If you ever get frustrated with flamenco, feel like you don’t belong, or feel like you’re too old to be doing this, read on for some words of wisdom from Mercedes Ruíz taken from past interviews along with a video to inspire.
(And if you’re curious to know more about this incredible woman we spend so much time dancing and learning with on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez, check out the links to all of the interviews I’ve done with her in full at the end of this post.)
When You Feel Like You Don’t Belong:
In our first interview Mercedes mentioned that she encountered a lot of problems on her way to becoming a flamenco dancer. This got me wondering, about what those obstacles were, and more importantly, how she handled them.
I thought about the flamenco world and it can be easy to feel left out or like you don't belong. (For me at least, because I let myself.) I wondered if any of that went on for Mercedes. Especially coming from Jerez, where people have some strong opinions about flamenco, how it is to be done, and who ought to do it. Prior to Mercedes, no one in her family had anything to do with flamenco. They still don't. Nor do they even like it really. So, I wondered how it must have felt for her, an outsider, to enter into this community. I learned that Mercedes, well,
Today I'll share why we need to practice slowly and give you an activity to help you do that, but first, some reflections:
I’ve been working with the same combination throughout the challenge, and I’ve found that with each new daily focus I also revisit all of the prior days’ areas of focus. In other words, I go through each new activity and (without a conscious plan to do so) layer the skills addressed in the previous challenge activities. It actually seems to have become impossible for me not to be aware of them when in challenge mode, and I’m loving that. How about you?
Now let’s move on to today’s challenge.
As you know, Mercedes Ruíz is big on doing things slowly.
As are so many other professionals.
I want to share a story with you about how I messed up dancing bulerías last weekend, how it left me feeling not so happy about my dancing, eight important lessons about flamenco (and life) I learned in the process, and how those lessons served me when I applied them to a sticky situation in my life.
So last weekend I took a workshop with Alfonso Cid. He shared bunches of bulerías letras with us (you'll find one below) and gave a very informative introduction to flamenco, with a focus on cante. He had us all singing and doing palmas and even got some of us up dancing.
Toward the end of the workshop someone asked Alfonso to address how to dance bulerías por fiesta, how to dance to the cante. (As you know, this is one of my favorite things.)
Yay! (and Olé).
Some people got up to dance, mess up or not mess up, and learn along the way.
I was one of those people.
And here is what I learned:
Mercedes Ruíz, our teacher on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez, was awarded the 'Flamenco Hoy' prize for the Best Flamenco Dancer of 2015 (Mejor Bailaora). You can watch a new video of her below as well as read a flamenco letra on love.
Today marks two weeks since my return from Jerez.
Of course it feels good to be home, but I do miss the daily dance classes, shared meals and community, the immersion into the Spanish language, hearing and seeing flamenco everywhere, the southern Spanish sun, the pace of the day, and the escape, the simply being away.
Thankfully I got to come home to my absolutely amazing friends and loved ones, our incredible flamenco community here, and the beautiful state of Oregon. And thankfully I had flamenco already built into my schedule with our summer workshops and teaching at the Oregon Ballet Theatre.
If only I could still have class with Mercedes every morning . . .
I just returned home from Jerez, and naturally, I'm missing bulerías.
I have a letra to share with you today. It's one that David Lagos sang during our private show there, but before I do, I want to tell you a quick story.
It's one that Julie, a student on the Flamenco Tour, shared with me just before she departed Jerez.
On her last morning there, Julie took a final stroll around the city before she caught her train to Granada. On her way back to the apartments she found herself behind an older couple walking down the street. T
Today I'm going to share with you one mom's strategy for improving her dancing from home. It's something you can employ as well. (And trust me, if this busy mom can do it, so can you.) I lay out a simple 4-step process for you at the end of this post, but first, I want to introduce you to Katerina ...
I have a new student.
Her name is Katerina. Katerina had been wanting to learn flamenco for a long time. A few weeks ago she decided it was finally time and signed up for private lessons.
During Katerina's second class I was impressed with how much she'd improved from her first session. The moves she'd been so unsure about before she now danced in sequence with no help from me.
