Carnaval 2022 Torrevieja
My first year in the Carnaval troupe ‘Bufa La Gamba’!
It was February of 2019 when I witnessed my first Carnaval parade. We had recently moved to Spain and I was fascinated with this colorful creative cultural experience. It was like no other parade I had ever seen, not that I was a parade expert. I turned to my husband and said “I will be in this parade one day.” If you know me you know I believe we all have the ability to build our lives as we want, to manifest our destiny, to believe it into being, dream it and think it into happening. If you want something bad enough and you focus your energy into this, the chances are it will come true. I have been doing this since I was a young teenager when I manifested my husband, Tony. Now manifesting being in a parade is on a much smaller scale, but relevant to this story.
Fast forward to March 2020 when our good friend from Sweden was sitting in our tiny flat and telling us about the quarantine that would begin the next day. Both of our reactions were “what quarantine?” I had only heard recently from my Mom in the USA that Italy was closed. She was 84 at the time so I thought “oh, ok Mom.” Thinking maybe she’s watching too much tv. These were our only warnings. The next day we would find ourselves in total lockdown for the next 3 months. Lockdown in Spain was one of the more restrictive quarantines. We could no longer walk our dog together, only one family member could go to the only businesses allowed to be open, which were grocery stores and pharmacies. The police would randomly check grocery receipts to be sure people were only getting necessities. The rules in place were no traveling more than one kilometer from your home, no restaurants, no stores, nothing. For the culture here I imagine this was challenging since many people eat out on terraces in small cafes daily. For my husband and I we survived on making good food at home. This is where my carnaval dream begins. The only way to leave the house was to go to the grocery store that had a limit of customers which resulted in lines outside the door but that is what my food obsessed, wonderful chef husband would do to stay sane. This is where he became friends with the checker at our small store across the street. In one of their many Spanglish conversations the topic of carnaval arised. This is when Tony was informed that the checker’s mother-in-law was in a troupe. He takes my number and says she will contact me on Whatsapp.
Then the global pandemic cancelled almost everything and that included the carnaval parade in Torrevieja Spain. For the next two years there would be no carnaval and no month long celebrations, no tourists, nothing.
Doubting I would ever hear from the carnaval troupe, I finally got a message. It was November 2021 and carnaval was in February. With the world still battling covid we were unsure if the parade would even go on, but they were starting anyway. The holidays came and went with not much action. Then I got my second message, an invite to the workshop, wherever that is. Excited and scared, my husband and I located the workshop which was just a small office/garage space in the middle of the city of Torrevieja Spain. It looked to me like an office for a construction company of some kind, but as you will soon understand, I never knew what was going on, ever.
Nervous and scared I waited outside of the workshop for my contact to arrive. Then I heard my name for the first time, “Terry” which they always spelled wrong and sounds like ter ray with a roll of the tongue. For the rest of the experience this would be the main word I would understand and react to.
For the first couple of workshops I had no idea what our costumes would be. I just painted and glittered straws. The ladies of the troupe were very kind and patient with me. I would just show up and take on a job. I love crafts so for me this was fun even if I didn’t understand any of their conversations. It was like stepping into a magical, challenging, unbelievable experience. I felt tremendous gratitude to be welcomed into something so special, a troupe over 20 years old, maybe even some of the original ladies that brought this parade here to Torrevieja. I’m still figuring this out even post carnaval.
Eventually I saw a picture of the costume we were creating on a smartphone at the workshop that seemed to be happening nightly from 6 to 10pm . That’s when I realized we would be merry go rounds and then I was excited!
The work and creative thinking that goes into these costumes was really impressive in so many ways. It is a true work of art and dedication to make something spectacular out of nothing. Every troupe in this carnaval takes this very seriously. Very seriously. Even the smallest details become important as I found out when I glued a glitter hat incorrectly and thought it would pass. Nope!
Many workshops later and it was time to choreograph our 3 minute routine for the judges. The prizes are worth 17k and to be given out to the various troupes that win.
