What to wear for Flamenco Dance classes

It’s one of the questions I get asked the most when people first join my classes. My answer is always the same:

‘Wear what makes you feel most beautiful/handsome’ but that is comfortable’

Flamenco is a dance  so full of power and pride and clothes help give us that. I’m in no way suggesting that beginners to Flamenco need to spend a fortune investing in Flamenco shoes and costumes, at least until they are sure they will continue with their study. However for women to wear a skirt or trousers that  define they shape, however large or small will make them move differently. And a man wearing  even a charity shop waistcoat will encourage him to use his arms correctly and pull up and the right teacher will guide them.

For women a correct practice skirt ‘ falda de ensayo’ is  invaluable and takes her dancing on to another level as she  learns how to use the skirt to give steps more ‘sabor’ . The technique of the skirt is an essential part of female dancing, adding sensuality, humour or gravity when used correctly. Because there are so many different skirt styles, it’s an important technique to learn to dance with each skirt style correctly as some skirts have more volume and some less. Before any theatre performance, I think about what costume to wear that will enable me to move in the way I have choreographed.

For men, it’s the same. One of my male students always comes to class looking . He’s bought high wasted trousers, a ‘chaleco’ (waistcoat) and he wears matching ‘pañuelos’ (neck scarf). He looks handsome and is able to learn how to use his waistcoat in his dancing which adds more versatility to his movements.

The other aspect of wearing authentic dress is that you are more likely to ‘feel the part’ while you are learning, you look in the mirror and like what you see which helps build your confidence which impacts on your dancing. I’ve had so many students tell me how different they feel as soon as they start wearing flamenco dress and I notice how much better they start to dance.

‘El Rincón de Los Amargos’

I’ve been reading a brilliant book about our ‘shadow’ the dark part of ourselves that we put away and repress.  It’s a brilliant book and describes how we learn to shut off certain parts of ourselves that we feel are unacceptable.

 My favourite quote is from Carl Jung : ‘I’d rather be whole than good’. It sums up so much of what I feel about Flamenco in that we can express our ‘whole’ rather than just the  pretty, pleasant,  jolly side to ourselves and life.  Life is bitter sometimes, we feel defeated, alienated and alone, our own thoughts too, if we accept them openly, are not always happy or wholly ‘good’, but they are part of what makes us  whole.  I don’t need to shut down some aspect of my feelings or expression  in Flamenco, I can feel the ‘amargura’ (bitterness) and fear in a Tarantos,  identify with the hopelessness of the soleá grande and appreciate the inconsolable  grief of the Seguirilla.  By contrast but equally as valid is the need to express the joy and fullness of life. I can be coqueta and playful in a Guajiras, carefree and joyful in an Alegrías and sensual and provocative in a Tangos.

We re not one dimensional as human beings, we are multifaceted and complex. We can feel envy and anger, resentment and bitterness. We are also capable of  great  humour, happiness and deep love and all this and much more is Flamenco. It feels to me so honest and accepting of all that we are and feel that Flamenco, so powerful, majestic, humble  and honest  enables us to connect with all aspects of ourselves   if we are to be authentic in our expression of this complete art form.

 

¡Que rico, lo amargo!’

*El Rincón de Los Amargos’ Vicente Amigo y El Pele.

 

 

 

An Audience

An Audience

On Saturday we performed a 4 piece flamenco show in a small theatre in Kent, it was a tiny venue but with a lovely stage that had fantastic resonance, with each piece of taconeo (footwork) clear and crisp. The audience were so raw and appreciative, there was no quiet reverence, they cheered and whooped with every subida (speeding up footwork) and even gave us some Olé’s! They were very earthy and the more they gave to us, the more energy and emotion we had to give back. Maybe it was because there was no pomp or formality about the venue (we had to walk through the audience to reach the stage) and hopefully the way we all communicated through Flamenco that gave the night so much atmosphere but it was wonderful.

I know it’s hard for British audiences to know how to behave and react at a flamenco show, those who are used to theatre performances may be more accustomed to recitals and theatre where the correct form is to remain quiet until the end of each piece. However, if you are moved by flamenco: a gesture of the dancer, a falseta of the guitarist  or the emotive expression of the singer , then an Olé is never out of place, even with an English accent! I challenge you all to be brave, even if it’s quiet at first, we will feel what you are giving us back and our performance will be the richer for it. Of course, there is a proper form also for Flamenco audiences and the jaleo (encouragement) should never sound like a football chant but personally, I have never been offended by audiences  in the UK if I sense their appreciation is genuine and heartfelt, whether it’s with a cheer a whistle or an ‘excelente!’

