The Honest Truth About Flamenco

26 Nov

I’m counting down my last five dancing days in Seville and reflecting on my experiences of this magical art form. For the past three months my mental and physical energy has been focussed on studying Flamenco: formally in twice daily classes, training alone in my rented studio, watching live performances, on the web and informally in the street. In case you are wondering, there is no grand plan. I have no ambitions beyond learning and improving as much as is possible for me and enjoying every second.

So what have I learned? These are six things I know to be true about Flamenco for me.

One: The most obvious and sobering fact is I now have an appreciation of how much I don’t know and cannot do. I’m reminded of my experiences doing my MBA. The main objective of that exercise was to uncover how much of business management was bullshit and how much was science. (Answer: 60 per cent is bullshit). With Flamenco there is zero bullshit. Yes, there is stagecraft aplenty but no bullshit. I’ve witnessed the creative process and also know the endless hours of drilling professionals put in to perfect their work because I am in the studio next door and I clean their sweat from the mirrors!

Two: Understanding and entering the Flamenco world is really quite simple. Get born into a Flamenco family or create one for yourself with simpatico people you can learn from. The earlier you can do this the better. This requires command of the Spanish language. Flamenco has universal appeal but limited language is a handicap. Any other way is a world of pain and frustration. One step forward and two steps back….¡Y en compas por favor!

Three: Proficiency at this early stage is a mirage. My biggest laugh comes when one of my dear friends or family members asks me, ‘Are you proficient yet?’ I imagine it is the same with many endeavours. You set your goal posts but they keep shifting and that elusive mastery seems forever just beyond your grasp. What motivates me are fleeting feelings of pure, strong emotion – duende – that shoot through my body when the song soars and the movement flows naturally. A few times in class when we’ve had all three musicians I’ve been so overcome the tears blur my vision and I struggle to keep dancing.

Four: The most gifted performers and best teachers are the most humble. I thought it might have been a feature of my beautiful teachers in Australia (Simone Pope, Sebastian Sanchez, Nat Slect, Tomas Arroyo and Roshanne Wijayaratne) but it is also true here in Spain. I cite the brilliant Angel Muñoz, Andres Peña, Manuel Liñan, Francesca Grima ‘La Chica’, Manolo Marin, Adela Campallo, Manuel Betanzos and Juan Ogalla as evidence. Just one example: At my first regular Bulerias class after seeing Andres Peña perform he acknowledged I had been in the audience (well he could not miss me I was so close he was sweating on me) and asked me sincerely if I liked his performance. Like? I was still speechless in total shock and awe 48 hours later!

Five: No matter how painful, frustrating, or just goddamn difficult this experience has been for me, as well as challenging for my nearest and dearest left behind in Australia, I remain totally grateful for this opportunity to live a dream and sincerely thank everyone who has helped me along the way, especially my compañeros in class. Truthfully Flamenco is a lifetime apprenticeship, and at age 55 I only have a couple more decades to dedicate to it, but I’ll gladly give it my blood, sweat and tears as long as I can pull my shoes on and stand upright!

Six: Everything begins and ends with the beat of the music even when there is no music. Swallow a metronome….. Un DOS un dos TRES cuatro cinco SEIS siete OCHO nueve DIEZ un DOS un dos TRES….

The photos below feature, in order: Before class at the Manuel Betanzos Flamenco Academy, The author in class at the Manuel Betanzos Flamenco Academy, Manuel Betanzos teaching, with Manuel Liñan, with Andres Peña, with Manolo Marin and with Juan Ogalla.

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One Response to “The Honest Truth About Flamenco”

  1. Simone Pope January 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    Beautiful post Sharon!! (still catching up on emails!!) Love the photos, and your sentiment, and your words sum it all up pretty damn succintly!. Thank you for sharing it all. I look forward to hearing about it over a big fat glass of wine sometime…..Sim xxxx

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