, November 1999

    In the Trenches With Bruce Kluger
    My Daughter, the
    Flamenco Dancer

    By Bruce Kluger

    It all began innocently enough.

    Until she was three-and-a-half, my
    oldest daughter, Bridgette, had pretty
    much firmed up her career choices,
    narrowing her selection to five: librarian,
    taxi driver, a “person who makes
    newspapers but also takes pictures,"
    television actress, and, of course,
    waitress (or, as she preferred to say,
    “food lady”).

    Then one day all of that changed.

    “I want to be a flamenco dancer,” Bridgette announced with the same kind of
    conviction with which she frequently insists she’ll marry her “boyfriend” William.
    Then, as if to confirm her proclamation with a bit of visual detail, she added:  “And I
    want to wear a red-and-white dress.”

    Okay—so maybe I’m exaggerating here. Maybe there’s a little more background to
    the story.

    It all began the Saturday before, when my wife, Alene, discovered she’d exhausted
    her endless repertoire of weekend activities for our gang. An avid peruser of the
    New York Times Arts section—specifically the "Family Fare" column—Alene had
    determined that we (the two of us, Bridgette and our six-month-old, Audrey) had
    been to every puppet show, children’s zoo and kids’ museum in greater New York
    City, and, therefore, would have to venture into the realm of grown-up
    entertainment—that is, if we wanted to get out of the house today. Throwing caution
    to the wind (and along with it, Audrey’s nap schedule), we packed up the family and
    headed down to the lower east side of Manhattan, where, as Alene had just read, a
    popular local flamenco troupe was performing a special engagement.

    “Bridgey will probably love the costumes,” Alene said, “and Audrey can sleep
    through the show.”

    (At this point, I was tempted to suggest that a lineup of zapateados pounding pine
    with hard-rubber heels probably isn’t recommended in What to Expect the First
    Year as the perfect nap inducement, but Alene was already halfway out the door.)

    To my astonishment—and delight—Bridgette sat through the show rapt, reflecting
    in her beaming facial expressions every clap and stamp and hoot and holler the
    dancers let loose on stage. And, yep, Audrey did sleep through the entire show
    (though she hasn’t slept through one night since, but that’s another story).

    Consequently, within a week, becoming a flamenco dancer had warp-sped to the
    top of Bridgey’s lifetime to-do list, and from the tone of her voice we knew she
    wasn't kidding.

    As any parent can tell you, there’s nothing newsmaking about a child sponging up
    an entertainment and, afterward, adopting it as her personal passion, spinning off
    from it enough daydreams and make-pretend games to last for months on end. But
    what was unusual here is that the diversion that caught my daughter’s eye was
    such a stretch for her. Blonde, blue-eyed and raised on a steady diet of Gershwin
    and Billy Joel, Bridgette is about as close to being a Latin hoofer as I am to being a
    New York Jet. Yet completely (and blissfully) oblivious to these limitations, she took
    her flamenco dream and ran with it:

        She began improvising steps at home, accompanied by Daddy’s Antonio Carlos
    Jobim CDs;

        She took a crash course in hand movements and “attitude” from her Aunt
    Aléjandra (who knows her way around a Spanish dance or two);

        She gaped in wonderment when Alé and Uncle Jeffrey brought her back a real
    live flamenco dress from their trip to Spain;

        And now Bridgette takes weekly dance classes at Ballet Hispanico, which, we
    subsequently learned, does not permit flamenco to be taught to children before the
    age of eight (something having to do with the strain the movements puts on little

    Yet even if she does lose the steam behind her dream before that time, I’ll feel
    satisfied that what my little señorita garnered from her brief foray into flamencodom
    was worth the trip. It’s been fun for all of us, really.

    I suppose the big picture here is this: You never really know what’s going to jazz
    your kids until you give it a try. The world is full of wonderment, and parents needn’t
    always pop in a video or plop down 75 bucks for an orchestra seat to capture some
    of it for their children. In our family, for example, entertainment is defined by a wide
    and liberal spectrum of amusements. On one hand, sure, we’ve loaded up on our
    required viewings of Mulans and Peter Pans (the latter giving rise to Bridgey’s six-
    month obsession will all things fairy-dusty).

    But in our better moments, we also try to transform even the small, everyday
    household tasks into engaging mini-gigs. Yes, I confess it: we sing the catchy Blue’s
    Clues ditty “We just got a letter!” whenever we make the sojourn to the lobby to get
    our mail; sure, Bridgette and I regularly dye her scrambled eggs as our own little
    home version of Green [and Red and Orange and Purple] Eggs and Ham (that is,
    until Bridgette’s tongue turned blue and Mommy informed Daddy that food coloring
    is not a toy); and okay, so sometimes we do let Bridgette put on puppet shows—
    with Audrey as the puppet.

    The way I figure it, the eighteen years I have with my girls will come and go faster
    than another episode of Friends, and I’ll be left wondering if I had all the fun there
    really was to have. Consequently, I want as much of it as I can get right now, and if
    that means occasionally being awakened early on a Sunday morning to the clatter
    of castanets barreling down the hall, that’s a price I’ll gladly pay.

    I’d like to continue writing here, but Mommy’s making a volcano in the kitchen (Play-
    doh, white vinegar and baking soda), and I think I just heard something go boom....
Fan dancer: Bridgette in full flamenco mode.