This week I learned about daylilies. And as it turns out the process I went through in learning about this flower led me to a mini-formula that is perfect for learning to dance por fiesta palos like bulerías. (I'll share that with you in a moment.)
But first, my lesson on daylilies
On Monday morning Stefani and I were on a walk when we happened upon bunches and bunches of bright golden daylilies. I’ve been noticing them everywhere this summer, including in my garden. I did not know what these flowers were called, and I’d never bothered to find out. I didn’t even bother to notice that their petals and shape look very much like ‘regular’ lilies. I guess because their colors, golden, yellow, red, orange, peach . . . are so distinct.
“I have those flowers in my garden,” I said to Stefani, “I cut some and put them in a vase, and the next day they were dead.”
“Well yeah, those are daylilies,” she responded. “They only live for a day.”
And this is how I came to learn why the ones in my vase at home had lasted, well, one day.
She proceeded to tell me more about the flower, information I won’t bother sharing with you because learning about flowers is not the point of this story.
(I’m getting to the point.)
Before I became aware of their name and the whole one day of life thing, I had already decided that I was not going to go around cutting more of these flowers and putting them in vases inside my house. Before Stefani told me about their life span, I had discovered on my own through trial and error that these flowers would be better enjoyed in the garden.
For the time being at least . . .
I hadn’t yet figured out why they lived such a short life and if it would always be this way. Did they have a short bloom span? Or was it so hot (we were in the midst of a heatwave after all) that no cut flowers would survive in a vase inside my home at the moment?
Had Stefani not informed me that each blossom would last for one day only, I may have continued the trial and error process.
I may have cut some more and put them in a vase again once the weather cooled down to see if they would survive for longer with the cooler temperatures. Or I may have cut some roses from the front yard and put them in a vase to rule out the possibility that any other flower would die within a day in this heat. Or perhaps I would have observed the daylilies growing outside to see how long they lasted (Actually I’m pretty postive I would not have opted for that last choice, but you get my drift.)
Trial and error is a necessary part of learning
And the trial and error process can be quick or not so quick.
One way to speed things up is to add in some direct instruction.
Together these methods work fabulously!
I can learn all of the concepts in the world about bulerías, but until I spend time dancing on my own to live music (cante, palmas, guitarra) I won’t fully understand the concepts.
Unfortunately learning how to dance bulerias is not quite as simple as learning that a daylily has no business hanging out in a vase of water inside my home. (Or fortunately because if learning bulerías were that easy it would be boring.)
A daylily lives for one day.
Simple. That’s all I need to know. I won’t be picking that flower again.
Bulerías is not so simple.
Follow the structure while listening to the cante.
Um, what is the structure, and what exactly am I listening for in the cante? A little more instruction por favor.
In bulerías, we begin with our salida, once the singer has started the letra, then we do some marcajes, then we go into paso de bulerías . . .
Instruction about the concepts,
Instruction on how to execute steps,
Instruction on how to respond to the cante.
We need explanations of these things. (Because "improvising" por bulerías doesn't mean we can do whatever we want. There is a form, and we need to respect that.)
So to begin we need some direct instruction. (Step 1)
Next we put what we learned into practice
We need to try things out. We need to mess up and learn from that mistake or do something correclty and feel what that feels like so that we can do it again.
This step is VERY important.
Trial & error. (Step 2)
The thing is, direct instruction and trial and error feed upon one another. The combination of the two opens us up to learning even more . . .
Allow me to return to daylilies for a moment.
As you know, I love to go on walks, so I was used to seeing daylilies in people's yards, on the side of the road, etc. And all I really paid attention to were these bunches of red and yellow toned blossoms, lots and lots of blossoms.
After the whole dying-in-the-vase-and-Stefani-informing-me-that-their-blooms-last-only-one-day experience I started noticing dead daylilies all over the place! Before it was just blossoms upon blossoms, now it was blossoms and LOTS of dead blossoms.
This element of observation is essential to the bulerías learning process.
As we learn concepts and try them out, we become open to learning even more on our own. Because we start noticing things. We become able to see more than we could previously see.
Finally we observe. (Step 3)
Direct instruction + trial & error + observation = lots of learning
Add to that a lot of study and supportive teachers, and we're really good to go.
This is addition, so the order doesn't matter. (Phew!) The truth is, with something as complicated as bulerías, we add to the equation, traveling back and forth between all three methods. We learn a little, we watch others, we try out what we learned, we mess up, we learn some more, we try again, and again, and again . . .
(Naturally this method works wonderfully for tangos too, for any flamenco form really.)
So if you want to become confident in dancing por fiesta dances:
1. Get some instruction (in a class, online, in a workshop),
2. Find a place to try things out (at a juerga, in a class, with your friend playing palmas), and
3. Pay attention to what others are doing (watching YouTube, watching others in class, watching dancers at a show.)
Now tell me,
How has trial and error served you in learning flamenco? How does the instruction you receive facilitate your process? Can you think of a specific instance when the direct instruction + trial & error + observation formula worked for you? Let me know in the comments below!
This is What We Do
In bulerías class in Jerez. We learn concepts, and we put them into practice. (Receiving guidance along the way.) Perhaps you'd like to join me? It’s also what we’ll be doing this August during the bulerías and tangos workshops here in Portland. And those workshops come with e-books explaining the concepts in detail. (Perhaps you’ll even see some daylillies if you come to town for that.)