“If I didn’t do flamenco, I wouldn’t be who I am,” says Mary Heberlein, a nurse manager at Banner Boswell Medical Center in Sun City, Ariz. “It touches me in my heart and soul.”
It also builds her stamina, self-confidence and composure, allowing her to remain unruffled, regardless of how many stressors she faces at work. “Even my boss comments on how calm I am no matter what comes up.”
Heberlein followed her parents’ footsteps into ballroom dancing, which she taught during nursing school to make ends meet. She took up both ballet and tap as an adult, but found flamenco by a fluke. She read about it and was intrigued—but tucked the article away. Years later, when she was cleaning out boxes, she happened upon it again. At the time, she was going through a difficult divorce and Heberlein knew she needed a distraction. She wasn’t doing any exercise, which had always been a good outlet for her, and thought the coincidence was more than accidental. She took a class and was hooked immediately.
Flamenco is challenging on many different levels. “It combines the hardest parts of ballet and tap,” explains Heberlein. “Your feet are doing one thing like tap and your arms another, more balletic, thing, and all to an odd 12-beat rhythm that’s completely foreign to most Americans, who are used to eight beats.” Trying to master the dance involves frustration after frustration, she says, but the difficulty is part of the draw. “You have to focus so hard on your body, the movement and the choreography that you completely lose yourself in it. You’re dripping with sweat, but you feel so good—it’s meditative and invigorating at the same time. Plus, all that frustration makes you patient—a big help with your patients.”
Heberlein has been a nurse for more than 30 years. She started in cardiac critical care in her home state of Minnesota. After earning a business degree “just to learn something new,” a patient who was in pharmaceutical sales encouraged her to move over to the business side of medicine, which she did for 20 years. Eventually, she started her own sales and marketing consulting company. She enjoyed the work, but not scrambling for clients and worrying about how to weather tough economic times. So, for a sure source of income, she went back to nursing part-time. “I fell in love with it all over again, and before I knew it I was spending more time doing that than consulting.”
Her new husband—also a nurse working in the medical industry and growing tired of worrying about downsizing—suggested they move west and both get reliable hospital jobs. “In nursing you can move all over the place—it’s wonderful!” says Heberlein, who was ready to pack her bags save for one caveat: There had to be a flamenco presence wherever they moved.
They settled in Arizona, which, besides offering a welcome relief from the Minnesota winters, is also a hotbed for flamenco. Heberlein studied with Lydia Torea, a flamenco dancer who toured the world with the JosÃ© Greco company (she danced with Greco in the 1965 movie Ship of Fools) before returning to her home in Arizona to teach. After Torea retired, Heberlein joined the student troupe of “another force unto herself,” Bernadette Gaxiola. They have one class a week after work, more if they’re scheduled to perform, which they do regularly at various Spanish horse festivals and hospital and church fundraisers. Between classes, Heberlein practices at home on the floor that her husband—who’s also a woodworker—built for her after they moved. Every flamenco dancer needs a supportive partner!