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 a video of Emilio Ochando (who will be in Portland next month for workshops!) dancing alegrías and a letra.
Alegrías de Cádiz
A Cai no le llaman Cai,
que le llaman relicario,
porque por patrona tiene
a la Virgen del Rosario.
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:
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.)
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).
In November 2013 after the Flamenco Tour to Jerez was finished, I traveled to Barcelona to study with David Romero. (And to research holding a flamenco trip there with him, which is happening in November, woot!) My friend Stefani and I had daily classes with David (our own private flamenco workshop). Often times we would meet with him before or after class to have a coffee and chat.
And one day after class, I interviewed him
The interview took place in the little restaurant by the studio where we used to meet. We had lunch. We had café. And then we got to filming.
We did some shooting inside, some outside. I filmed some, Stefani filmed some. A couple of clips cut off in strange places because, well, I guess I stopped or started shooting too early or too late. Oops. I did my best to edit out the background noise, but you will definitely hear some potatoes being fried, sirens, a few outside voices, stuff like that. You'll also see some ladies on their way to the restroom, which happened to be our backdrop during part of the interview. I guess it all adds to the ambiente, the ambiance . . .
David has been dancing since he was three years old. He grew up going to peñas and hearing flamenco. He's from Barcelona, but his family is from Andalucía. In the video David talks about how his parents, originally from Huelva in Andalucía, ended up in Barcelona, the influences of hearing flamenco in his home, how he began dancing flamenco professionally (in a tablao when he was underage, having to run and hide when the authorities came by), his teaching philosophy, how he goes about creating a choreography and even just creating a step.
This is not a good situation, the situation going on in today's letra. And then the way David Lagos sings it, well, you feel the meaning of the words even if you don't know what they mean,
Which happens a lot with flamenco singing.
David sang the following letra at our private show here in Jerez the other night. Naturally, I cried.
I wasn't alone.
Tientos David Lagos
La que tanto querer me ofreció
me falló porque era falsa
desde el primer día que tuvo ocasión
The one who offered me so much love
failed me because she was false
from the first day she had the chance
The gathering together. It lit me up at the first flamenco workshop I attended with a guest artist here in town when flamenco was still so new to me. It lit me up with the first workshop I set up with Ricardo in 2007 and with each one since. It lights me up with every Flamenco Tour to Spain.
The FlamencoTour was born of my own struggles studying flamenco in Spain by myself and at the big festivals. The drive to do it was born of my longing to be there studying in an environment that felt safe and fun to me, amongst a small group of others interested in the same thing. Many of my past learning experiences in Spain did not feel (emotionally) safe, and very often the learning did not feel fun at all.
This was a problem.
We wrap up Ida y Vuelta month with one more guajiras. Oscar was here last week, so I asked him to share a favorite guajiras for today.
That letra is below followed by a video of Concha Jareño dancing por guajiras. LOVE this dance.
Contigo me caso Indiana
si se entera tu papá y se lo dice a tu mamá
tengo una casa en la Habana destinada para tí ay!
con el techo de marfil
y el piso de plataforma para tí blanca paloma
llevo yo la flor de lis
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 ...
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.
I want to talk about how to get more out of your "time" with Mercedes during this challenge. Because I know it can be hard to squeeze in flamenco activities right now as many of us are busy with family, holiday stuff, and what not.
But before I get to that, a brief snippet from today ~
I decided to take the challenge on the road today while hiking with the family.
So Margot and I listened to Mercedes as we walked.
As it turns out many of her reminders were just as helpful to hiking as to flamenco,
'Respira, despacio, pompi dentro...'
Take 'pompi dentro' for instance:
Making a point not to let your bottom stick out forces you to engage your core which is most helpful in maintaining stability on the rocky and sometimes slippery trail.
My niece is participating in the challenge with me. In part.
She loves flamenco and started taking regular classes this spring after taking a class with Ricardo in Santa Barbara.
“Do you want to do some of Mercedes’s exercises with me?” I asked her on Christmas Day.
She knew what to expect as she had sat through her class in Jerez a coupe of times. (My nieces spent some time with me and the group in Spain last spring, and Margot happily, patiently, and voluntarily sat through hours of class with Mercedes.)
“Are we going to do the one with the hands?” she asked me as she stretched her arms out imitating the exercise, this exercise.
Yesterday I invited you to partake in the Dance as if You Were in Class with Mercedes Challenge with me. I figured it would be a fun way to keep some flamenco in our lives during the holidays while classes are on break. So, we'll be simulating being in class with Mercedes from the comfort of our own homes for seven days beginning December 25.
Below is a short activity to help you to get you ready.
By the way, I meant to send this out earlier today, but I was traveling to visit my family, and all of a sudden it's late! So, this can definitely be done on Day 1 of the challenge instead.
Optional warm-up activity
Materials needed: sticky notes or other paper, writing utensil, possibly this post.
Time it will take: 5-10 minutes.
I’ve talked before about the things from Jerez that I miss once I leave. And how one thing that I tend to miss enormously is having almost daily classes with Mercedes Ruíz.
I cannot have daily classes with Mercedes here in Portland for a very obvious reason.
The Very Obvious Reason:
Mercedes is not in Portland.
(Nor is her dance studio a mere three minute walk from where I live which is how it is in Jerez and which makes it easier than anything apart from having her in your bedroom to make it to her class.)
Although Mercedes in not in Portland and although I am not in Jerez, there is good news.
The Good News:
I can be there with her while being here without her, sort of.
If you've ever taken class with Mercedes Ruíz, you will likely recognize the words and phrases below. If you have not yet studied with her and plan to, prepare, because you are sure to hear these utterances over and over again.
If you have previously studied with her but were unsure of what she meant, read on, and find out.
If you have not studied with her and don't plan to, read anyway because the first eight are important tips to remember all of the time in your independent practice or in anybody's class.
People are often asking me about my how I got started with flamenco, about my first experiences. And awhile back I told you I’d tell you some stories from that first year in Spain. So I’m going to tell you a story from that time today. At the end of the story you’ll find a tip on dancing with the bata de cola, it's an essential, and you can work on it anywhere, in the bathroom, in the bedroom ...
But first, Spain
Telling you about my first year in Spain means I have to talk about Matilde Coral.
Porque es una figura.
I didn’t know it then, but my exposure to Matilde and her way of dancing would end up being kind of huge for me. Yesterday I had a big realization about the significance of her academy having been the first flamenco school I was sent to in Sevilla.