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.
I still remember that first evening
Sitting together in the courtyard, eating tapas, sharing stories.
It was the fall of 2012, and we were in Jerez. A group of foreigners together in Spain to learn and grow and have a good time. We danced and laughed, did flamenco, saw flamenco, heard flamenco, breathed flamenco. We walked about the town eating yummy food, drinking sherry and café con leche...
But, wait, let's back up for a moment.
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 ...
After a full week in Jerez flamenco no longer simply surrounds us; it lives inside of us. Sounds from our dances play on repeat in our heads. We unintentionally walk up the steps in compás, the rhythms from class guiding us. We find ourselves dancing bulerías in our sleep. There’s no escaping it,
We are definitely in the midst of a flamenco immersion…
That’s what life was feeling like a week into the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. I’m now back home in Portland, and Jerez feels worlds away. Here’s a summary of the second week of our trip.
Flamenco is everywhere here in Jerez, in our classes, at the peñas and bars, and, then of course there's the spontaneous and casual flamenco that is a part of every day life here in Jerez. We see it as we walk past the bars and even as people greet each other on the street with palmas and a song. Olé. We can't get away from flamenco. We hear it as we walk to our rooms; we dance it in our sleep. (I've been doing steps and hearing sounds in my dreams which I know is a good thing.) Flamenco, flamenco, and more flamenco.
We are one week in to the Fall Flamenco Tour to Jerez, and I can hardly believe it. So much has happened and there is still so much more in store! People often ask me what happens during the Flamenco Tour, so below you can read about the first week of the fall tour, see photos, and even watch a video from one of the peña shows . . .
When is it too late to start learning flamenco? Find out below and watch a video of Mercedes Ruíz dancing as a little girl along with a bulerías clip from Carlos Saura's Flamenco Flamenco.
According to Mercedes Ruíz, "It's never too late do what you want to do." Sure, she began dancing flamenco at the age of four, but that doesn't mean the rest of us are doomed.
I began dancing flamenco at the age of twenty three, or was it twenty two? Pat began when she was sixty nine. Becky began when she was forty four. Many of the dancers I know began in their thirties, forties, fifties, and even sixties. Many danced at a young age then stopped for various reasons only to come back to it years later.
We can begin dancing flamenco at any age
And there is no 'retirement age' for flamenco dancing. We can leave it and come back. And we can continue dancing flamenco as long as we want to. This is something that I absolutely love about flamenco.
It is a dance for all ages.
Older flamenco dancers are in fact respected and honored. This is part of the flamenco culture. (See video clips below.)
A younger dancer may have different goals than an older dancer. And one's desires as a dancer may change over time, just as desires around all things in life will evolve.
But the bottom line is this,
A story on the value of observation from a past Flamenco Tour (followed by four bulerías take-aways):
Sunday night I was writing
About flamenco and Jerez and what I'm doing here and what I want to learn here.
And I set some intentions for the week.
I had a few.
One was to Observe
To observe people dancing bulerías. Especially people whose dancing I liked. In class and out. Anywhere and everywhere.
To watch them, really watch them. And to notice what was happening.
To notice how they responded to the cante.
To notice how they danced with the compás.
To notice when they did what they did.
To notice the things I liked.
To notice the things that worked.
Maybe even to notice the things I didn't like.
And to notice the things that didn't work.
On Monday morning I went to bulerías class
That was the day Ani taught the ladies about dancing on a floor tile. I'll tell you about that in the next post.
It was also the day she read my mind.
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.
My main obstacle to bulerías has always been fear.
Not trusting my instincts.
It's no different from my main obstacle in life
I know indecision well.
No wonder bulerías has always been so hard for me,
Not enough trust.
In a moment I'll tell you how I've let go of a lot of my bulerías fears (and how you can do the same).
Because the truth is, now I kind of can't get enough of bulerías.
It is not that the fear has been eradicated, it's that the excitement and fun usually slide it over to the side now. Gracias excitement and fun.
But before I get into any fear eradication techniques, let me give you a bit of background:
"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.
"I'm proud of myself," says Gay.
And she should be.
Gay came with me to Jerez after having taken only a few flamenco classes, EVER! She took one workshop with Ricardo López in Portland. That's all.
And then she decided to join me in Spain.
Watch below to find out about her experience in Jerez.
We spent just two days in Córdoba on the last trip.
Two days to see the city and one night to see Estrella Morente perform. I'll tell you about that on Friday.
It was my second visit to Córdoba
The first visit was in 1998, the first time I went to Spain.
I went there after my sister left.
I went there by myself.
Last night we were doing palmas with Pedro.
It's something we do when we come to Jerez.
Naturally people had many questions
Someone asked to do some palmas por alegrías
... since we'd been dancing alegrías with Mercedes.
Pedro talked about las alegrías de Córdoba. He mentioned the letra about the platero.