from there with a quick history lesson about how immigrating Gypsies covered the old Spanish ‘romances’ (sung poems) to begin forming a musical expression in Andalucía that eventually gave way to Flamenco.  Along the way, the Gypsies as a group faced discrimination, prejudice, persecution, and this gave them much to sing about.  When their lifestyle was finally embraced during the period of romanticism in the 1800s, poets and impresarios brought Flamenco to the limelight to be celebrated in literate and on stages around the world.  What we have seen on stage since then is the expression of those same poems through song, music, and dance.  Sometimes the expression veers far from its original form, such as a line of topless men clicking their feet in unison.  Sometimes the expression is very much in line, when we see a solo singer, a solo guitarist, and a solo dancer conversing non-verbally while the people around them clap their hands rhythmically and shout cheers of encouragement.  That is the expression that brings the goose bumps, and that is when you know you are seeing the real thing.

In what ways has your background in journalism aided you in your ability to share flamenco’s story with a variety of audiences?

My journalism background helps in three ways.  First, I am fortunate to know how to conduct research, including interviews.  I primarily work as a teaching artist, meaning I use Flamenco as a vehicle to teach toward curriculum goals, such as Spanish language, geography, history, team building, problem solving, and communication.  My shows are based on literature and real people who became legends in Flamenco.  I routinely dig way beyond the stage to get information that reveals the Gypsy culture and Spanish history that makes Flamenco what it is and has been.

My role as television and Web producer gave me experience in coordinating live bodies, production equipment, managers and talent. The same rules apply to live theater production, except there are no live signals to route – yet!

Finally, years in the newsroom taught me what matters to the media.  I know how to write a press release, because I know which ones I ignored when I was on the receiving end of them.  I know how to build a database of qualified contacts for public relations, publicity, promotion, and sales, and I know the difference between those roles.

Why did you make the leap from journalism to flamenco and what were the biggest challenges you faced in making that leap? How did you overcome those challenges?

I leapt at a time when work as a freelance writer was not fulfilling and the phone was ringing off the hook for a Flamenco dancer.  The jobs for Flamenco were exciting, and I began to work with interesting musicians. I thought I would cross the two pursuits. That eventually happened, but not as I expected.  And, that was frustrating at first.  I thought I would sell stories about the back roads of Spain or the unknown treasures of the big Spanish cities to which I traveled to study Flamenco.  At first it was a setback that I was not selling work this way.  But, later I realized that I could tell stories about Flamenco, Spain, and the wonderful real-life characters whom I encountered.  And, with this, I became a teaching artist going to work in schools, lecture halls, and universities.  I kept up the dance training to stay employed in the typical dance setting, as well.

A major challenge was figuring out the markets for Flamenco, because at the time that I began working, there was not much shape to Flamenco arts where I lived in Atlanta. There was not much precedent for programming, pricing, market segmentation, quality, etc., specific to Flamenco, because so few people had taken the path previously.  I received guidance from some professional musicians, dancers, and talent agents, and then applied the rules of their industries to Flamenco.  I shaped the market for myself and just didn’t look back.  I created a number of products to leverage Flamenco to serve markets, such as schools and social organizations, rather than the traditional American Flamenco employers, such as restaurants in need of live entertainment.

In what ways has your life as a flamenco teacher and performer changed since you first began?

I am now deeply interested in the history and cultural significance of Flamenco and how the past influences the present.  I came into Flamenco as a dancer, wanting to learn to move in a new form. Along the way, I took classes from a teacher who taught me about the music.  I discovered how  the dancers are musicians, right along with the guitarists and singers.  I traveled to Spain to study, where I met some of the icons, descendants of legends, authors whose work I had studied, artists whom I adored on stage.  Their support through friendship and teaching, led me to want to explain the human stories that created – and today sustain – Flamenco. So, that is part of the work that I do in education and performance.

Also, as a business owner, I have learned to be headstrong and well-prepared in pursuits that seem like unreachable dreams.  Business strategies aside, I have learned to look up, because that is direction of faith and success.

How have you built a community of people and groups that are as interested in and passionate about flamenco as you are?

I formed a grass-roots marketing company called jaleolé in 2004, with a partner and a team of very dedicated, passionate volunteers.  Now that I look back, I will boast that we shaped the Flamenco scene in Atlanta for nearly 10 years. The company promoted Flamenco events to Flamenco aficionados, as well as the general public.  We motivated some big players  to talk about and present Flamenco in Atlanta.  As a result, there are now teachers and performers in Atlanta working on the base that we put in place.  I lectured, wrote, published, produced,  placed performers in all kinds of performances from sidewalks to theater stages, and put students on stage annually as part of my role as co-founder of the company.  The energy of that work is still circulating, and the evidence is everywhere.

Since 2009, I have facilitated a ‘cuadro’ class that provides education and a weekly jam session for students of Flamenco guitar, singing, and dance.  Prior to this concept, Atlanta was a city of dancers without accompanists.  To know Flamenco is to know that dancers and guitarists exist in the art form to accompany the singing. So, a silo of dancers – without live music – was unfulfilling.  Five years after the first workshop, the students of the program are playing guitar and singing in classes and performances in groups across Atlanta. It is satisfying to know that Flamenco is taking shape in such a holistic way.

