Learning flamenco is more than learning a bunch of moves. It’s understanding a whole new language! Of course, there’s a whole new dance vocabulary and structure as part of the language. But it’s also the idea of really trying to understand flamenco.
It really all starts with internalizing the compás, learning the nuances of the different rhythms (palos), and being able to identify the components of a dance number. So, what’s one way to do that?
LISTEN TO FLAMENCO MUSIC!
Did you know that understanding flamenco music will help you become a better dancer? But you don’t need to understand Spanish in order to understand flamenco music. You just need to open your ears!
IDENTIFY THE PALO
Each palo, or flamenco rhythm, has its own tempo, melody and chords even though there could be many variations.
First pick one palo, preferably one that you already have learned in class. Next, listen to the solo compás recordings of it with just the guitar. See if you can “identify” that sound that makes it that particular palo.
You hear one or two chords and think, “Boom! That’s Alegrías!” It’s just like that game “Heardle”. Then you can move on to other recordings and you hopefully will have found that common thread of melody throughout all of them. After that you can graduate to listening to random music and identifying it.
UNDERSTAND THE COMPAS WITH PALMAS
Playing palmas (hand clapping) is essential to being able to internalize the compás. Giving palmas for your fellow dancers supports their dancing and gives you the responsibility and the sensitivity to not rush or slow down the tempo unless the dancer makes you. Even better, learn the skill of playing palmas for yourself as you dance and do footwork.
But first, try playing palmas to solo compás (it always starts there!) Then you can try playing palmas to recordings or other dance videos.
UNDERSTAND THE PEAKS AND VALLEYS
Once you can identify the palo by listening to the chords, then play palmas to it somewhat comfortably, then it’s time to really listen to the cante so you can FEEL the transitions.
This means understanding the rises and the falls within a letra (verse). La caida is that “fall” or “resolve’ within the cante. I like thinking of it as peaks and valleys of expression. If you can “hear” this caida, then you are better able to dance with expression to the cante and know when to transition to another move or make strong accents.
LET’S PRACTICE THIS
Let’s start with Alegrías.
Listen to this solo compás with guitar to identify just the compás. Can you hear the 12? Can you play palmas and hear that chord that makes it sound like Alegrías? (I’m not a musician so I can’t tell you what that is– you have to be able to just hear it!)
Now focus on the letras from the video. Do you hear the peaks and valleys, where there is a caida so that the dancer can transition or resolve with the cante?
Test it out and have fun. Remember, it’s a process!!