I made the mistake of telling one of the only English speaking girls that I taught dance aerobics in the past. We were in her car getting to know each other on the way from the dressmaker’s appointment where our corsets were being made. The next thing I understand I am in charge of choreographing the parade route (11 songs totalling 36 minutes) and another 3 mins of a chosen compilation by the troupe for the judges. This is when I freak out!! I now believe that I need to choreograph 36 minutes, 11 songs for the procession of the parade as all of the troupes normally do dancing perfectly in sync. And I am not a choreographer whatsoever, or so I thought.
After receiving the music set from the carnaval organizers I began to panic a bit. That’s when my super supportive husband encouraged me to carry on, that I can choreograph this parade in motion, not speaking the language with people I do not know and in a parade for the first time. At this point I had half of my costume and I decided the best way to work on movable routines was to try choreographing in my outfit. Being no one can see our costume before the parade this had to happen in secret. Luckily we have a secluded rooftop on our building in Spain so with a small speaker and a lot of courage we went up.
Since my husband is a filmmaker he was able to film the moves set to the carnaval parade music so I could send it to the troupe. Their response was laughter. The more seasoned ladies of the troupe said they couldn’t move like that so I re choreographed all the routines to make the moves small and easy. 11 songs.
The scramble to get everything done in time with the threat of the parade being cancelled as many other regions decided to do (Covid), we came to crunch time. Two days until the parade and we had not practiced our group choreographed routines. Here is where I freaked out again. In my mind I was leading this troupe through the parade which is way more than I had signed up for.
Finally we had a plan to meet and practice dance moves, literally two days prior. We met in an empty garage below street level with little light and my tiny speaker box. Since I believed that I was leading these moves I begin to communicate the best I can without all the spanish words. Then once I got everyone’s attention and after gathering my nerves I started the music and began to show what I had choreographed. When I turned around no one was moving. Even arms crossed and “no we don’t like it” conversations. This is where I learned that this particular troupe does not do choreographed moves exactly, more of a dance around for fun troupe. The perfectly choreographed troupes, I understand, are dance classes year round. This is a huge relief and a little disappointing since I spent endless hours on the roof and sleepless nights thinking of and practicing dance moves. Yes, I am an American in Spain and this proves that for the last four years I usually have no idea what’s going on. This experience was completely stepping out of my comfort zone and I felt proud to continue through to the end. If not for the kindness of strangers, who became friends in the end, none of this would have been possible. The Spanish people and it’s culture is something I fell in love with completely. This troupe welcomed me in, had patience to communicate with me, drove me to fittings, gave me lots of cake during workshops and maybe a bit of vino, and held my hand the entire time. It was one of the most challenging and beautiful experiences of my life. And I have been invited back for next year. I guess you can say I am officially in the Bufa La Gamba troupe in Carnaval in Torrevieja Spain for life. By next year my Spanish will be much better and my fear of what’s going to happen….gone.
The day of the parade arrived. My make-up appointment was at 3pm in a beauty salon in the middle of the city. Did I mention that I have not had a car for four years? And my sense of direction is near non-existent? Somehow I managed to find it with only one moment of panic and confusion. The beauty salon was set up in stations and everyone was doing some sort of job. There were two make-up stations with two artists working on people. Also, nail painting, eyelashes, wigs and glitter spray all moving in motion while the carnaval music set played in the background. A music set I’d been obsessed with and practicing for weeks.
These make-up artists would complete at least 20 faces in one day. I was hoping that the make-up ladies could not feel me trembling inside because I was so nervous. The make-up was really incredible with gold glitter glued onto our faces. My big concern that I tried to communicate, which is usually a ridiculous attempt at charades, was how to eat with the lipstick on? A big concern for me as I am super food focused. This is when I found out that the lipstick does not come off, maybe for days.
At the end I didn’t even recognise myself. It was surreal. Walking through the city streets, not as me, was an incredible experience and I walked with pride as a member of Bufa la Gamba.
