I usually say that learning flamenco is like learning a language. It’s a long process and you wouldn’t expect to be fluent in French after a six week course, right? The same with flamenco.
But since you’re reading this, I bet you already know this and you’re up for experiencing your own personal journey. And we all have our own challenges no matter what our level is. Whether we started last year or 20 years ago- we all still want to dance with confidence, abandon and passion.
So, here are four (maybe more) things you need to do or know to move on to dance flamenco with confidence.
This bit of advice is going to be very difficult for you to handle. If you want to become a better flamenco dancer, you must watch flamenco. I know, I know soooo hard to do! HA!
Of course, if you’re a flamenco aficionado, you watch flamenco every chance you get! Shows, clips on YouTube or Facebook. We watch it constantly. It’s so inspiring to watch a true artist dance.
But next time, whether it’s a live performance or watching a video, study the whole number. Once you’ve had more exposure to flamenco, you’ll learn the vocabulary of all the components and will be able to identify what you’re watching.
Generally, though, there are letras (singing verses), falsetas (guitar melodic solos), escobillas (footwork sections) and an ending.
I know it’s not an easy process to learn the vocabulary and then be able to identify them. But as with anything, repetition, repetition, repetition.
As a flamenco dancer, you need to be able to know when to lead and when to follow, and in the end know WTF is supposed to happen in a dance.
Knowing what happens in a dance, means that you “speak flamenco.” These elements are pretty much present in all palos (Alegrías, Solea por Bulerías, Solea, Tientos, etc).
- Guitarist plays an opening falseta (melodic playing).
- Singer sings an entrada (entrance with all the ay, ay, ays).
- Dancer walks out and begins a llamada (the dance break that calls the singer). It could be one to four compases (measures), normally. Dancer MUST end the llamada with intention, clearly showing the singer that it’s time to SING!
- Dancer dances letra (verse), listening and responding to the singer.
- After the letra, the guitarist may (or may not) play a falseta (beautiful guitar interlude), so the dancer must really listen and dance to the pretty music without disrupting it with a bunch of footwork.
- Then the dancer can either do another llamada for a second letra or go straight into an escobilla (footwork section).
- The dancer should build up the tempo in the escobilla to finish with another clear llamada for the bulería (The fast letra. It can also be tangos or the macho.)
- Now the dancer dances the bulería and can finish off with doing a desplante (another call) to the corner of the stage. This tells the singer to sing an estribillo (the chorus to sing you off the stage).
- The dancer finishes the dance by either dancing off with the estribillo and finishing with a little break or doing another subida (footwork build up) in the middle of the stage after the estribillo and ending with a break.
Of course, there are many variations with more letras, falsetas and escobillas. But those are the basics! However, once you know that framework, you can learn flamenco more easily and perhaps move on to dance your own solo with live music.
STARTING TO DANCE IN TABLAOS
Now you’re ready to dance with live musicians or maybe you already have some experience and you’re looking to improve. Obviously, the more experience you have with working with live musicians, the more you learn.
Unless you’re doing tons of rehearsals with the musicians for an ongoing show, you need to be smart about your solo and get over yourself. By that I mean the musicians don’t care about your solo. Well, they do, but it’s crazy for any dancer to think that the musicians will remember all the details of your solo, especially if they have to remember tons of stuff for a student show or if it’s a one time show.
So, as a dancer, it’s your responsibility to know your solo, and convey it in the most obvious and simple way.
That means, you don’t tell the musicians, “When I look over here, you need to sing,” or “I want you to start the Buleria on 9.” No, they’re going to forget or worse, they’ll rebel and not support you. The only thing the musicians really need to know is how many letras you want and if you want a falseta here or there.
But again it’s up to the dancer to clearly convey with her body what she wants to happen- letra, falseta, estribillo. Also, short, simple and strong outdoes long, complicated and sloppy.
So, if you’re wanting to do your first solo, I hope your teacher can help you with being able to identify the components of your solo. Each section has a name and a reason.
WHEN IT ALL HITS THE FAN
You can rehearse yourself to death with clear llamadas and impeccable compás, but things always happen that can go against your best plans.
The singer doesn’t sing the letra the way you expect or when you want. You build up the tempo too fast so now you can’t do your escobilla properly. You notice a good looking person in the audience and get distracted and forget your choreography. (I’ve been there, done that ALL!)
What are you going to do? IMPROVISE!
Granted there’s no perfect way to learn to improvise. The best way is to go out there and mess up and learn from your mistakes. (Wow, just like in life, how profound.)
But actually, there IS an easier way to prepare yourself. It helps if you have very good compás, understand the components of a dance, and have a few standard moves to pull out when needed. Here’s a start for training yourself on how to improvise.
- Pick a palo that you’re working on and find a solo compás recording of it. Let’s say that you’re dancing Guajiras. You’re going to pick 2 simple markings and practice just going back and forth, forward and back and standing still (in compás!) to this solo compás
- Then you’re going to find at least three different recordings of Guajras and improvise those two markings and standing still to the three different tracks of the
- Repeat all of that until you feel comfortable and actually begin to add your own little variations to the moves.
There are many other ways to get better at improvising, but putting on different recordings of your palo of choice and just dancing to it with a couple of markings will make you so much more secure in your abilities.
Thanks for reading. Please tell me in the comments if you would add anything else.