Nellie Bennett, author of Only in Spain: A Foot-Stomping, Firecracker of a Memoir about Food, Flamenco, and Falling in Love (Sourcebooks, July) asked a question that led her to chase her dreams all the way from a dreary job at a department store in Sydney, Australia to the dance floors of all-night flamenco bars in Seville and Madrid. Anyone who reads Bennett’s memoir and is contemplating any kind of life change will be forced to ask the same question: Why don’t you?
Before flamenco, Bennett spent her days in a high-end department store coveting designer handbags that cost more than six months of salary. The job was supposed to be temporary, yet Bennett had been there for two years, with no end in sight. Raised by travelers, Bennett was born with an adventurous spirit. The exotic posters on the windows of travel agencies are the stuff of her fantasies. It’s perhaps not surprising then, that as she became increasingly unhappy with her job, she began daydreaming of escape. What is surprising is the roads her daydreams would take her down. It all started with a newspaper advertisement: “Flamenco dance. New term beginning.”
Bennett is an unlikely flamenco dancer. She spoke no Spanish and had no previous dance training, but that didn’t stop her from taking classes in Sydney and then travelling to Seville where she talked her way into the advanced dance class. After six weeks in Seville she returned home to her “real” life in Sydney, but she couldn’t give up on her dream. Thanks to a combination of bravery and naïveté, she made it back to Madrid, where she taught English and took classes—when she could afford to—at one of the best flamenco schools in the world.
Along the way, Bennett bonded over a love of flamenco with a manager at a Swiss bank, the president of a Spanish insurance company and a dreamy but dangerous gypsy and his band of singing primos. While it is filled with amusing details about Bennett’s many trials and successes, this memoir isn’t really about Spain, or even the flamenco. It is about conquering fear and stepping out of your comfort zone. Bennett writes:
“Flamenco took me out of that narrow world where success was equated with the value of your handbag on eBay, your boyfriend’s taxable income, or how close you were to buying that waterfront property, and showed me joy in compás, in a calimocho, a bowl of olives, warm sun on my cheek, and the smell of orange blossoms. … With flamenco I was transported into a world where everyone is beautiful, because beauty is in everything, the glorious and the ugly; because flamenco celebrates living, through the cries of pain and the cries of joy… Perhaps that was flamenco’s biggest gift. It taught me not to be afraid.”
A memoir about living life to the fullest, and recognizing the beauty around us, Only in Spain is a book for anyone who has ever felt unhappy in their life or afraid to make a major change.