Have you given any thought to what you want to get out of your flamenco experience this year? If it has to do with making your hands look better, read on, for today I'll tell you about two common mistakes I see with flamenco hand movements and how to fix them. I'll also show you a video of Mercedes Ruíz, our teacher on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez, demonstrating how to move the hands correctly.
Sometimes we get so focused on learning the steps that we neglect details like hand movements. “I’ll get to it later,” we say. We may think we don't have time, that it’s not that important, or find it boring.
But practicing 'manos' is a must for every flamenco dancer
The good news is that there is not one right way to move the hands. Like other stylistic elements of flamenco dance, there is plenty of room for individuality in this area. Watch a few video clips of different professional dancers, and you'll see how personal hand and finger movements tend to be. Matilde Coral reminds her students to make their hands look like doves, Mercedes reminds us to open and use every finger.
While there may not be one right way to move the hands, there are wrong ways ...
For ten days we simulated being in class with Mercedes Ruíz. We touched on breathing, keeping the shoulders down, maintaining plié, using the hands and fingers well, practicing slowly and deliberately, skirt and non-dominant arm awareness, posture and engaging the core, keeping the arms round, dancing (really dancing), and putting forth effort.
The challenge may be officially over, but I encourage you to keep working on these skills. They will serve you for the rest of your flamenco life, and through repetition they will get better and better.
Read on for some thoughts on repetition, reflection, and guidance on how to continue the challenge on your own.
It’s the final day of the challenge. Olé, you made it!
How did yesterday's activity go? Did it feel good to just put the music on and dance not worrying about all of the other stuff? For me, letting go and dancing in this way is a great form of therapy.
Let's get on with the final challenge.
Today’s exercise is designed to help you keep the challenge going in class or in your home practice.
I remember when I first studied with Mercedes. I felt so overwhelmed with all of the classes I was taking, coming in toward the end of the year, perhaps trying to do too much. So many things felt impossibly hard. ‘I can’t,’ ‘No way,’ ‘Impossible,’ Thoughts like this were constantly running through my head. I even declared them out loud. “No puedo,” I would tell Mercedes. Or, I would just stop dancing.
We’re almost done with the challenge, can you believe it? This series was born out of a longing to be back in class with Mercedes Ruíz. Because I love it there. I love how we learn in her class, the focus on technique, the repetition, watching Mercedes move.
(I’m not the only one who loves being in her class. Check out this post from Julie where she writes about her time with Mercedes and our private show on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez.)
Most of all, I love the feeling I get from dancing in her class.
And that's what today's challenge is about,
Dancing and feeling good.
Below I talk about when in the learning process we should start to dance, and I give you an activity focused on dancing. (I know, hasn’t this whole challenge been about dancing?) Yes, but read on to find out more.
I’m very excited for today’s activity not just because of how it will serve you as a flamenco dancer but for how it can benefit your life and health far beyond the studio.
But before we get to that, let's reflect.
I don’t know about you, but during the past several days I’ve had greater awareness of all of the skills we’ve covered thus far in the Dance Like You’re In Class With Mercedes Home Challenge in all of my dancing (both within and outside of the activities). In class I hear Mercedes in my head giving me little reminders . . .
'Brazos redondos,' I heard her saying during my kids’ class yesterday. 'Mantener el mismo plié,' she called during Sevillanas class last weekend. In practice it’s the same, 'Todos los deditos, Laura,' I heard her saying today.
I can’t seem to get away from the challenge, nor do I want to because receiving these little reminders without my trying is one of my desired outcomes of this experience. Woo-hoo!
So, let’s get on with today’s challenge.
Today I’ll guide you through activity for finding roundness in the arms.
we hear Mercedes Ruíz say in class.
Ricardo says it all of the time too, redondo. 'You’ll like her, she’s muy redondo,' he’s said to me so many times referring to various dancers. Round, he means, by the shapes created when someone is dancing. It doesn't matter what shape your body is, you can create roundness.
For today’s challenge we’ll focus on finding roundness in the arms.
How did the slow practice go for you yesterday?
Today, on our sixth day of the challenge, I'll share with you an activity to practice using the skirt with our non-dominant arm. (You'll also find a video below of Mercedes Ruíz doing just that.)
Mercedes in huge on using your skirt in class. Not twirling the skirt around as you dance or doing a million things with it but holding it, being aware of it.
During our beginning of class exercises the back arm is almost always holding the skirt.
Yes, that back arm that we can tend to forget about.
Holding the skirt inspires us to pay attention to the placement of that arm.
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.
Mercedes has a very distinct way of moving her hands, and one thing that’s for sure is that no matter what, they ALWAYS look good. (Because she’s kind of obsessed with hands.)
So, naturally, we work our arms and hands like crazy in her class.
Mariana wrote about that here, and you may have heard Amy talk about it here.
Today I’ll share an activity focused on hand and finger movement, but let’s start with a video of Mercedes Ruíz to inspire us:
It's Day 3 of the 10-Day Dance Like You're In Class With Mercedes Ruíz Home Challenge. I hope you enjoyed yesterday's exercise for keeping the shoulders down.
Let's get on with today's focus.
Mantener el mismo plié,
Mercedes says this a lot in class.
Maintain the same plié.
Or, as I like to say, don’t bounce.
In flamenco dance we must remain grounded. The upper body projects upward while the lower body connects with the floor.
