Sevilla: Academia de Flamenco Manuel Betanzos – Tripping a light Fandango

13 Sep

Flamenco academies in Seville are old school. All class registrations are done in person and lessons paid in cash a calendar month in advance. No problem so far except that the morning nivel bajo (lowest level of the ‘professional’ stream) Fandangos choreography class with Manuel Betanzos was full already. I could only take his Tuesday and Thursday morning technique classes until enrolments dropped (people come and go all the time). 33 people in class seems standard.

I was able to register for Andres Peña’s evening bajo Bulerias so I was happy with that. It’s an easier transition for my body anyway as I am finding the adjustment to my new life tiring, especially walking at least three hours a day in the heat between San Vicente and Triana to get to class and sort out everything I need while shops/offices are open.

I adore both teachers. They bring total commitment to their classes and expect the same in return but there is always a point in the class when they they smile and crack a joke.

Manuel’s technique has focussed on balance and strengthening the torso, hips and thighs so that the body is a perfectly extended, poised steel column. The arms, head and legs move freely with the ribs are ‘closed’, the pelvis tucked under and the shoulders are down.

Woe betide you if your hips, knees and feet are not turned out at 45 degrees whenever the legs are apart. Manuel delights in prowling along the lines and whacking knees and thighs with his open hand to check all muscles are fully contracted. If they should wobble he shouts ‘Rodillas! (Knees!). Classes are conducted in Spanish although the lingua franca of the internationals is English.

Manuel is an almost permanent presence in the Academy and frequently watches Andres’ classes, sometimes accompanied by his huge Alsation dog that takes up the entire width of the corridor.

Andres on the other hand has focussed on getting us to listen to the 12-beat Bulerias compas (rythm) to recognise exactly where we need to execute the five elements he has taught us: the entrada (entry), two different remate (finishing steps to each letra or section of the lyrics), a llamada (literally a ‘call’ which is the common three stamp step) and a marking step that spaces the remate and llamada.

The beautiful thing is that Andres sings the Bulerias song the entire time and is able to vary how he sings the letra as a cantador/singer would by extending or shortening it. He has a wonderful voice, full of emotion. We test ourselves to see if we can nail the timing and the steps rather than learn by rote a set piece of choreography to perform. This is exactly what we need if we are ever to be able confidently take part in Bulerias in a social setting.

I discovered Andres speaks Japanese quite well so if I don’t completely understand something I ask him in Japanese!

An amusing incident occurred mid-week as we were discussing how the dance would would unfold with the different sections of the song. Our guitarist queried with Andres whether it was the singer or the dancer that decided how the song would proceed with Andres saying it was up to the singer to determine it while the guitarist maintained it was often the dancer. The debate went on for quite some time and became quite heated but I believe the conclusion favoured Andres’ view, i.e. most of the time the dancer follows the singer while on occasion the dancer will take the lead and set the pace. The guitarist did not show up the next night and I wondered if Andres might have sacked him. Happily he reappeared with his guitar the following night.

As much fun as the classes are it is equally pure pleasure to take a quick ‘French shower’ (baby wipes and a spray of cologne) and change after the evening class then walk the two blocks to sit on the concrete wall bench of Calle Betis on the riverside and drink that first cold Cruzcampo beer watching the sun set over Isabel II bridge.

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2 Responses to “Sevilla: Academia de Flamenco Manuel Betanzos – Tripping a light Fandango”

  1. Jacinthe January 29, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Hi Sharon, Makes me want to go back to Sevilla! I am thinking of taking a workshop with Manuel Betanzos in Toronto in March. Do you think it is worth it even if it is just one week? Jacinthe

    • Sharon Tickle January 30, 2013 at 2:19 am #

      Absolutely worth it Jacinthe, especially if you can take the first week of term which starts March 4. Andres Pena is teaching mornings and his choreography is always amazing. I will take first two weeks. Un abrazo, Sxx

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