That's when she told me about her routine...
You already know about the two main settings for flamenco.
Today I want to discuss the five main elements of flamenco,
I’ve chosen to share one video and discuss the five main elements of flamenco within it.
Let’s take a closer look:
A couple of weeks ago, Virigina, a Flamenco Tour alum, sent me the following account of her time on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. If you're curious about what happens on the Flamenco Tour, read on...
My Trip to Jerez
by: Virginia O'Hanlon
I have danced and taught Afro Cuban, Haitian and Brazilian dance for many years. I'm the sort of explorer who likes to "go to the source" so I have gone to these countries many times on dance/study trips. There were a few great trips, some ok, and two really miserable experiences.
I'm fairly new to flamenco -had 2 years in at the time of this trip- but became intrigued by the "por fiesta" dances so I started looking around for ways to study in Spain, particularly Jerez. I discovered Laura's trips, and it seemed like a structure that would work well for me, so I went last October. It was without a doubt one of the best, richest experiences that I've had, and here are some reasons why.
"You cannot destroy the tradition without first learning about it." - Belén Maya
I have a guajiras verse to share with you today along with a video of Belén Maya and Mayte Martín, but first allow me to give you some background:
I'm in Seattle winding down after workshops Belén Maya this week.
On Wednesday I went to a lecture she gave at Seattle Central College.
In that lecture Belén spoke about herself as an artist.
She talked about how she expresses herself as an individual through flamenco. She talked about how she had to dedicate to studying and understanding traditional flamenco in order to do her own thing. She talked about how she danced in tablaos (doing more traditional style flamenco) at night while studying on her own and dancing in her father's company (which was more modern) during the day.
Here is a letra from that clip, and you can hear Mayte Martín sing it at 4 minutes and 50 seconds in the video below.
Portland Flamenco Events is still around, I've just merged it with my other project, the Flamenco Tour. Together they form experienceflamenco.com.
But I am used to typing in portlandflamencoevents.com.
No te preocupes.
When you enter portlandflamencoevents.com into your browser, you will be redirected to the new url, experienceflamenco.com, where you can access all of the same info about our PDX happenings in addition to info about our events in Spain and other cool flamenco things.
On the last Flamenco Tour to Jerez the ladies spent a good amount of time in the bar talking to José Luís and Maribel (our hosts). This is often the case as they are quite fun to chat with, and they make us feel at home. (Some people don't speak Spanish. I'm convinced this makes the conversations all the more fun.) So Luís loves flamenco letras and happily shares them with us.
One day Stefani and I were sitting at the bar, and she asked him if he was an aficionado. He told us that he wasn't but that he used to be. He said that when he was younger he would go to the peñas and keep up with what was going on in the flamenco world. He told us he is no longer as dedicated.
Anyway, when you walk into Luís and Maribel's bar you see a big wooden bureau to the left with a man's face carved into it. That man is El Torta.
It's September, so let's do a little first day of school, getting-to-know-eachother activity. I'm actually not kidding about that. People have been inquiring about my 'flamenco journey' so below I tell you how it began for me. (Later, why not tell me how you became interested in flamenco?)
My Introduction to Flamenco
I was a junior in college. I was struggling through Spanish class.
The professor spoke only in español which basically left me feeling like a Charlie Brown character being mwoah mwoah mwoahed at for hours upon end.
Every day we would watch this educational novela, answer questions related to the day's episode, and then "discuss" it. I rarely knew what was going on.
As you may have gathered, I did not particularly enjoy the class. While I constantly felt confused, behind, and overwhelmed, I am full of gratitude for the experience,
You see, had it not been for this class, I'm not sure I would be dancing flamenco today.
Here's what happened
My parents crashed the first Flamenco Tour back in fall of 2012. I'm actually glad they did.
I'll tell you why in a moment.
This is how it came about,
I declared that I was going to organize a flamenco trip to Jerez for students interested in studying in Spain with a small group.
There were some chuckles.
And then they realized I wasn’t joking. And they told me they wanted to join.