It's Day 2 of the 10-Day Dance Like You're In Class With Mercedes Ruíz Home Challenge! How did the breathing activity go for you yesterday? Angela had an interesting realization about her breath; check out her comment here.
Below you’ll find my reflections along with a new home activity...
I applied yesterday’s challenge activity to a remate and marcaje por bulerías since I’ve been wanting to improve my bulerías.
I noticed that thinking about the breath before I started set me up to breathe more fluidly while I was dancing. While it was easier to focus on breathing during the marcaje than it was during the remate (probably because of the complicated rhythms, footwork, and body slapping) I could execute the remate with more ease when I was aware of my breathing. What about you? What did you notice?
Now for today’s challenge,
Welcome to the 10-Day Dance Like You’re in Class with Mercedes Ruíz Home Challenge. I’m looking forward to the next ten days of virtual dance class with you!
Before we get into today's activity (an exercise to help you breathe better and in turn dance better), did you get a chance to think about your why? Why do you dance flamenco? How does it make you feel? Do you have performance goals or do you just like dancing in class and on your own? Do you dance professionally or for a hobby? You can share your why here.
(If you want to review how this 10-day challenge is set up, you can do that here.)
Okay, on to today's challenge.
As you most likely already know, I LOVE being in class with Mercedes Ruíz. (In fact, the way I felt in her class was a major inspiration for the Flamenco Tour to Jerez.) When I’m in home in Portland, I always miss her class, especially the technique work. Although I don’t get to dance with her again until October, I can pretend I'm doing so right now,
And that’s what this challenge is all about,
Pretending we’re in class with Mercedes and continuing to grow as if we were while having fun practicing at home.
(Want to see Mercedes do her thing? Check out the video at the end of this post...)
How will the challenge work?
Each day (for ten days) you will apply a specific idea (provided by me and inspired by the teachings of Mercedes Ruíz) to a flamenco dance move or combination of your choosing.
Below find a letra that David Lagos sang during our private show on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez.
That night David sang granaína, rondeñas, caña, fandangos por bulerías, alegrías, bulerías... I was in HEAVEN. We all were. The piece including the letra below happened like this: Santi set it up with a beautiful intro, David sang a letra por granaínas, then they immediately transitioned into rondeñas. I wish you could have been there. (You can find out more about that show and how it was the highlight of Julie's summer following the letra.)
Por momentos mis martirios
se estaban doblando
de noche y de día,
For seven days I danced as if I were in class with Mercedes Ruíz, in my own way, just as you may have done in your own way. Seven days of class without class. Seven days of "dancing" wherever we were in whatever way we could and in whatever way we wanted to.
And now that the challenge is “over,” I want to look at how it doesn’t really have to be over.
I share below three ways to easily grow as dancers on any given day and in any given place. Whether you participated in the challenge or not, you can benefit from doing these three things. After that I’ll share some gains (expected and unexpected) that I've taken away from the experience.
(... even if you didn't participate in it)
I enjoyed spending the last week of the year with you during the Dance as if You Were in Class With Mercedes Holiday Challenge. Today I share with you one small way you can keep the challenge going (along with a video of Mercedes Ruíz) ...
Great artists tell me
that they spend enormous amounts of time watching those they admire.
Studying their every move and learning by observation.
So, I invite you to enjoy some time observing one of your favorite artists this week.
And since we've been focusing on Mercedes:
As you know the challenge has involved some squeezing in this week, for me at least. But over the past seven days, I've come to see this squeezing more as taking advantage of moments of opportunity.
"Hey, we have a few minutes before going to do (thing we need to go do) Margot, do you want to do an exercise with me?"
Or, "Is my pompi dentro?" I've found myself asking myself while washing a dish.
And you already know about teeth brushing.
Stuff like that ...
I didn’t tell you this, but I decided to do something I have not done in the past with the choreography I learned from Mercedes in Jerez last fall, I decided to keep it.
You may think I keep all of the dances I learn from her, or perhaps you know me better than that.
My pattern is to let them go.
In fact, this intention I set last fall during the FlamencoTour to Jerez, to retain and polish the choreography Mercedes taught us, is part of the reason I set up the holiday challenge.
I gave myself many excuses as to why I could not do this over the holidays:
'You have other flamenco things to work on Laura.'
'It is December. It is holiday time. It is not time for flamenco discipline.'
'It won’t be the same as being in class with Mercedes. It won't be anything like it...'
I almost didn't do it.
Only two days left of the challenge? I kind of can't believe how quickly it's going by...
Squeezing it in
I mentioned yesterday that I had an idea for squeezing in an exercise when you're feeling that there is no time.
Because there is time.
Let me tell you about how I brush my teeth.
Normally I do tree pose without arms when brushing my teeth. I did yoga long before I started flamenco, and tree pose has always been a favorite of mine.
But sometimes I’ll substitute a flamenco exercise, a marcaje or something for the hips.
During the challenge I’ve been doing an exercise from Mercedes when it's time to brush my teeth.
In the morning, at night, and during any brushings in-between.
That's more than four minutes of exercise time right there.
I did something in anticipation of the challenge upon arriving in San Diego,
I told my family about it
You could say it was for accountability, and that may have been part of it, but mainly I was feeling excited. So excited that I had to share.
Often I'll not share these kinds of things with my family or my non-flamenco friends because really, why would they care?
That's what I'll often think.
But I've noticed something,
They do care.
Because they care about me.
I've noticed that when I'm excited about something they tend to get excited as well. And I've noticed that their excitement about my excitement makes my excitement grow.