I love asking flamenco artists I admire what advice they have to offer to the flamenco student. Here are thirteen suggestions from some of the best:
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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.
What should you do if if you have just 15-20 minutes a day to practice?
That’s what a student asked me to find out when I interviewed Jesús Carmona last month.
Here are the five recommendations he shared along with videos to help you get started on your own at home. (Some of what he advises might surprise you.)
1. Abdominal Exercises
The first thing Jesús mentioned was the need to strengthen our abs. Don't know where to start? Try this:
In 1998 I traveled to Spain to study flamenco. My plan was simple (and not very well thought out): Travel around, settle somewhere in Andalucía, find flamenco classes, find work. I had no contacts in Spain, no leads on where to study or work. I didn’t even know what city I was going to live in.
I just knew that if I wanted to learn flamenco I needed to go to Spain.
Today I'll tell you about finding flamenco in Sevilla, what it taught me about perseverance, and how it can help you.
I didn't plan much before I left for Spain. In part because I wanted to get a feel for the different cities before choosing where to settle. In part because thinking it through felt too overwhelming, and the more I thought about the details, the more I thought about changing my mind and staying put. I spoke Spanish, I had a strong desire to learn, I had saved enough money to hold me over for awhile, I felt ready for an adventure, and I knew I could figure things out once I arrived.
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,
On the wall of her studio Mercedes has a photo of herself with Marco Flores when they were young. I wish you could see it. In the interview that follows Marco mentions how they danced together when they were starting out. They still do.
You'll also find out about how Marco grew up with flamenco in his family, how he began his career, and about his process of creation. He even shares some direct tips for us as students, though bits of advice can be found in all of his responses.
I originally posted it in 2011 and repost it today after watching snippets of his latest espectáculo from the 2014 Jerez Festival. Oh how I want to see that show! Further down you'll see a video of him dancing solo por siguiriyas.
In the previous interview with Mercedes Ruíz we heard about her favorite dancers of today and about how she interprets the cante. In today's interview Mercedes answers more of your questions, shares her thoughts for students of all levels, lets us in on her idea of long term plans and even shares with us what she dreams about.
It's the final installment of the interview series with Perico Navarro. Today he shares some advice for all students, talks about what inspires him, talks about the role of cajón in Jerez, and tells us how he feels about audiences in Jerez and beyond. You'll also see a video with Mercedes Ruíz dancing to Paco Cepero's guitar with Pedro accompanying.
¿Qué te inspira? Yo como percusionista flamenco siempre voy acompañando algún artista.
It's almost time to perform, and I'm worrying. I've felt this way before... But I guess I needn't worry so much. At least I don't have to get up in front of the whole audience to talk and start crying instead.
Anyway, so I decided to take myself for a walk to the farmer's market to get some fresh flowers. Only there was no farmer's market because it's Saturday, not Sunday. Oh yeah. But it got me out walking. And a walk is always good for me. I walked and went through some steps in my head.
Now I'm giving myself encouragement. I'll be there sharing the stage with people who are wonderful and supportive!
And I'm writing myself some notes, some reminders for tonight and tomorrow.
Here are some things to remember before (and during) a show...
Many great questions keep coming up during teoria class. It is exciting. I love questions. Sooooo, one that came up yesterday evening while looking at different circumstances in a por fiesta setting was …
"What if I just get up and do the clapping and walking part then sit back down?"
In other words,
Can one do only the salida and let that be that?
And the answer is...
As most of you know I went to Albuquerque earlier this month to Flamenco Festival Internacional. Festivals are intense. Intense can be good, but it can also be, well, fuerte. Preparation can help. So...
1. Choose a festival hosting artists you want to see and learn from.
2. Go with a group of people.
You may know them before. You may not. You may travel with them. You may meet up there. Either way, having a small community within the bigger festival community offers support. Plus it's just so much more fun with other people. Think laughter, lots of laughter, therapeutic laughter.
3. Choose your learning tools.
There are many available.... An audio recording device to help you recall the sounds. A notebook for notes and reflections on class. Going over the choreography or tricky steps with another student after or before class. Getting centered and staying present.
An interview with flamenco dancer Emilio Ochando and a video:
I can't wait to ask Emilio a million things once he gets here. I asked him some questions last year. But I have so many more! Like how did he get to be so good? And who are his favorite dancers? And what are his favorite practice techniques and strategies?
I know he has a lot to tell us.
So I warmed him up with a few quick questions the other day. And here is what he had to say.
Qué debe saber la gente que quiere aprender a bailar flamenco? Deben saber que no deja de ser un arte y que ello te lleva a emociones. Tambien le tienes que sumar la constancia y ganas.
What should people who want to learn flamenco know? They should know that it will never stop being an art and that it will bring up your emotions. Also you need to be consistent and approach it with enthusiasm.