Read on for my seven biggest takeaways from this month's workshops with flamenco maestro Jesús Carmona followed by a challenge for you.
Jesús is all about working hard, breaking things down, and holding high expectations all while having fun. A true master teacher. He sees everybody and expects maximum effort from all. He worked us HARD during the workshops in Portland. It was truly satisfying to see and feel the progress that we made in just four days. How can something be semi-torturous yet completely wonderful at the same time?
Here are seven pieces of advice from Jesús that will help you become a better flamenco dancer.
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.
Mistakes are an inevitable part of learning and provide us with opportunities to grow. An absence of mistakes means we are not trying. However, repeating the same mistake means we are choosing not to improve.
Today we’ll look at how to learn from a mistake.
I want to share a story with you about how I messed up dancing bulerías last weekend, how it left me feeling not so happy about my dancing, eight important lessons about flamenco (and life) I learned in the process, and how those lessons served me when I applied them to a sticky situation in my life.
So last weekend I took a workshop with Alfonso Cid. He shared bunches of bulerías letras with us (you'll find one below) and gave a very informative introduction to flamenco, with a focus on cante. He had us all singing and doing palmas and even got some of us up dancing.
Toward the end of the workshop someone asked Alfonso to address how to dance bulerías por fiesta, how to dance to the cante. (As you know, this is one of my favorite things.)
Yay! (and Olé).
Some people got up to dance, mess up or not mess up, and learn along the way.
I was one of those people.
And here is what I learned:
Writing saved me in Jerez, ... And then it got in the way.
Today I want to talk about how writing can become, well, detrimental in class.
I'll begin with another excerpt from my notebook:
April 19, 2011
Mercedes scolded me once again in class this morning, calling me back out onto the dance floor. Clearly I was to be dancing, not writing.
Yes, once again, Laura and her book has come up. It comes up a lot. No one else writes anything down in Jerez.
They don't get me, I know, but I totally don't get them either!
I can't imagine learning flamenco without pens and paper. I really can't.
On paper I take notes. On paper I figure things out. On paper I put the thoughts that circle inside my head. And there's just something I like so much about the feel of the pen moving atop the paper.
I often write in little books
They helped me a lot in the beginning, in Sevilla.
They help me today.
And they helped me a lot in Jerez.
As you know I stayed away from castanets for quite some time. I had my reasons.
Which I’ll share with you today along with the best thing you can do for yourself when starting out.
Let’s begin with my reasons for having avoided castanets for so long
Reason #1: Rebellion.
In part I was rebelling, at least that’s what I told myself.
Rebelling because when I would mention that I danced flamenco it seemed just about every other person would assume I played castanets,
"Ohhhhhh, so you play those things,” making motions with their fingers, “that make the clacking sounds?”
“No, I do not play those things, and actually you don’t need to play those things to do flamenco,” I’d say.
It’s true, one does not have to play castanets to do flamenco, but there was certainly a little bit of defensive me who-didn’t-know-how-to-play-so-don't-ask-me-that talking.
And then there was Reason #2,
Not really. It may be called Beginning. Or Advanced.
And that name might tell me about the pace of the class. Or about the type or amount of information and material that will be given.
But what does it really mean?
Is what I view as beginning the same as what you view as beginning?
Can I expect to find people all at the same skill level because the class is called intermediate?
Does the name of the class tell me where I belong?
No and not necessarily.
I have some thoughts on figuring out which class you "belong" in and some more thoughts about what to do should you find yourself in a class that feels like the wrong level.
I can't imagine learning flamenco without pens and paper.
I really can't.
On paper I take notes. On paper I figure things out. On paper I put the thoughts from inside my head. And there's just something I like so much about the feel of the pen moving atop the paper...
I often write in little books.
They helped me a lot in the beginning, in Sevilla. They help me today. And they helped me a lot in Jerez.
An excerpt from Spain last year to help explain...
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.
So, I've been talking a lot about bulerías over the past several days. I guess because there is a lot to say, and today shall be no different. For me, doing bulerías is kind of like taking a happy pill. Simply put, it makes me feel good. Even when I do it for just five seconds, a quick remate out of the blue, a moment of palmas, stuff like that.
Playfulness. Perhaps this has something to do with my obsession. Bulerías is about having a good time. Who doesn't want this? And let’s face it, it’s much more fun to watch someone dancing who is having a good time with it. The energy is contagious, if we’re open to it. I wonder, if we aren’t enjoying ourselves, are we even really doing bulerías?
The phrase practice makes perfect seems to be ingrained in our heads. In fact, some of us subscribe so faithfully to this philosophy that it actually may sabotage our learning.
How, you ask?
Well, there are those who practice and practice with no real vision of what they wish to accomplish or how to get there.
(Me! I've been there, far too many times):
So many nights I would come home from work exhausted, pero cansaísima, and force myself to practice, or rather, trick myself into thinking I was practicing. I would go through my footwork exercises, my mind on a different planet thinking about lessons for the next day or what I had to do for this child or that child or about some conversation I'd had with this person or that person, all kinds of things that had nothing to do with the what I was actually doing. And often times I found myself almost falling asleep, literally almost falling asleep standing! In both situations my body was there, moving, "dancing..." But my brain certainly wasn't.