Last week in preparation for my show, I practiced improvising more than usual as I wasn’t sure just what Alfonso would be singing for me. I wanted to help myself to feel comfortable in the moment, in the compás, and to increase the chances that I wouldn’t just do the same thing over and over again.
Following today’s bulerías letra and video of Rancapino Chico I’ll guide you through an activity to enhance your improvisation skills and train your ear.
Do you have a hard time finding the motivation to practice?
I hear you.
. . . And I want to help!
Here are twenty ways to bring new life to your flamenco practice
The following ideas will not only spice up your practice but will also make you a better dancer. Apply them to a full choreography, part of a dance, a combination, or even a single step.
1. Do it while singing (or humming) the melody.
OBJECTIVE: Connect the music to the dance. Move your focus away from the steps. Improve your memory. Improve your focus.
2. Do one part over and over.
OBJECTIVE: Solidify and perfect a given part.
3. Do it facing different directions in the room.
OBJECTIVE: Stop relying on the mirror. Focus. Test your knowledge of the dance. Learn to adapt to different situations. Prepare for performance.
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 ...
Today you'll find two videos of the same letra, one version as tangos, the other as bulerías...
Dancing flamenco is never just about the dancing. It is a conversation between the dancer and the musicians. As dancers we need to hear where the changes and resolutions are in the music (especially the cante) so that we can respond with our dancing. Below find an activity that you can do from home to train your ear to dance with the cante.
And speaking of cante, we worked with the following letra during the Flamenco Retreat at the Oregon Coast last weekend. (See some pictures below). We looked at where the cante resolved then put in remates with palmas and later baile to reflect that. Watch María Toledo sing it por tangos and Marina García sing it por bulerías below:
Tangos (& Bulerías)
No me pegues bocaítos
Que tú me haces cardenales
Cuando yo voy a mi casa
A mí me los nota mi madre
Raise your hand if you want your flamenco new year's resolution to be about more than just January. Raise your hand if you want to make it stick. My hand is raised, and I'm guessing yours is too. So today I'll give you one more tool to help you follow through with your resolution. (If you've not made one yet, no problem. The energy of the new year is still upon us.)
As I've been taking action on my flamenco resolution in this new year, I've noticed something (in addition to my plan) that is really helping me to stick with it and that's an awareness of why I want it. I'll tell you more about my resolution later, but first, let's go deeper into this why stuff.
When setting your resolution, or when reflecting upon it, it's important to consider your why.
Today a bulerías by Luis de la Pica along with a video and a rhythm and coordination activity for you to do from home.
Luis de la Pica
Hoy tengo ganas de verte
echo de menos tus labios
del color del pino verde
Today I want to see you
I miss your lips
the color of green pine
We studied bamberas with abanico with Mercedes during the Flamenco Tour.
Now that. was. fun.
After the letra you'll find a quick fan activity from our class that you can try at home.
Vamos niña pa la bamba
que te voy a columpiar
yo te daré despacito
no te vaya a marear
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.
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 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,
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,
I've been getting in the mood for the upcoming Flamenco Retreat at the Oregon Coast this weekend by listening to lots and lots of tangos and dancing all around the house. (More on that below.)
Here's a letra for you to enjoy:
Si quieres que te quiera
son monedas que alegran
a los corazones
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...
Online flamenco learning opportunities seem to be popping up all over the place.
I find this very exciting.
As you know, there are all kinds of flamenco instructional articles around here, but I'm talking about online video teaching.
While I do not believe one can learn flamenco dance only by online studies from home (flamenco is after all a communal art form), these resources can be wonderful for:
- Supplemental instruction
- An introduction to flamenco
- Practicing from home
- Deepening one's understanding of particular aspects of flamenco
- Those who have difficulty making it to physical classes (many of the students who join me for workshops and trips come from what they often call, flamenco deserts, and online sources can be especially great in these instances.)
- Encouragement & inspiration
Here are a couple of my favorites . . .
It’s the final day of the Mini-Challenge and time to step things up a bit. That's right, today things get harder. But sometimes harder can be more fun.
And I think you'll find that to be true with this final activity which is all about creation . . .
The creation of a step
Today’s exercise comes directly from our imaginary teacher of the week, David Romero.
David says coming up wtih a step is easy, You just have to do the work.
In other words, it’s not hard as long as we're willing to put forth effort.
(You can hear him talk about this six minutes thirty seconds into his video interview.)
Below, find out how to make up your very own flamenco step by following David's exact advice. (Well, along with a few additional suggestions from me.)