Debby, one of the students on the last fall’s Flamenco Tour to Jerez sent me this summary of her experience a few days upon returning home with this note. “Thank you again for a 100% approval trip. Here is how I truly felt.” If you’re curious about what happens on the Flamenco Tour, read on:
The following flamenco dance tips were born out of a longing to be back in class with Mercedes Ruíz. Because I love it there. I love how we learn, the focus on technique, the repetition, watching Mercedes move.
So here are eleven tips I’ve learned studying with her over the years. Each tip includes a brief exercise to help you apply it.
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.
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
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.
If you like exploring how letras can vary, if you're looking to practice bulerías to cante at a comfortable speed, or if you just want to get better at bulerías, then consider today's post a treat. You'll find a video with examples of one letra interpreted in two different ways along with a short activity to help you train your ear and get better at improvising.
First, the letra:
El sitio donde te hablé
ganas me dan de volverme
y sentarme un ratito en él
There's going to class. And then there's going to class and getting the most out of it. Today I'm going to talk about the latter, about how to get the most out of your flamenco class (or workshop) experience.
Ricardo López is constantly giving us tips when he comes in town for workshops. Perhaps just as helpful are little phrases I hear him say over and over again in class. He doesn't really intend them as tips. They are reactions, spoken in the moment. But, oh, these little comments have a lot to tell us.
So, here you go, four comments from Ricardo and four pieces of advice gleaned from them:
I'm still on a high from last weekend's tangos workshops. Por eso, a tangos letra for you today along with a video of Rocío Segura singing all kinds of letras, and an activity to improve your tangos dancing from home.
Tangos de la Repompa
Mamá, mamá no quiero eso,
Mamá, mamá no quiero na,
Quiero que vengas a verme
de tu propia voluntad
Mom, Mom I don't want that,
Mom, Mom, I don't want anything,
I want you to come to see me
of your own accord
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.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, Virigina, a Flamenco Tour alum, sent me the following account of her time on the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. If you're curious about what happens on the Flamenco Tour, read on...
My Trip to Jerez
by: Virginia O'Hanlon
I have danced and taught Afro Cuban, Haitian and Brazilian dance for many years. I'm the sort of explorer who likes to "go to the source" so I have gone to these countries many times on dance/study trips. There were a few great trips, some ok, and two really miserable experiences.
I'm fairly new to flamenco -had 2 years in at the time of this trip- but became intrigued by the "por fiesta" dances so I started looking around for ways to study in Spain, particularly Jerez. I discovered Laura's trips, and it seemed like a structure that would work well for me, so I went last October. It was without a doubt one of the best, richest experiences that I've had, and here are some reasons why.
It's September, so let's do a little first day of school, getting-to-know-eachother activity. I'm actually not kidding about that. People have been inquiring about my 'flamenco journey' so below I tell you how it began for me. (Later, why not tell me how you became interested in flamenco?)
My Introduction to Flamenco
I was a junior in college. I was struggling through Spanish class.
The professor spoke only in español which basically left me feeling like a Charlie Brown character being mwoah mwoah mwoahed at for hours upon end.
Every day we would watch this educational novela, answer questions related to the day's episode, and then "discuss" it. I rarely knew what was going on.
As you may have gathered, I did not particularly enjoy the class. While I constantly felt confused, behind, and overwhelmed, I am full of gratitude for the experience,
You see, had it not been for this class, I'm not sure I would be dancing flamenco today.
Here's what happened
"I want to be in class with Mercedes ALL of the time." That is what I wrote in my journal on April 13, 2011.
But let's go back in time.
I arrived in Jerez on Friday, March 25 and began investigating classes to take.
Though secretly, I did not want to go to any.
A week in Jerez by myself.