I still remember that first evening

Sitting together in the courtyard, eating tapas, sharing stories.

It was the fall of 2012, and we were in Jerez. A group of foreigners together in Spain to learn and grow and have a good time. We danced and laughed, did flamenco, saw flamenco, heard flamenco, breathed flamenco. We walked about the town eating yummy food, drinking sherry and café con leche...

But, wait, let's back up for a moment.

You see, I'd gone to Spain to study several times. On my own. With family. With friends. At festivals. Each had its benefits, but none really fulfilled my flamenco learning desires. It wasn't until I was alone in Spain studying several years ago that I realized what I truly wanted from my flamenco study trips.

It was the spring of 2011, and I was in Jerez.

 Mercedes Ruiz teaching us in her studio

Mercedes Ruiz teaching us in her studio

I loved being in a place where relaxation was built into the day. I loved the sunshine. I loved meeting new people. I loved walking down the street and hearing flamenco all the time. And I especially loved my classes with Mercedes Ruíz.

But it was also very hard.

Almost daily I wished to be taking a workshop rather than struggling through the established classes that I had walked in on mid-year. I wished to be with others like me who were only there temporarily. But not in the HUGE classes offered during the festivals. I wanted to be in a small group, with people who could relate to my experiences. 

One day I realized that if I wanted this, others must too.

It was time to organize a trip, my ideal flamenco trip, and the Flamenco Tour was born.

The first Flamenco Tour happened in 2012 when I took a group of students to Jerez. I was so anxious about the whole thing. I didn't know everybody who was signed up, nor did they all know me. What if they didn't like what I had planned? The truth is, until everyone actually got there I'm not sure I believed the trip was truly going to happen. But, everyone arrived, the trip was a success, and the rest is history ...

I write to you today from Jerez where we're in the midst of the Spring 2018 Flamenco Tour (my twelfth tour; one of them was to Barcelona). Here are some highlights from our first week:

 Opening night tapas

Opening night tapas

Opening night tapas reception  

We enjoyed a beautiful evening on the rooftop having tapas and drinks, sharing flamenco stories, and taking in the view of Jerez from up high.

Classes With Mercedes 

Obviously this has been a MAJOR highlight. The ladies adore her and are in love with all of her warm ups and body exercises not to mention our choreography which is tangos with abanico. It couldn’t be better. Mercedes is sweet. She is cute. She moves with perfection. She is focused. She kindly corrrects us and keeps us moving forward.

 Ester Aranda teaching bulerías in Ana María López's class

Ester Aranda teaching bulerías in Ana María López's class

Bulerías with Ani

Everybody feels a bit vulnerable in bulerías as it takes you out of your comfort zone. But this is how we grow. And we are growing. Ani’s unique teaching style keeps us on our toes while making us laugh, and of course Esther’s guidance and super-cute moves compliment things. Then there’s Zorri who keeps us smiling and feeling good.

The Shows

The shows, OMG, the shows! We’ve seen performances almost every day since we’ve been here. The best so far was going with Zorri to see his granddaughter, Saray García, perform at Centro Cultural Don Antonio Chacon on Friday. Saray’s dancing blew us away. The night before we saw Fabiola Barba at El Guitarrón, and we’ve seen lots of shows at the tabancos in town.

 Saray Garcia with Juanilloro and Quini at Don Antonio Chacón Centro de Flamenco

Saray Garcia with Juanilloro and Quini at Don Antonio Chacón Centro de Flamenco

The Juerga

Friday night after the show we went to a juerga with Zorri at another peña … Flamenco in its natural habitat, spontaneous singing, gutiar and palmas. I could have stayed all night, but we only stayed till 2:30 because well, we’d been going all day. Zorri was out untill 5am which is basically normal for him on the weekends!

Flamenco Shopping

As usual, we laughed and cracked jokes with Fatima and her mama, admired the beautiful colors and options, tried stuff on, and yes, people got things. Shoes, skirts, shawls, even a full dress!

 Rooftop flamenco dancing

Rooftop flamenco dancing

Flamenco Sessions on the Rooftop

We’ve been practicing lots on the rooftop. Trying to get our bulerías and tangos down. There's just something about the sun and the view that calls us up there to practice.

Castanets 

This trip we've been having castanets sessions in my living room. Luckily the neighbors don’t mind. (According to them they like it). Ta ria pita!

Hammam 

We went to the Hammam exactly one week in. Our bodies were so happy. Warm bath, hot bath, cold bath, hot bath, cold bath, hot bath, and a massage. Wow!!!

 La Alameda Vieja in Jerez

La Alameda Vieja in Jerez

Walking Tours

Sunday afternoon at the Alameda Vieja we met a new amigo, Miguel. Miguel is a former Guardia Civil captain and very proud Jerezano who knows just about all there is to know about the city. He introduced himself and began by apologizing on behalf of the city for the garbage that had been left behind after the morning’s flea market. He then explained the history of the cathedral and went on to fill us with facts about Jerez. 

Going Out

At Tabanco El Pasaje they keep your tab with a piece of chalk on the bar top. The first time we were there the bartender identified us as "niñas." The second time it was "Woman in Black" for my black dress. One of my favorite things about Jerez is people's senses of humor and playfulness. Every time one of our tapas came up the bartender would happily call out, "woman in black," in his Spanish accent, making me, and the others around laugh out loud.

 Returning from El Rocío

Returning from El Rocío

Rocío Procession

Thursday night the people from Jerez who went on the pilgrimidge to Rocio came home, so we went to see and greet them with the other townspeople. After all that walking I couldn’t believe how much energy they still had to do palmas and sing. 

Which leads me to,

The Pasos

We’ve seen a couple of pasos (processions) because, well, it’s springtime and 'tis the season. They come right by our front door, so we can just stand at the door for an ideal viewing spot. I was outside in the courtyard when I heard the music start, "Laura, don't you want to come see the paso?" Herminia, our neighbor asked. The others were taking a siesta. "Vamos," she said. So we went to the front gate with Pepe. Not long after Mati joined us and pretty soon the ladies came out to see what was going on. The virgin María Auxiliadora from one of the nearby schools was passing by. That's what was going on. We watched the students and families in the procession go by from our front row spot.

 Maria Moreno at Tabanco El Pasaje

Maria Moreno at Tabanco El Pasaje

These are some of the things that happen on The Flamenco Tour to Jerez. Stay tuned for highlights from week two. 

Interested?

You can find out more here.

The next Flamenco Tour happens September 24- October 8.

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Mercedes | The Weekly Letra

Want More Pictures?

You can see more pictures from the trip here.

The introduction to this post was originally published here.

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