Here’s a peek at what happened during week two of the Flamenco Tour to Jerez …
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Twenty years ago when I went to Spain for the first time, I got to see Paco de Lucía perform at Teatro de la Maestranza during the Bienal de Sevilla. This happened after I had been living there for about six months at a time when I was just beginning to understand what flamenco was.
An interview with flamenco dancer Mercedes Ruíz where she talks about her beginnings, challenges she faced on the road to becoming a professional flamenco dancer, how she comes from a non-flamenco family (and how most of her family members don't even like flamenco), how motherhood has affected her dancing, what it's like working with her husband, what she loves about teaching, who some of her favorite dancers are, how she thinks it's never too late to start dancing flamenco, and the funny ritual that she must perform before going on stage.
Here's a tangos estribillo that we danced to with Mercedes Ruíz during the last Flamenco Tour to Jerez. You can see a tiny snippet from that dance below along with a video of Claudia La Debla.
Y voy y voy
date la vuelta ligero
como se la da el rejoj
y voy y voy
que despacito pasaban
la manillas del rejoj
This week's letra made me think of an experience I had years ago which has nothing to do with flamenco. It has to do with dishonesty and fear. It started with a question, which led to a lie, which in turn led to facing a fear. The facing fear part actually helped prepare me for flamenco where I'm forced to confront my fears over and over again. To my surprise, all of the practice meeting my fears in flamenco has only made it easier to do so in life outside of the dance.
More on that in a minute, but first let's take a look at the letra and watch a video of Mercedes Ruíz, our teacher on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez, dancing caña, all in red, with bata and mantón.
Subí a la alta montaña
buscando leña pa’ el fuego
como no la encontraba
al valle bajé de nuevo
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 ...
After a full week in Jerez flamenco no longer simply surrounds us; it lives inside of us. Sounds from our dances play on repeat in our heads. We unintentionally walk up the steps in compás, the rhythms from class guiding us. We find ourselves dancing bulerías in our sleep. There’s no escaping it,
We are definitely in the midst of a flamenco immersion…
That’s what life was feeling like a week into the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. I’m now back home in Portland, and Jerez feels worlds away. Here’s a summary of the second week of our trip.
Flamenco is everywhere here in Jerez, in our classes, at the peñas and bars, and, then of course there's the spontaneous and casual flamenco that is a part of every day life here in Jerez. We see it as we walk past the bars and even as people greet each other on the street with palmas and a song. Olé. We can't get away from flamenco. We hear it as we walk to our rooms; we dance it in our sleep. (I've been doing steps and hearing sounds in my dreams which I know is a good thing.) Flamenco, flamenco, and more flamenco.
We are one week in to the Fall Flamenco Tour to Jerez, and I can hardly believe it. So much has happened and there is still so much more in store! People often ask me what happens during the Flamenco Tour, so below you can read about the first week of the fall tour, see photos, and even watch a video from one of the peña shows . . .
Bulerías is arguably one of the hardest flamenco forms to dance due to it's improvisational nature, complex rhythm, and nuanced cante. But dancing bulerías is less mysterious than you may think. Once you understand the components of the dance and how they relate to the music (the singing and the compás) you'll be well on your way to obtaining bulerías freedom.
Below l explain the basic bulerías por fiesta structure and how it relates to the cante. After that you'll find a video of Pastora Galván along with an analysis describing where she dances each component of the structure. Finally I give you an activity to help you internalize the information.
The basic structure of bulerías
Bulerías, like other flamenco forms, has its own language. When we dance we are in conversation with the singer, the guitarist, and the palmeros. The structure offers a formula for clear communication, and it looks like this:
Today's post is not a flamenco letra; it is an acrostic that was written for Mercedes Ruíz when she was about eleven years old. It is written on this photo that hangs on a wall at the Peña Los Cernícalos.
Es, Jerez de la Frontera,
Rica sal de Andalucía,
Conquistando a España entera,
Ella se llama altanera,
Dichosa, como su abuela,
Este nombre de solera
Soy niña de la Plazuela.
Every time I return home from the Flamenco Tour to Jerez I feel stronger. (It’s impossible not to after all of that time in class with Mercedes Ruíz.) I've learned how to turn the physical strength gained through dancing flamenco into mental strength to help me face challenges in my life. At the end of this post, I'll lead you through an activity to help you do the same.
Let’s begin with an excerpt from my journal a few years ago upon returning home from The Flamenco Tour:
I am home, and I feel it,
I feel it in my body, and I feel it in my being. (I always forget how this happens.)
The thing I wasn’t strong enough to do before I left. I can now do it. The thing I tried so many times to do before but couldn’t. The thing I kept trying to do but told myself I wasn’t strong enough to do.
After today's letra you'll find that video I promised you of Mercedes Ruíz dancing at this year's Fiesta de la Bulería (and really getting into it) followed by an explanation of what's happening at the end between the dancer (Mercedes) and the singer (David Carpio) along with an important concept to understand that can help you when dancing bulerías por fiesta by yourself. (I've also included a short activity for you to do at the end.)
No sé por qué será
me duelen más que las mías
las penas de los demás
Words of Wisdom From Mercedes Ruíz for When You're Feeling Frustrated, Like You Don't Belong, or Like You're Too Old to Be Doing This
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,
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.