I love asking flamenco artists I admire what advice they have to offer to the flamenco student. Here are thirteen suggestions from some of the best:
It’s impossible to understand flamenco without becoming familiar with the music. Listening to flamenco is not only essential but enjoyable.
So, don’t underestimate the power of listening.
2. Practice slowly
Ricardo López advised me to do this one of the first times I brought him to Portland. He told me about how he used to dance with Rocío Molina in María Pagés’s company. Rocío stood out, as you can imagine, so he asked her how she consistently did so well. She told him she did everything very slowly.
“The slower you study, the faster you'll play,” says Pedro Navarro regarding the cajón. “Start slowly, speed comes with time,” he says. The same goes for dancing and guitar.
Mercedes takes this concept very seriously. She goes through each move and transition slowly. Every. single. one. As many times as it takes.
3. Observe others
We can learn a lot from watching others, professionals and students alike. Observe and notice what works well, what doesn’t, and why. When watching the teacher in class or a dancer you want to look like, carefully examine their movements.
4. Use the mirror
It’s not just others we need to observe but ourselves as well. Often (especially in the beginning) we don’t want to look at ourselves in the mirror because we don’t like what we see. That is precisely why we need to do it.
From the beginning Ricardo advised me to look in the mirror and try out different positions to see what looks good. When something doesn’t look good, explore and see what you can do to change that. David Romero and Mercedes encourage this too.
5. Discover what helps You
Find your learning tricks. Try things out, and notice what helps you to retain what you learn then do those things, or use those tools.
For example, Emilio says he records everything to help him remember later on. Ricardo says start with awareness of the basics, What foot does it start on?
What tricks do you have to help yourself remember steps and dances?
6. Study with a variety of people
Marco Flores advises to take classes with different teachers. He says that while in the beginning it makes sense to study with one person, you should later branch out and study with many teachers. David talks about the importance of learning from many people and focusing on the things you like from each person then developing your own style.
7. Pay attention to details
It’s obvious that the best flamenco artists care a lot about details.
David, Mercedes, Manuel Liñan, Ricardo, Jesús, and Emilio are all big on details in class. I can hear their corrections in this moment, “¡Rodilla abierta! Knee open!” calls Manuel. “La falda, hold your skirt,” reminds Mercedes. “¡Levanta el tacón!, Lift your heel!” says Jesús.
No matter your level or where you want to go with flamenco, attention to detail is essential.
When I’m not getting something I often stop myself mid-way. I don’t want to mess up and look foolish or feel frustrated, but this is part of the learning process. “¡Pero hazlo! Just do it!” I can hear Ricardo saying to me right now.
We have to do the work, make mistakes, and keep going. We’re not going to get any better sitting on the sidelines. Even if it’s challenging, especially if it’s challenging, we have to keep trying. Sure there’s a time for thinking, but most importantly we have to dance.
Jesús advises us to dedicate at least a little bit of regular practice time to improvisation. After you’ve finished technique exercises, etc. spend a little bit of time just dancing, doing whatever comes out. While not everybody is meant to be a choreographer, it’s important to “exercise the artist within” says Jesús. “Everybody has something to give,” he says, so it is important to improvise and allow for your creativity to surface. (Stay tuned for my video interview with Jesús.)
And on that note,
10. Follow your path
Marco Flores says you need to go with your instincts and follow the artistic path that you want not worrying about what other people might think. There are many roads, many styles. Explore what appeals to you. (Stay tuned for my video interview with him where he talks more about this.)
11. Be consistent
Flamenco doesn’t come easily and it definitely doesn’t come without dedication and practice. Emilio advises you to be consistent and approach learning with enthusiasm.
Which leads me to,
12. Have fun!
Enjoy the process of learning.
Emilio reminds us that flamenco will bring up your emotions.
Allow for this.
Learn Directly From The Artists
Two of these artists will soon be in Portland! Emilio Ochando will be giving workshops (and performing) November 15-18 and Mercedes Ruíz will be here this spring. Get on the list to make sure you don’t miss a thing.