GUEST POST: Reflections from the experiences of Portland flamenco dancer Jackie Howard Kraybill, "La Juanita," at the Festival de Jerez in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

April 1, 2011

Reflecting back on our time in Jerez for the 2011 Flamenco Festival, it is hard to decide what was most important in making it such a special trip.

First, the great classes: Ana María López teaching the subtleties of timing and gracia in the Bulerías de Jerez; Marco Flores (be still my heart!) teaching a cute and challenging Alegrías. But for me the pinnacle of classes was the one with La Rafi - Rafaela Carrasco. She taught a Serrana, which was a new palo for me and helps the "learn one of everything before I hang up my shoes" list. The choreography, rhythms and movements were as challenging as expected - the first day I thought I was going to pass out from fear. But over the days my confidence grew as I was able to keep up (it was a Medio level class filled with Spanish professionals!) and actually learn and execute the steps. It was an exhilarating feeling, that's for sure. Part of the reason this art form is so addictive!

Second, the shows: The darling Teatro Villamarta hosted shows every night. The line-up this year was mixed - some were really great, some were good and there were a couple dogs. Overall, it was a strong season with a lot to talk and think about. Where else can you see professional flamenco shows every single night? Ole!! And for those with the stamina there were other shows most nights after the Villamarta ones, followed by peña shows for those who could stay up until 3AM! We did that our last Friday night, going to the Peña de Bulerias to see Ana María López and her students.

Third, the people: I love Jerez. Simply so. It is truly a small town, with people smiling and saying hello. After you have been to a cafe or shop a couple times, you are greeted as a regular. And everywhere you go, someone is singing flamenco or doing palmas. It is just part of the day to day sentiment of Jerezanos - ole! My favorite of this trip was when a van full of telephone line repairmen came down the street. One of the men was singing Bulerías amplified through a plastic orange street cone, while the others were doing palmas or jaleos. Quite a sight...

Fourth, the community flamenco spirit: It is such a gift to be in a small town filled with people who all love the same thing you do - flamenco. The people attending the festival, as well as the locals, all share that same passion and it is uplifting to be around it 24/7. And sharing an apartment with chicas who are fun and supportive made it even better - ole! I found myself being very grateful several times a day - and thanking the Universe that I get to participate in something so special.

Fifth, the costumes: No one would believe I wrote this if I didn't talk about the wonderful flamenco trajes. New dresses, skirts, tops, earrings, shoes, fans. My God, what's not to love about a hobby where you get to dress up in such FABULOUS attire?! Although swearing once again to not buy any more, of course I came home with could you not?! But the real pleasure was watching Heather and Laura pick out new things - nothing like flamenco dresses to make you look so beautiful and a 100% powerful and sexy woman - ole guapas!