When is it too late to start learning flamenco? Find out below and watch a video of Mercedes Ruíz dancing as a little girl along with a bulerías clip from Carlos Saura's Flamenco Flamenco.
According to Mercedes Ruíz, "It's never too late do what you want to do." Sure, she began dancing flamenco at the age of four, but that doesn't mean the rest of us are doomed.
I began dancing flamenco at the age of twenty three, or was it twenty two? Pat began when she was sixty nine. Becky began when she was forty four. Many of the dancers I know began in their thirties, forties, fifties, and even sixties. Many danced at a young age then stopped for various reasons only to come back to it years later.
We can begin dancing flamenco at any age
And there is no 'retirement age' for flamenco dancing. We can leave it and come back. And we can continue dancing flamenco as long as we want to. This is something that I absolutely love about flamenco.
It is a dance for all ages.
Older flamenco dancers are in fact respected and honored. This is part of the flamenco culture. (See video clips below.)
A younger dancer may have different goals than an older dancer. And one's desires as a dancer may change over time, just as desires around all things in life will evolve.
But the bottom line is this,
Dancing to the cante. It is what every dancer from Jerez does, professional or non.
It is the dancer conversing with the singer.
In order to dance to the cante,
You must become familiar with the letras (song verses) and engage with the singer when dancing.
To gain familiarity with the letras:
1. Listen a lot.
2. Take a cante class, and study the letras.
To engage with the singer when dancing:
1. Observe what other good dancers do. (Hint: Notice the way Carmen responds to José in the video.)
Today I'm going to show you how to learn from a favorite artist of your choosing. Read on to find out how.
David Romero says that we learn from all of the people we study (or work) with. That we hold onto the best bits from each person, that which we like,
Llega un momento en que naturalmente salen cosas en que tú dices, uy, esto por qué? Porque tú ya lo has vivido o la has visto o te lo han explicado.
“A time comes when things start happening naturally. You start doing things, and you say, “How did this happen?”
The process happens over time, David says. After a lot of dancing, a lot of studying, a lot of practicing, your body begins to change.
"And this is good.” he says. “It should change. Because if someone doesn’t change when dancing . . . What are we going to do? There has to be an evolution. And that comes from learning from all of the people who you study with, or all of the people who you work with, and all of the people who you admire.
Woo-hoo, you’ve made it to day three of the Dancing with David Even Though We’re Not With David Challenge! Today's task won't take long, so read on to find a new exercise to help you become a better dancer from home . . .
Learning by observation is one of my favorite ways to learn, and I've learned quite a bit from observing David Romero, noticing both how he dances and how he approaches dancing and teaching.
Today we're going to focus on the approach.
David gives 100% (if not more) when teaching.
He, the teacher, is there with you, the student, completely.
Which inspires you to be there with him. And to give all that you have to give during those moments.
Sooooo, when you’re in the studio,
Improvisation in flamenco. It's not as tricky as you may think.
Today I explain how to improvise in fiesta style flamenco dances.
The truth is, if you follow certain principles, you can improvise no matter what your level. So if you think you're not ready to do this, think again, and read on to find out how.
Improvisation Por Fiesta
In order to 'improvise' when dancing bulerías and tangos, you must understand the structure. And in order to truly have a conversation with the singer and the other musicians, you need to do a bit of improvising. Since flamenco is a conversation between the singer, dancer, guitarist, and palmeros, improvisation is an important skill to develop.
(Plus it's fun.)
But don’t worry,
Improvising por fiesta is not making up a dance from scratch as you go.
It is not coming up with brand new moves in the moment.
It’s actually much easier than that (as long as you know the structure).
Today I'm going to share with you a fun exercise (one of my personal favorites) that will help you to become a better dancer from the comfort of your own home. Yesterday we addressed the idea of looking in the mirror and how we need to look at what’s being reflected back to us in order to know what to change.
Today we’re going to go deeper,
Today we’re going micro,
Today we’re going to talk details
But before we do, I want you to take a moment to remember your why.
Got it in your cabeza?
Now, no matter what your purpose,
Flamenco has a certain aesthetic, and although there is plenty of room for personal style and preference, we must strive to remain true to the aesthetic of this art form.