Bulerías is arguably one of the hardest flamenco forms to dance due to it's improvisational nature, complex rhythm, and nuanced cante. But dancing bulerías is less mysterious than you may think. Once you understand the components of the dance and how they relate to the music (the singing and the compás) you'll be well on your way to obtaining bulerías freedom.
Below l explain the basic bulerías por fiesta structure and how it relates to the cante. After that you'll find a video of Pastora Galván along with an analysis describing where she dances each component of the structure. Finally I give you an activity to help you internalize the information.
The basic structure of bulerías
Bulerías, like other flamenco forms, has its own language. When we dance we are in conversation with the singer, the guitarist, and the palmeros. The structure offers a formula for clear communication, and it looks like this:
Paso de bulerías (or a more upbeat marcaje)
(Another Marcaje or Paso de Bulerías)
Within the basic structure there is room for flexibility, especially toward the end. For example, you may choose to leave out the marcaje between the patá and the final llamada. Or you may do only one llamada then move straight to the final which would look like this:
Paso de bulerías
A short bulerías such as this is common. As you continue to study bulerías you will begin to understand how to adapt this structure in different situations.
For now, let's take a closer look at each component:
Your entrance. This is how you announce yourself. “Hello, I’m coming out to dance.” The tone of your salida can be mellow or exciting, depending upon the cante and what you want to convey.
Marking the rhythm. Here you listen and allow the cante to guide you. (If the thought of following the cante feels overwhelming, give it time, and start off by aiming to relax into your steps while staying in compás.) Mark in a way that feels good, comfortable, and fun to you. Play around with moves you know (or are currently learning) to discover this. Normally you begin with more laid back marcajes allowing the excitement to build as your dance progresses.
Paso de bulerías
The bulerías step or a more dynamic marcaje. There is the basic bulerías step (most commonly seen) along with many variations. Here are some great examples from Ambiente Flamenco. The bulerías step builds toward the climax of your dance.
The llamada comes toward the end or the middle of your dance. It is NOT a call for the cante to begin as you might be used to from other flamenco dances. The llamada signals that your dance is coming to a close.
Typically the “fanciest” part of your dance. It often involves interesting rhythmic sounds made with the feet and body. (Some people call this the desplante or refer to it as remantando la letra.)
*(A patá or pataíta por bulerías also means a full bulerías dance. Here we are just talking about one component of your dance.)
Finish. This is your period (or exclamation mark). You go to corner (or the opposite direction of where you came from) to signal the finish of your dance. Always finish in the place where you began (facing away from the crowd). During the final, be clear that you're bringing your dance to a close.
This is a general explanation, and there is a lot of room for flexibility in bulerías. For example the type of letra(s) a singer gives you will set the tone for your dance and help indicate to you how long to dance. And speaking of that,
How does the structure relate to the cante?
When dancing, you can typically expect one letra to enter with, another letra to “dance to," and one or two coletillas. (Sometimes there will be more singing, sometimes less.)
Within the structure, it will look something like this:
Salida [letra to enter with. Always come in with the singing of a letra.]
Marcaje(s) [next letra or coletilla]]
Paso de bulerías [letra or coletilla]
Llamada [letra or coletilla]
Patá [end of letra or coletilla]
(Marcaje or Paso de bulerías) [end of letra or coletilla]
Once you begin dancing, the singing never stops. In other words, you will not be abandoned! The singer will continue singing (or giving you jaleos at the least) until have finished your dance. (Learn more about that, and see a video example with Mercedes Ruíz here.)
Let's see what it looks like:
In the following video you see Jesús Méndez singing for Pastora Galván. Watch it to see how she follows the structure. (Below I identify each component and where it happens.)
The Breakdown: [15 seconds] Jesús starts singing the letra that Pastora will enter with. (Notice how she stands listening to him and playing palmas before she goes out.) [21 seconds] She begins her salida which she finishes with the end of his first letra. [30 seconds] She starts her first marcaje while facing him. (It is typical to make eye contact with the singer in this way after you’ve finished your salida. How he sings will help you decide how to proceed with your dance.) Pastora continues marking as he sings a short coletilla and goes into a second letra. [38 seconds] She goes into a second marcaje (notice how she brings up the energy of her dance here.) [40 seconds] She does her paso de bulerías (a fancy version). [45 seconds] She does a llamada followed by the patá. [56 seconds] She does another marcaje. [1 minute] She does her final llamada. Notice how she goes to the corner to signal that she's bringing her dance to a close. [1:07] She starts her final and travels back to the spot she started in. Notice how she ends facing away from everyone and how he sings her off.
An Activity for You:
There are bulerías videos all over this website and the internet. Watch as many examples as you can, and see if you can identify each component of the structure like I did above. As a bonus, notice where each part happens with the cante.
As you can see, it is important not only to know the structure of bulerías but to understand how to apply it. This comes from observation, listening and, of course, a lot of practice. You will mess up along the way, and this is good because mistakes are essential to learning. And, if all of this feels overwhelming, not to worry! First, get to know the structure. Once you have that down you can begin to focus on how each component relates to the cante. (Dancing with the cante is it's own beast which I'll talk more about in a future post.)
Learn More & Put It Into Practice
You can learn more about all of this and get many opportunities to practice during the upcoming bulerías weekend intensives where you'll also get e-books to supplement your learning. And if you want to go even deeper, join me for the Flamenco Tour to Jerez to dance (and learn) bulerías in Jerez!
What Do You Think?
Were you able to identify the different components of the structure in the video? Could you see how they worked with the cante? What is your favorite part of bulerías? What is your biggest challenge? What more would you like to know about dancing bulerías? Let me know in the comments below.