I had an amazing weekend workshop with students from my Online Flamenco Studio flying in from all over the country and even Canada, as well as some of my local dancers. We worked on Tablao 101 (that’s dancing in a flamenco venue)- even if they were no where near being ready to perform.
What DOES a dancer need to know to dance in a tablao? Is it enough to have a choreography? NO!
She needs to understand the compás inside and out, understand the structure of a dance and definitely the structure of the particular palo that she is dancing. She needs to be able to cue the the musicians effectively with her body as well as follow their own cues. So, we had an intensive time working on all of that with live music. An amazing weekend!!
Here are a few little bits of insights that some of the participants offered. More importantly, they were things that they learned from their own mistakes during the workshop! They were definitely enlightening and I hope you learn something from them as well.
The bold is their input, followed by my own commentary.
Listen, listen, listen!! You cannot do too much of this in studying this art form. If you cannot recognize the palo, the palmas pattern, the count, etc, then you cannot properly dance to it. You need to listen to as much guitar and cante as possible. All kinds. And different songs within the same palo because even that is varied. (Actually, my student Lori said all of that!) Which leads to…
Know when to wait for the singer after your llamada if they don’t start right away. This is HUGE! First, you have to be able to LISTEN and not just dance your choreography. If the singer doesn’t begin the letra right away and you “start” your choreography for the letra, then the two of you will get crossed and you’ll be accenting on the wrong parts and it’ll just feel “off.” Now, why wouldn’t the singer start singing right away after your llamada? It could be she forgot the words, had to cough, got distracted, or just felt like it. But many times it’s because she couldn’t read your cue. Which brings us to…..
You must end ALL of your llamadas super strong so that the musicians know that you’ve ended! I’ve seen so many students end a llamada without strong accents in the feet or the upper body. Remember the musicians are watching you from behind– if you they don’t see you end with your body movement, they think you’re still dancing the llamada!!
Everyone blanks out and forgets choreography from time to time. Know how to save yourself! You may forget your choreography or you might even get out of compás. Of course, the more experience you have the easier it becomes. However, it’s essential to really know and understand the structure of the dance, to be able to stand there and wait or even improvise some marcaje until you’re ready to move on to the next section or to get back into compás. Which leads to…..
It’s not all about choreography. Yes, when you’re starting out flamenco and even dancing in tablao, you may rely on choreography. But so much happens with the knowing of the palo, the structure, listening. Being able to improvise is so important. And it doesn’t have to be anything complicated. Basic marcaje steps will be beautiful if you know how to accent within the letra.
There is big value in WAITING. How to wait for the falseta to finish. How to stand and wait and bring thoughtfulness and peso to certain moments. To not rush. Yes, yes and yes. I would add that to wait or to “breathe” after letras or before beginning an escobilla. It gives yourself and the audience a chance to absorb the moment.
It takes courage to put yourself out there. Oh yes, we all know about that one!! It’s scary to be the center of attention and wanting so much to feel the passion of the moment. But we do this because we are in love with this art form and feel something inside us that needs to be expressed.
Of course there’s technique, rhythm, rules and the head trips we give ourselves learning it all. But so much of dancing flamenco relies on letting go, letting your emotions explode. You have to allow yourself to be seen in a vulnerable spot and have the confidence to have your own back!
Other quick bits that I would add:
Simple over complicated! A clean, strong piece of footwork is much more effective than something you think is super cool because it’s really complicated. If you can’t do that complicated footwork strongly, confidently and in compás, it’s not worth it! Keep.it.simple.and.strong!!
Have some marcaje steps that are automatic in your repertoire. If you’re relying on choreography, there will always be moments where you just can’t do it. You forget. The singer sings the letra differently and it doesn’t match your choreography. The tempo is too fast or slow. You should be able to dance an entire letra with improvised marcaje. Many times that is the more meaningful dance because you’re truly listening and interpreting as opposed to just doing rote movement.
Understand the structure of the letra of the particular palo you are dancing. This will help you know where you are in the letra as well as allow you to improvise.
Understand the moveable parts of a dance. When you’re in tablao, the musicians are pretty much going to ask you what palo you’re dancing, how many letras you want and anything they should remember…. but hope they don’t have to!! The entire structure is just implied. Know it. Understand the parts and how they flow into each other!
Do you dance in tablao? What advice do you have?
There’s a lot of flamenco theory to learn besides just dance technique when going through your flamenco journey. I teach all of that inside my Online Flamenco Studio. But you can get the Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Flamenco Dancers and get a head start now!