More than moves

Whenever I’m in Andalucía,  I’m surrounded by Flamenco, not just in the performances  and  music in bars but in the street, talking to my neighbours, walking to the supermarket. It’s not that everyone is dancing or singing flamenco, although one of the local buskers does a great Camarón: ‘Como El Agua’ It’s the manner of being, the humour, the style.
 I often feel I do my best choreography when I’m there because the smell of the jasmine and orange blossom, mixed in with the cachondeo (humour) and ‘piropos’ (flirtatious complements) brings out the best in me both as a human being and an artist.
Often when I return from practising in a local studio, I join  my neighbours Paqui and Chele  as they sit outside in the evening and talk. They are both mothers and Chele a grandmother, ordinary women who adore their children and honour their parents.  We  have very different lives but we connect with eachother in such an honest and real way. Paqui was saying she’s having trouble losing some excess weight as she’s  starting the menopause but that she still knows how to be ‘provocativa’ for her husband who she adores. She still feels attractive and sensual, feminine and  important, and it made me think how few women in the UK genuinely feel that way after they reach 50. I don’t pretend to speak for every women in the UK but I do know how so many women who come to me to learn flamenco feel invalid, unattractive and unimportant when they lose their youth. It’s is one of the issues I really try to address in my teaching as it is so much an integral part of flamenco, feeling sensual, expressing wisdom and experience and feeling power and strength in one’s body, no matter what age.
Another day, I was telling them how I’m working  on a ‘Caracoles’, a light  alegrias which I’m choreographing with a ‘abanico’ (fan). I borrowed one of the small fans they were using to keep themselves cool and starting to show them some ideas I had.  Afterwards, Chele felt in the mood to sing so she began  in her deep, raspy voice some fandangos. She sang quietly as we were still sitting in the street, but it was so beautiful, so pure, so earthy. It was so flamenco because it wasn’t contrived or artificial, she was with friends and she wanted to sing!
Maybe what I’m trying to communicate is that flamenco dance isn’t just a lot of steps danced in compás and the more steps you learn the better you are. I so want to convey to anyone who really wants to understand flamenco that it is so much more. It is feeling comfortable in your own skin, even if you feel really low and weak. It is allowing yourself  to  be who you are without apology, but also being sincere and genuine. It is expressing humour and sorrow, acnowledging their roles in our lives.

Learning Flamenco in Spain

I’ve just returned from Órgive in Granada, Spain where I was teaching an intensive Flamenco dance course. It was a magical week and I was so inspired by the students who accomplished so much in a relatively short time (approximately 16 hours). It made me realise just what students are capable of when they are away from all the stresses and strains of everyday life and how much more students can absorb when they are learning Flamenco in Spain.

They are drinking in the attitude of pride and confidance that is much more natural in Andalucía and feeling less self concious. The warmth of sunshine is loosening their limbs so that they are flexible and comfortable before they even start  their flamenco class. (The Yoga and swimming in their free time was a real bonus on this trip!) They are listening to flamenco music virtually all day, humming it as they lie in the sun, playing palmas as they wait for their lunch, giving eachother flatterring ‘jaleos’ as they interact with eachother ‘¡Hola guapa! (‘Hello gorgeous’ in translation).
Interacting with the Andalucíans is a joy as they laugh together trying to practice steps and  communicate through the language barriers and laughing all the way.

Recently, a student of mine in Brighton asked whether I would consider teaching a flamenco dance course in Wales and I could undertsand her reasoning, a beautiful, peaceful location, a spa hotel with delicious food. It really does sound idyllic but there is something about studying flamenco in Spain, particularly Andalucía, which just cannot be beat, especially for beginners. It is more of a flamenco experience than just intensive learning, breathing in the attitude, humour and coquetry with each breath. The feeling of senualtity and power seeping in with the scent of the orange blossom and each warm smile.

Speaking for myself as a teacher who works in the UK and in Spain, I believe every flamenco student should experience Spain at least once to really feel, first hand the essense of what is Flamenco. The exuberance, the emotion and  drama, are traits synonimous with the Andalucían people and Flamenco itself, they are intertwined like lovers under moonlight.

Theatre or smaller venue

I’m often asked What’s better, as a flamenco dancer, to perform in a theatre or in a restaurant/smaller venue?

 It’s difficult to answer as, while the 2 types of venues are so different, they both have qualities that, as a performer fulfill different aspects of a flamenco experience.

 When I create a show for my flamenco company, I give a lot of thought to what I need to express in my dances and what will create a show that is well balanced, to give the audience a taste of what real flamenco is: ugly, brutal, fierce, graceful, powerful, tragic and joyful. It has light and shadow, bitter and sweet. Certainly, one can be taken very seriously performing in a theatre and in some ways, I can  take more risks. Atmosphere is also created by lighting, staging and a much larger company, at least 6 artists. But can I honestly say it’s better? I am trying to bring them closer to me and overcome the distance between the stage and the stalls and I’m happy to say most times I feel them enter my world and feel what I am feeling, but I can’t see their eyes.

 Last night I performed with my guitarist brother, José in a local restaurant and the atmosphere was electric. I could see the expression on every single person’s face, feel them with me as I fevershly danced, all the more passionately because of their connection to me. I could sense them sadden as I danced the lonely Soleá Por Bulerías with tears in my eyes, feeling their pain as well as my own. Later as I danced por Alegrías, their faces lit up with joy and I felt we had all gone through the journey of flamenco together, it’s darkness and it’s delight.

 I know I prefer to see flamenco up close. I recently saw one of my favourite dancers; Pastora Galván both in a tiny patio in Sevilla and then again in the Teatro Villamarta in Jerez. Both performances were magnificent, but very different. The patio performance was intimate and more traditional and yet magical for it’s authenticity and intimacy. I knew she could see and feel my enthusiasm. In Villamarta, a humourous and more daring performance with very different qualities.

 So, in all honesty, I love both, the artistic freedom that comes with a theatre production where I have budget and time to involve other great artists and create something I have dreamed of with lighting, staging to help me realise my vision. But there is something very unique about connecting so directly with an audience, in a small venue where they can see my eyes and I theirs and we create the ‘ambiente’ together.