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.
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.
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:
When Jesús Carmona was here he recommended that every student of flamenco improvise a little bit each day. In honor of that, here's a guided exercise in improvisation along with a video and examples of how a letra can vary.
First, the letra:
In the video example the singer interprets the same bulerías letra in two different ways, which makes it great to practice to.
Version One (5 minutes in)
Dime niña hermosa
quién te peina el pelo
RESPIRO (one compás break, 12 beats)
lo peina un estudiante
te lo riza un artillerooooo... de la artillería
que con gracia y salero
con gracia y salero
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 ...
Want to amp up your flamenco progress in 2018?
Here’s a two part formula to get you going:
Part One: Reflection
“The more reflective you are, the more effective you are,” Hall & Simeral
Consider the past year in flamenco, and ask yourself:
- What kind of flamenco activities did I participate in last year?
- Through which experiences did I grow the most?
- Which experiences were the most fun?
- What’s one thing that didn’t go the way I wanted it to, and what can I learn from that?
Today a letra, a video of Rocío Molina dancing guajiras, and four things I do to prepare for a show.
Desde el tacón de la bota
hasta la raíz del pelo
tu figura es pa pintarla
con pinceles de terciopelo
porque viendo tu figura
ay hasta yo pintor me siento
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.
Happy New Year!
Did you know that people are more likely to follow through with a commitment to change set at the onset of the new year than at other times of the year?
In light of that, let’s talk flamenco new year’s resolutions. Below I’ll guide you through a three step process to putting a flamenco new year’s resolution into place for 2017.
But first, let’s reflect briefly on 2016.
- How has your flamenco improved during the last year? Write down or make a mental note of all of the ways you progressed over past year.
- How did you make that happen? Review your list, and consider what accounted for each improvement. What actions did you take to get better? (Remember those; you might use them in step two below.)
Now it’s time to look toward the new year and start thinking about flamenco new year’s resolutions.
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
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
It’s the final day of the challenge. Olé, you made it!
How did yesterday's activity go? Did it feel good to just put the music on and dance not worrying about all of the other stuff? For me, letting go and dancing in this way is a great form of therapy.
Let's get on with the final challenge.
Today’s exercise is designed to help you keep the challenge going in class or in your home practice.
I remember when I first studied with Mercedes. I felt so overwhelmed with all of the classes I was taking, coming in toward the end of the year, perhaps trying to do too much. So many things felt impossibly hard. ‘I can’t,’ ‘No way,’ ‘Impossible,’ Thoughts like this were constantly running through my head. I even declared them out loud. “No puedo,” I would tell Mercedes. Or, I would just stop dancing.
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,