Read on for my seven biggest takeaways from this month's workshops with flamenco maestro Jesús Carmona followed by a challenge for you.
Jesús is all about working hard, breaking things down, and holding high expectations all while having fun. A true master teacher. He sees everybody and expects maximum effort from all. Jesús challenged us, believed in us, and taught us from the heart during the workshops in Portland. It was truly satisfying to see and feel the progress that we made in just four days. How can something be semi-torturous yet completely wonderful at the same time?
Here are seven pieces of advice from Jesús that will help you become a better flamenco dancer.
1. How to take your dancing to the next level
Keep going even when you think you no longer can
“Even if we think we can’t, we can always do a bit more, so don’t throw in the towel.”
If you stop when you get to that point where you don’t feel you can possibly go on, you never break the barrier. You move to the next level by continuing at the exact moment when you’re dying to stop, when you think you no longer can. So, please, if you want to improve, don't stop, keep going!
2. How to improve your technique
Always begin an exercise slowly
Going slowly allows you time to think about what you’re doing. Not only will it help you to get the pattern down, but more importantly it allows you to focus on how you’re doing things and put the correct technique into your body.
Jesús would have us do one exercise for about fifteen minutes. He would begin very slowly imploring us to execute each movement corrrectly and integrate this technique into our bodies. So, start slowly, focus on what you're doing and how you're doing it then (very) gradually increase the speed.
3. How to perfect a move
Do it over and over and over again
Jesús advised us to practice a given move or technique an excessive number of times when working on our own. "Do it a bunch of times," he said, "and when you think you've done it enough, do it more."
Repetition is key.
4. How to get a footwork sound that’s not coming out
When a step isn’t happening for you, sing it out loud. This helps to put it into your brain. "Your brain may not remember a footstep, but it will remember a song," says Jesús.
So practice "sound singing" when you're struggling to get something down.
5. How to stay in compás
Listen to the rhythm and try to stay slightly behind it
A typical issue flamenco students struggle with is rushing. When doing footwork, focus on and really listen to the palmas or metronome, and "aim to stay a bit behind the beat" says Jesús. This will prevent you from pusing the rhythm.
I remember when I first began practicing with the metronome. I had NO idea how much I was rushing until I did this. I would get so angry at that poor little metronome. Sometimes I would get so frustrated I would turn it off or stop practicing completely. Toshi told me to try to stay behind the beat (I would get mad at him too), but the more I practiced with the metronome the better I got, and it actually became fun trying to synch so perfectly with the beats that I couldn't even hear the metronome. I still struggle with pushing the compás. Any time I feel myself doing so (or get called out for it) I focus in on and listen to the palmas. Trying to stay behind the downbeat is one of the best pieces of advice I've ever received.
6. How to understand compás
Listen to lots of music
The more flamenco music you listen to the better. Listen as much as you can. This is the way to begin to feel the compás inside of you.
7. How to move your body in a different way
Be a careful observer
Often times "we see what we want to see rather than reality," Jesús says.
It’s certainly easier. We see the teacher do a step, we do the step and interpret their body movements to fit what is already in the vocabulary of our body rather than truly looking to see what they are doing. So when you are learning a new step, rather than just focusing on the mechanics of it, carefully study how the teacher is doing it, and try to do the same thing with your body.
Stay tuned for my interview with Jesús where he talks about his approach to teaching.
Try It Out
Choose one of the above tips to apply this week. Let me know what you choose and how it goes in the comments below. And if you’ve studied with Jesús, please share with me your best take-away(s) from him.
See more pictures from the workshops here.