Seville and Jerez de la Frontera: More blood, sweat and tears

9 Sep

I have a window seat on the train from Seville to Jerez and a glorious hour of solitude to compose my thoughts during the journey. Am I a bad wife that I’m relishing the prospect of a week on my own?

Stuart travelled back early this morning to the UK to see family before our return to Australia in a fortnight. I have one more week of classes with Manuel Betanzos and several more La Bienal shows to see. Truly living the dream.

This weekend is my chance for an overnight trip to Jerez staying in Hotel Casa Grande. I’ll catch up with Monika and Lola and see the annual all night Fiesta de la Buleria in the bull ring. One of my top ten living female dancers, Mercedes Ruiz, will perform. Several flamenco friends are also in Jerez so I expect an intense 24 hours of flamenco immersion.

Last Monday September 3 was exactly one year to the day since I first walked down Calle Rodrigo, Triana, and turned into Manuel Betanzos’ incense scented studio to begin three months training and six months since I’d been in a regular flamenco class. I’ve taken the brave step this time (for me) of registering for both Manuel’s basic and intermediate professional morning classes back to back followed by an hour of studio time in one of his practice rooms. I use the extra hour to fiddle about with the tricky bits, walk through both dances to consolidate and wind down with yoga. Without yoga my body would never survive the stress.

My practice room is the original studio of Manolo Marin and I adore the wood floor with its worn grain and patched boards. And who should I bump into on my way back down Calle Rodrigo that first day? You guessed it, Manolo himself! He responded to my ‘Hola Maestro’ with a nod and smile. He looks well and not a day older.

The combination of newish shoes (you may recall the expletive robbers in Grenoble made off with my two pairs of flamenco shoes) and two solid hours of dancing succeeded in removing skin the size of a one euro coin on my big toe. I was in pain with a bloody stocking when I took my shoe off. With no time to heal I’ve become adept at taping my toe to minimise further damage and bleeding.

Our basico class is Bulerias de Cadiz choreography, the last section of an Alegrias I would not have the opportunity to complete. Still, Bulerias moves are never wasted and Manuel’s ‘pataitas antigua’ are funky and fun. As he reminds us each day, the Cadiz style is light, joky and unpredictable.

This is one of the basic paradoxes of Flamenco, and many dance disciplines, i.e. to be able to dance in the required relaxed and playful manner one must have the strength and control of a ninja. At one point Manuel shouted ‘stop’ mid-move and made us hold the posture with one leg bent and elevated behind. He pounced on me grabbing my hip while simultaneously poking me in the belly to check my hip was correctly tucked under and my abdominal muscles contracted. They weren’t….

Each class I seem to sweat more than the last and certainly much more than anyone else, including Manuel. I’ve taken to changing shirts between classes to try soak it up but always end up dancing with a towel round my neck and a river running down my face.

I persevered and mid-week a small miracle happened. We ran through the choreography almost at speed with Miguel Perez accompanying us on guitar. When we stopped gasping Manuel looked at me and quietly said, ‘Muy bien Sharon’. A compliment AND he remembered and used my name. I don’t expect or need praise to motivate me but oh, how sweet it is when it happens.

Unfortunately the medio class Rondeña choreography is understandably much tougher and I get many exasperated looks from Manuel, especially during my zapateado (footwork). There are contratiempo patterns I’ve never seen before that I struggle to deconstruct. Since no quarter is given for slow learners I have to keep smiling and struggle on. The Rondeña (from the town of Ronda) is a fiery, sexy, relaxed style. I love the feel of many of the moves and the choreography flows beautifully which makes it easier to remember. What scares me is the falsetta (guitar solo) before the singer begins. There’s an awful lot of time to fill emoting expressively to the music… Best not to worry about that until we get to it.

There aren’t many familiar faces in either class but I’m here for the dance and I can catch up with friends outside of class. The venues for La Bienal range from the street to the grand opera theatre. My favourite is the Real Alcazar. The stage has been erected in the courtyard in front of exquisite Moorish carved and arched walls. When Arcangel’s voice pierced the night sky and I looked up to see his handsome face and shining dark hair picked out by a spotlight high up on a balcony I didn’t even try to stop the tears. It was haunting and heartbreaking. Eso es flamenco.

On my way back from tea in the plaza I happened on a gypsy wedding. The bride was happy to be photographed by a complete stranger. I wish them well!

The photo of Patricia Guerrero and Arcangel is by Juan Carlos Munoz.


















2 Responses to “Seville and Jerez de la Frontera: More blood, sweat and tears”

  1. Suzanne September 9, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    Oh Sharon! What an amazing experience. I hope you will be able to teach us some of the flamenco you have learned. Your skill level must have grown incredibly. Enjoy your last few weeks away and I know we’re all looking forward to seeing you when you’re back in Aus.

    • Sharon Tickle September 9, 2012 at 8:07 am #

      Hola Suzanne,

      Sadly I don’t retain the choreography in totality because I don’t practice when we are travelling but I don’t believe my time is wasted because the body remembers bits the next time I see a similar step. Plus for me it is about the feeling when dancing. As Angel Muñoz says, you may forget the steps but you won’t forget the feeling. You know it is a kind of drug!

      Hasta pronto,


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