Sevilla: 40 classes later

1 Oct

What I’d normally cover in a year I’ve covered in four weeks at Manuel Betanzos’ Flamenco Academy through daily classes with Manuel and Andres Peña. That is not to say I, or they, are satisfied with my progress, but I am moving in the right direction.

The 10am Solea por Buleria con aire de Fandango that Manuel is carefully constructing to a melody composed by our guitarist, Miguel Perez, is equal parts graceful, explosive and sexy. Three days a week we build on the choreography while Tuesdays and Thursdays the struggle to ‘dominate!’ our bodies continues through technique drills. Classes are not quite as crowded as the first week however there have been unexpected casualties, such as the day one woman’s long hair whipped across the cornea of a female classmate during a fast turn, temporarily blinding her in that eye.

We’re watched like hawks and though I am getting stronger – I can now balance on the balls of my feet whilst doing plies and arm movements for the duration of Barbra Striesand’s rendition of ‘Midnight’ from ‘Cats’ so that could be a good party trick! – my turns especially leave a lot to be desired. The ‘perfectly unified column’ of my legs in a hip turn that Manuel instructs us to perform is more like a rickety revolving ladder…..

My admiration for Manuel soared to new heights this week. I’d come to class in dance pants and top and Manuel decided to drill us in a buleria step requiring specific skirt movements with the arms. Without comment he left the room and came back with two long skirts and held them out to me to choose one to put on which I did. He then put the other on, a fetching long black, stretch lace number. For half the class he kept that skirt on and alternated between showing the women how to work the skirt (and doing it better than anyone in the room could) and demonstrating the male version of those moves.

Andres is less satisfied with our progress in the 7pm Bulerias de Jerez class. My class is his third hour of intensive teaching which could explain some of his exasperation.

The elusive goal is the same, to be able to dance to whatever section of whatever Buleria song Andres produces with the finishing step in precisely the right place whether he extends the phrasing, repeats it or shortens it. Only one or two people in a class of 30 are as yet capable of that feat. Failure is a nightly experience.

This week he upped the ante by introducing a combination of steps in contratiempo/syncopated rhythm. It’s not possible to count it in as he varies the phrasing at will. My mantra is ‘one day’ and I repeat it to myself as I take the short walk from the studio back to the change room every night.

Flamenco is a lifetime committment and I’m entirely satisfied to be taking baby steps right now under the tutelage of such eminent masters in this beautiful city. Where else in the world but Seville could you enjoy a performance by the electric Adela Campallo and then the next week have her as substitute teacher when Andres needed a night off?!

This month I’m sticking to my formula and adding two evening classes of Sevillanas each week with Carmen de la Rosa to help me twirl gracefully and in time during Feria!

Note: Class videos are banned and photos not encouraged so the photos here were taken at Casa de la Memoria de Andalucia and various peñas and tavernas in Seville this past month. The guitarist and singer pictured are Miguel Perez and Rosi Navarro.

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