How to Start and Not Give Up Dancing Flamenco
Not long ago a well-known lady psychologist posted in her Facebook feed the video with flamenco dance where 6–8 year kids performed fiesta por buleria — a dance that traditionally closes any concert of flamenco party. Fiesta is a kind of dance «comic couplets» where everyone is having fun and fooling around. “After seeing this I’ve considered to start dancing flamenco for the first time in my life”, the lady psychologist wrote. Comments were totally different, like ‘how cool it, I wanna do the same stuff’ or “it looks too vulgar, children should not move like this.”
Actually, this is true, flamenco is always about love or hate. I have a theory that this dance is the pleasure mostly for the performer rather than for the viewer, and the dancer’s goal is to achieve the highest emotional peak (duende, as the Spaniards call it) instead of surprising people with super fast heel movements or showing off perfect body. That’s why among the legendary dancers you will find people of all ages and complexities, literally from young boys to senior ladies dancing sitting on a chair due to their age and health conditions — like fantastic La Chana does.
Thus, this fascinating music art opens unlimited life-improving opportunities for any person. After ten years of my flamenco crusade, I didn’t become a professional dancer or singer, but I learned the second foreign language, got a lot of friends from all over the world and, and the most important, found out how to overcome difficult life situations with the help of dance.
Here, of course, are some traps and pitfalls. Learning flamenco is not fast and easy, that’s why many newcomers regularly tend to quit (I suppose it applies not only to dancers but also to singers and those who play musical instruments). After a number of farewells and comebacks, I’ve worked out some tricks to keep my motivation and continue practicing even when it seems there is no progress.
So, here are my top-7 flamenco-hacks:
1 Favorite shoes
Their presence itself will push you to practice. Flamenco shoes are different from ordinary folk dancing footwear, in which you may have been exercising in preschool hobby group. Flamenco shoes are meant for the serious use and are equipped with special sound nail taps at on heel and the front of the sole. Do not get scared by their price — with a moderate schedule (about two to three times a week), these shoes will serve you for five-six years at least. The most famous brands here are Senovilla, Begoña Cervera, Menkes and Gallardo. As for clothes, you can dance in anything. In my opinion, a long black-and-red polka dot skirt is not a must-have, the comfortable sports underwear and leggings are much more important.
2 Favorite teacher
Flamenco becomes more popular and the number of talented teachers constantly grows. Many of them regularly craft their mastery in the famous schools of Seville and Madrid and successfully perform. But along with admiring technique skills always put attention to your psychological contact with the teacher (exchange of energy, if you like). So, if your flamenco guru does not suit you emotionally, then continue searching.
3. Getting rid of over-expectations
Being a neurotic perfectionist, I demanded results from myself literally on the spot. I was eager to memorize complicated steps instantly and perform them with the same speed as some gypsy person from youtube had. When I could not catch something new in the class, I got embarrassed, slouched and hid in the last line of my flamenco mates. “Why are you so afraid to dance?», asked me once one well-known Spanish teacher, noticing my shameful escape. I had nothing to say, but this question made me think about what purpose I was doing all that for. Only when I decided to have fun and enjoy every movement instead of criticizing myself, I had found that naturalness and freedom in the body that I could not achieve for several years.
4. Getting rid of standards
Another professional dancer said to me: “Understand, to dance is how to draw, everyone has his own way, his own body, and the most stupid thing you can do is to copy someone, even me!”. Initially, flamenco was a solo dance, which was created for self-expression, not for performing in luxurious concert halls. The era of large-scale flamenco shows began relatively recently, around the 1960s. Before that, people danced in small restaurants with the wooden podiums (tablaos) or simply on the street.
5. Contact with your emotional inner self
Flamenco has many styles (palos), each of those corresponds to a certain shade in the palette of human feelings — from deep anguish (solea style) to joy (alegrias style). Gradually you’ll become familiar with the styles and choose those ones that fit your personality and specific mood. For example, if you for some reason want to turn into a bullfighter who decided to punish his abusers, then the lesson of severe seguiriya is what you need. Flamenco has no gender or social boundaries, here it is crucial to be yourself.
6. Workshops with Spanish Stars
When I feel that my enthusiasm start to fade away, I search for the nearest workshop with some Spanish teacher, to get recharged with his duende. Historically, flamenco was the art of the oppressed groups — gypsies and Sephardim, who were forbidden to earn money with anything other than dancing and music, that’s why they brought it to perfection. But this does not mean that only those who have a Spanish passport and gypsies genes can be “real” flamenco dancers. Everything depends on your persistence and the eagerness to develop.
7. Spanish language
Flamenco dance is inseparable from singing (cante), and if you understand the lyrics, it helps you to connect emotionally to a certain style (see point 5). After all, it’s much more interesting to dance some Tangos del Titi, when you know that behind a cheerful melody there is a drama full of scandals and intrigues:
There are rolling on the stairs
Pepper, tomato, apricots and figs
Tell me, tell me, what have I done to you
If you’re throwing my clothes right into the street,
Like a thief caught red-handed?
Flamenco star Belen Maya said once that flamenco has a powerful psychotherapeutic healing core — that’s why it is so popular all over the world. Another wonderful dancer (and, in combination, a doctor who came to the class directly from her shift with a stethoscope around her neck), confirmed to me that dance classes form new neural connections, therefore, prolong youth. In my opinion, it’s is a good reason to devote a few years of your life to flamenco — even if you fail to perform a solo show at the Hollywood Bowl and to get a gold medal for it.