How have you engaged Spanish artists in your mission to build interest in flamenco? What have you learned from them in your efforts to teach, perform and lecture about the art?

The answer to this question is unending.

I have presented some of the top Flamenco artists in Spain in performance and education.  I have asked them to lecture and spend time in fiestas with local aficionados to break the wall of artist and fan.  These gracious artists  have created electricity, tears, inspiration, awe.  But the best moments have been when they have interacted one-on-one with local aficionados, in a casual manner, to shed light on what it means to be a Flamenco, rather than a super star.

I believe Flamenco is like coffee.  If you can get it in Spain, or from Spanish Flamenco artists, then it’s a shot of espresso.  Outside of that, it’s café au lait: tastes great, but it’s just coffee with chicory and steamed milk.  And, chicory as my grandfather used to tell me in New Orleans, is ersatz.  The audiences and the students know the difference.

The more I learn about the art of Flamenco, the less I want to teach, perform, or lecture about it.  Instead, I just want to put the Spanish artists out there to do it.  I am continually humbled by the people whom I meet through research and study.  They are incredible artists, but that’s not what stops me.  It is that their families created this, and they carry with them the spirits of the generations before them, a cultural legacy that includes oppression, perseverance, pride, creativity, innovation, controversy, and misunderstandings of all sorts.  The more I know, the more I want to tell these stories, accurately.

What’s a typical day for you like?

My schedule is completely random. At the moment, it looks a little like a jack-o-lantern. Three days a week, I rehearse in the mornings before heading to teach at Emory University, where I instruct students who are earning credit for their dance degrees or to fulfill an elective requirement.  Right after class, I crack my latest Flamenco read for about an hour.  Then, I am off to class where I am a student of Spanish culture and literature, a base for a graduate degree down the road.  I pick up my kids from school; we tackle their homework; we play a game or craft a bit; we cook and eat dinner; I run out the door. Evening classes or rehearsals last about 2 hours in a dance studio, and then it is home for some creative time: a novel, a favorite blog, on a rare occasion a movie.  On the other two days (of a 5-day workweek), I am in the studio for 4-6 hours working on technique and repertoire, and I take about 2 hours to handle the “business of Flamenco” for myself.  I update my website. order flyers, book shows, write contracts, follow-up with potential clients, apologize for late responses, and of course put out dramatic  fires of all kinds.  Saturdays and Sundays often turn into workdays, as well, depending on bookings.  Several times a month, this schedule is interrupted by arts-in-education performances.  I leave home for those at 6:30 a.m., after loading my car with sound and stage equipment.  I drive for 30-90 minutes to a school, and then I set up my show.  I perform for 1-2 hours, break down, and then return to my neighborhood just in time to pick up my lovely children from school. More than once, I have walked through my children’s after-school scene in full Flamenco regalia because my commute butted up against carpool.  My kids just are not aware of it anymore.  It’s always a juggling act with the schedule.

I remember one time, I had to do a performance during the last 30 minutes of one of those Spanish culture classes at the university, where I attend class as a student.  I walked into the class with all of the stage make-up, hair in a bun, huge earrings, and a ruffled shirt.  When the moment struck, I stood up and walked out of the class in the middle of the lecture.  I closed the door, and in the hallway swapped my street skirt for my performance skirt.  I glided down the stairwell and got into a waiting car outside of the building. The driver took me around the corner while I changed into my Flamenco dance shoes.  I got on stage 15 minutes later inside the ballroom at the Georgia Aquarium and performed for a dazzling (I hope) 5 minutes.

Unfortunately, I spend a lot less time on my art that I would like, and I am working the phone and e-mail a lot more than I would like!

What sort of plans do you have for 2014?

I am reaching into markets outside of Atlanta.  I am taking my arts-in-ed on the road in Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama.  I hope to also perform for adult audiences in those markets, with strong Spanish and U.S.-based Flamenco artists on stage with me.

I am forming participants of my cuadro class into a semi-professional performing group.  There’s a very dedicated and talented core of aficionados who are playing guitar, singing, and dancing well.  They are ready to go on stage in excellent, very exciting venues.

I will spend more time researching a few interesting characters in Flamenco, including a dancer who caught the eye of Thomas Edison, a homeless man-turned Grammy winner, and the neighborhood of Triana in Seville.

As someone who has pursued her passion for one of the most passionate dance forms there is, what advice do you have for people grappling with whether to pursue their own passions?

A life built on passion is much different than a life built on someone else’s passion.  Living for your passion can lead to funny decisions.  To that end, I advise the following.  Get a good business plan and revise it often.  Get a network of honest critics from a variety of backgrounds, and remember that your loved ones should not be part of that because they will always only be positive.  Hire an accountant, and realize that $30 in the bank is not $0 or -$30 in the bank. Balance your worlds: work, personal, ambition, family, romance, health.   Balance is important.  It is difficult to be the navigator and the pilot in the giant ship of entrepreneurship.  One feels like everything has to be done now.  To address that, create a project management plan, phase product releases, and schedule time for breaks.  Take a walk to solve a problem.  Have a beer at lunch.  Take a day off! Most of all, you must believe always in what you are doing.  If you lose your mojo, then you are done.