Parade line up time and I could not find the meet up location. Then a red and white hoop skirt with horses walked by. And I saw myself as we all looked so identical that even my husband could not pick me out of the troupe. These incredible works of art were handmade with so much time and dedication. The attention to details was impressive. Lives get put on hold at carnaval time to make these creations. And now we are ready to find our line up in this special parade.
All efforts up until the last minute had been completed and we were ready to dance the 2 kilometer parade route that would end with our 3 min choreographed routine for the judges.
As the procession began I heard my name being called “Ter Ray”. As usual I was out of sync with no idea what I was doing or what anyone was saying to me. At this time I had become really good at faking it, as if I knew what I was doing. My husband kindly reminded me to smile. So I did my best to stay in my spot. Since every person in our troupe looked exactly alike this was a little challenging.
Being in the parade was more of a thrill than I had imagined. My huge smile said it all. The streets were lined with giant speakers throughout the entire route all connected somehow. The smiles on peoples faces, especially after two years of this parade being cancelled, was amazing! It was magical. The troupe in front of us was moving in perfect sync with their dance moves. I was so happy we did not have to keep that up for the next two hours of the procession. Our troupe twirled and danced at our own pace, playing with the crowd, taking pictures, smiling for numerous television cameras and having the best time. I loved it!!
Then it was the end of the parade and time to dance for the judges. This is when you could feel our troupe’s nerves set in. The stage was impressive and intimidating. It was like a large concert produced stage complete with moving lights, fog machines and television cameras everywhere. As soon as we lined up in the way that we practiced it was time to perform our 3 minute music set. This was the most difficult part of the parade and we nailed it!!!!!!! Although I had not choreographed the entire routine, my moves were in there and we had completed the dance.
Capturing the dance competition at the end was not allowed since the television stations were filming. However, our friends happen to get a video just off to the side of the judges stand and in the end you can hear my Irish girlfriend say my Name ”Go Terri Lynn!”
There are two parade dates in February. One day time parade and then one week later the night parade all lit up. Our tent like hoop skirts had battery lights sewn into the material so we could light up.
Bufa la Gamba would end up coming in fourth place with two trophies and some prize money which I imagined would go into next year’s parade.
Next was the night parade at 9pm one week later with lights. This parade was a colder experience so more dancing was my solution.
The adventure ended with dinner out with the troupe. Being in Europe the dining time was 9:30pm. Being me I got lost along the way and ended up at the wrong restaurant across town. It was a fabulous evening of good food and a lot of conversations that I did not understand which sums up this entire experience of not knowing what is going on ever. This is where I was able to ask questions and connect all the people in this troupe. It seems most people are related and multigenerational. Basically a lot of people grow up in this carnaval culture. It was so amazing to see grandparents with their children with their children and on and on. The dinner finally ended at midnight, which is very Spain.
Then to my surprise every one of us made our way to an all night disco in the marina. This club was so crowded that we had to make a conga line just to get through it. We danced and one of my troupe friends bought me a mojito. My first one.
At 2am I said my thank yous and goodbyes with lots of hugs. It was sad to see it come to an end and also a feeling of total accomplishment for me. The walk home was a quiet one down the empty promenade while reflecting on this wild and colorful experience. A sigh of relief knowing I survived carnaval.
I found out that a lot of the carnaval costumes get sold, but mine will remain a piece of art above our bed as a reminder that even if something seems impossible and completely out of our comfort zone that anything is possible.
This troupe welcomed me in, had patience to communicate with me, drove me to fittings, gave me lots of cake during workshops and maybe a bit of vino, and held my hand the entire time. It was one of the most challenging and beautiful experiences of my life. And I have been invited back for next year. I guess you can say I am officially in the Bufa la Gamba troupe in Carnaval in Torrevieja Spain. By next year my Spanish will be much better and my fear of what’s going to happen….gone.
Although I have experienced a lot of different cultures and traveled around the world in some of the most difficult situations, carnaval 2022 is right up there with one of the most interesting times of my life and I am forever grateful.
I wonder what next year’s costume will be????