People are often asking me about my how I got started with flamenco, about my first experiences.  And awhile back I told you I’d tell you some stories from that first year in Spain. So I’m going to tell you a story from that time today.  At the end of the story you’ll find a tip on dancing with the bata de cola, it's an essential, and you can work on it anywhere, in the bathroom, in the bedroom ...

But first, Spain

Telling you about my first year in Spain means I have to talk about Matilde Coral.

Porque es una figura.

I didn’t know it then, but my exposure to Matilde and her way of dancing would end up being kind of huge for me.  Yesterday I had a big realization about the significance of her academy having been the first flamenco school I was sent to in Sevilla.

Even though I couldn’t take class with her right away, even though I didn’t study with her for long, and even though I didn’t think I’d actually learned what I should have learned or could have learned from her, last night while watching this video, I got a very clear message about why she was the first flamenco teacher I happened upon in Sevilla.

I’ll tell you about that later because I don’t yet know how to explain it to you, and also I first need to tell you about some experiences in class with her.

I’ll start with the day we put on the batas, even though the story begins long before that.

As you may know, I’ve given the bata several attempts.

Try, Give up.  Try, Give up.  Try, Give up.

Right now I’m at an in-between place.  It’s a practice-the-technique-in-small-bits-without-wearing-a-bata-and-sometimes-put-the-bata-on phase.

And at the moment, that feels good.

So, onto the story.

The Day We Put on the Batas

It was summer time.

Summer is hot in Sevilla.

Well, that’s an understatement.  It is super hot.  When I lived there I never really knew how hot it was because temperature was measured in celsius, and I have an aversion to conversions and never cared to know how hot it was in a number that was understandable to me.  I just knew that when someone said it was 40 some degrees that meant it was VERY HOT.  But really, I needed nobody to tell me it was hot.

Because it. was. hot.

So, often, during the day, you didn't really want to be anywhere, and you definitely didn't want to go anywhere.

But being at the academia was nice.

Because it felt relaxed there in the summertime.

After the workshops that is.

The workshops were my introduction to Matilde as a teacher.

You see, I had been taking classes with Ana, one of Matilde’s advanced students.  Because according to myself I wasn’t ready for the academy.

(By the way you can see Ana in the video below standing behind Matilde.)

I had started taking with Ana in the springtime.  Private classes, twice a week.  That felt like enough for me.

Summer arrived, and Ana told me it was time for me to go to the academy.  She said I should take the summer cursillos with her.

It made no sense to me why I would take the same classes as Ana, but I did what she said.

There were two workshops.

One was tangos.

One was romeras.

I can recall one step from the tangos workshop.  It puzzled me forever, and I never really got it until a few years after leaving Spain.

And a lot of embarassing moments from the romeras one.

(I believe strongly in sharing embarassing flamenco class moments, so I’ll share some of those moments with you on another day.)

Because today I need to tell you about the batas

So there were A LOT of people taking the summer cursillos.  I think they lasted one week, maybe two.

After the workshops, I stuck around for more classes.

Most people left, but some of us stayed, and it was nice because Matilde taught us, and like I said, it was summer, so things were a bit laid back.  Much more relaxed than when I’d first visited in the spring to investigate.

One day Matilde got a wild hair, which was muy her, and decided we were going to dance with the batas.

“Today we are going to put on the batas.”

It was like she was making a grand announcement.  She almost glowed as she said it.  I'm not kidding. She was passionate.  She was excited.

She was going to show us how to dance with the bata de cola.

¿Las batas?

The batas from the movie Flamenco by Carols Saura.  These batas:

I didn’t really know what was going on.

But I followed everyone to the changing room where the batas were housed and found one to put on.

It felt like dress up time.

Mine was grey.  An amazingly beautiful grey.  And grey is one of my favorite colors, and, yes it is a color to me.

Wearing it made me feel more beautiful than I can possibly explain.

That's what I remember the most, feeling so good wearing it

I don’t remember A THING that we learned about dancing with the bata nor do I even really remember dancing with it.  Actually, I barely remember being in the studio with it.

What I do remember, besides the feeling beautiful thing, is that it wasn’t all that hard.

This is incredibly strange because just about every experience I’ve since had with a bata has been a bit of a lucha.

From dancing in batas in the kitchen with Ricardo to workshops in Albuquerque with Concha Jareño and Olga Pericet, where I felt more clutzy and defeated than beautiful.

But that day, in Matilde Coral’s studio in Triana, I remember being able to move with my grey bata and feeling incredible.


And now, as promised,

A bata technique tip

Get the body positioning down.  Mainly, the legs.

You have to be able to hold your legs in attitude in order to dance with the bata.  Not having been a ballet dancer, I did not know what this was when someone said to me, "You just keep your legs in attitude."  (Most flamenco dancers don’t refer to it this way, but that’s what it is ...)

So definitely, get the leg positioning down.

... Feeling fearful before a bata workshop, I once asked my smart friend Shyiang, a very talented dancer in Vancouver, for some bata advice.  And she told me just this, to get down the leg positioning.

She was right.

Many teachers, like Mercedes and Yolanda Heredia, won’t even let you put on a bata in the beginning.  Because they want to make sure you have your legs positioned correctly.  This is muy importante.  And they know that you'll hide underneath that big skirt and try to cheat if you don’t know the technique and that when you put the bata on, disasters will quickly occur.

My current bata phase

The one I was telling you about earlier.  It's where I don’t think I’m working on bata, but I practice bata technique in small spurts.

I’ll do a few minutes in my bedroom in front of the mirror checking my leg and hip placement.  Or I’ll practice a leg position while having a conversation with someone, which is perhaps annoying to the person I’m conversing with, but I do it anyway.  These small spurts get my legs used to this unnatural position.

Putting on a bata can still frustrate me, and I'm not sure how much time I'll ever actually dedicate to it, or if I'll ever learn to dance well with it, but I still like studying this technique.

EDIT: I added a couple of links to posts about that first year in Spain to help fill in the gaps.

You and the Bata ...

If you want to learn about how to dance with the bata de cola, definitely come to the workshop this Monday, Labor Day with Melinda.  We don't have a lot of chances to study this technique in Portland, and Melinda has studied extensively with the bata masters, so I'm pretty excited about this one!

Some Spanish from the story

porque - because

figura - leading figure

lucha - fight

cursillo - workshop


Tell me, please, please tell me about your bata experiences.  Have you fallen in one?  (I have.)  Has it frustrated you?  Do you feel wonderful wearing one?  Do you have an easy tip for us?  Leave a comment below.