First Timer’s Guide to Festival De Jerez, Spain

19 Jun

A group of enthusiastic flamencas from Brisbane, Australia, are planning to travel to the 2015 flamenco festival in Jerez, Spain, February 20 – March 7. For some of us this will be festival numero uno so lots of questions are flying back and forth on social media. This is my attempt, based on attending six Festivals, to answer some of those questions. If you’re an experienced festival-goer and have more to add please help by commenting below.

Festival Registrations for Flamenco Dance Classes plus Teatro Villamarta Show:

00:01hrs September 1 (Spanish time) online workshop registrations open on the official Festival website. http://www.jerez.es/index.php?id=festival-jerez

The workshop and show program will have been published (probably in July) on the website so you have time to work out which workshop(s) you want to try for. Previous attendees are emailed the program.

Workshop bookings, plus every Villamarta (main theatre) show ticket, are sold as weekly packages. You have to pay in full by credit card to secure a place in the workshop you want.

Your digital head shot will have to be emailed to Festival admin later to put on your registration card. You must take the card with you to every session to be checked by Festival staff when you sign the attendance roll. It is also your entry ticket to the Villamarta shows. You will have the same seat in the Villamarta the whole week. Your seat will change if you are there for two weeks.

It’s first in best dressed for online registration. Popular teachers’ workshops sell out in minutes so try to choose at least three you like in case you don’t get your first or second choice. Sometimes a high demand professor will add an extra workshop but you can’t rely on that.

In 2015 the opening Villamarta show will be 9pm Friday February 20 and the first of the seven classes in Week One one will be on Saturday February 21. The closing show is in the Villamarta 9pm Saturday March 7.

You can register for up to three dance classes a day each week but the consensus is that if this is your first Festival and you are not at professional level it’s best to take just one dance class a day. There are several proficiency levels, inicio for beginners, basico for those with at least a couple of years experience, medio for those with several years experience and avanzado/professional level. Choose carefully as it’s often not possible to change if you find you picked the wrong level or don’t like the teacher.

My personal favourites (and this is just a matter of taste) are Olga Pericet, Leonor Leal, Mercedes Ruiz, Manuel Liñan, Alicia Marquez, Andres Peña, Angel Muñoz and Manuel Betanzos.

A good combo is to take one dance class and one palmas class a day (if the times suit you) as the palmas/compas will aid your dance knowledge and confidence but not tire your body. Festival dance workshops are high energy, high intensity in my experience and professors expect you to deliver 100% effort and concentration.

If you only have one week at the Festival and have a particular professor you particularly want to study with, and you know they teach every year at the Festival, it’s worth writing to the professor directly to ask which week and what level(s), and possibly which palo they will be teaching to plan your travel accordingly (understanding that you can’t be guaranteed to get the professor you want).

You should try to arrive by midday Friday (whether you are there for one or two weeks) in time to collect your registration card and info pack from the Festival office above the Villamarta Theatre as you need it for the Friday night show.

Class Etiquette:

Maximum class enrolment is 25. Students tend to stick to the same spot in the studio from the first day. There will be people who are determined to claim the front row and defend it at all costs. It is up to the professor whether they rotate the lines, many do not, so wherever you start on day one that could be it for the week. Whether you like to be upfront or at the back try to stand on the right hand side as that is where the musicians will sit. It is much easier to pick up musical cues if you can see and hear them clearly.

Try to arrive at least 15 minutes before class to have time to warm up joints and muscles and stretch as not all professors will do that. You might have to launch into quite complex choreography without preparation with dire consequences.

Even though it is winter, 26 active bodies in an enclosed room can turn it into a sauna. Thin layers work best. There are rarely showers in Jerez dance studios, bring baby wipes and deoderant to freshen up between classes/practice sessions.

Chewing gum is banned in class. Tie long hair back and don’t wear jewelry, both can be dangerous.

Usually no videos are allowed during class until the final session when half the class will video the other half dancing the choreography (so everyone can have a video of themselves). It is rare for the teacher to allow themselves to be filmed dancing. Angel Muñoz is the only professor I know who allows this.

In the final class the professor presents each student with a signed certificate of attendance and you can have your photo taken with them as well as a class group photo.

Bata de Cola Practice Skirt Rental:

Festival organisers rent practice bata de cola skirts for a very reasonable price to workshop participants but have limited numbers and sizes of skirts so get in early to book yours if you need one. Much better to rent theirs than carry your own in your luggage, especially if it is your first bata experience as you will wreck your own. Imagine 25 students in long tail skirts in a smallish studio!

Shows:

There are six Teatro Villamarta shows each week, Wednesday night there is no Villamarta show. In addition to Villamarta the Festival program includes a 5pm, a 7pm and sometimes a midnight show (bookable at the ticket office of the Villamarta Theatre) most nights plus a free entry Peña program at peñas around town. As the peñas are very popular (and free) you need to go early and queue if you want a seat or be prepared to stand in a crush.

All Festival show venues and workshop studios are within walking distance but they can be up to half an hour apart. A couple of peñas are on the outskirts, a taxi ride away. The cobbled streets of central Jerez are hard on feet so bring really comfy low-heeled boots or walking shoes.

In addition there is an Off Festival program of classes and shows by local artists, many of them excellent.

The challenge is pacing yourself when there is so much good flamenco on offer! I try to arrive in Europe at least a week before the Festival to recover from jet lag. Ideally you would take some classes in Seville (Escuela Manuel. Betanzos, A Dos, Alicia Marquez and others) or Granada (Escuela Carmen de las Cuevas) the week before. These schools accept weekly enrolments so you can slot into an ongoing choreography class or technique class to prepare body and mind. Try to register in advance.

If you plan to go to lots of late night events in Jerez don’t choose a 10am workshop, you won’t make it through the week in one piece.

Practice Studios:

As you probably already know it’s not enough to go from one day’s workshop session to the next, you need to record the audio of the workshop daily and practice in between times, ideally with a classmate. Every workshop has a singer and guitarist (it is up to the professor how much they use them) and you can audio record the musicians daily as you build the choreography.

You generally can’t use the studio you take class in to practice as they don’t open until 15 minutes before the first session and you have to leave to make way for following sessions. Most hotels and apartments don’t allow you to practice in flamenco shoes so please do your neighbours a favour and rent a practice studio for an hour or so a day. There is a good value studio in Calle Franco.

Weather:

Jerez is typically cool to cold and often raining during the Festival. Umbrella and warm coat essential. Some years Andalusia has been flooded at that time. Bring enough dance clothes to last a few days at a stretch as most apartments don’t have dryers and you can’t rely on sunshine to dry clothes.

Shoes and Flamenco Clothes:

If you’re taking two dance classes a day you need two pairs of shoes as they will be soaked after one session causing you to be more prone to blisters. There are several places to buy flamenco shoes in Jerez. My favourite is Tamara. Flamenco clothes shops have practice skirts etc.. Most shut at lunchtime. You must take a practice skirt to class whether the teacher uses it every day or not as the one day they want you to use a skirt and you don’t have it you are in strife!

Hydration:

Locals drink Jerez water out of the tap but as you probably won’t have time to acclimate your stomach don’t risk drinking straight from the tap. Bottled water is provided in the workshops but don’t rely on it as I have seen it run out. Bring your own water bottle as back up, boiled tap water is fine.

Nutrition:

Jerez is justifiably famous for it sherry, cheese, olives and jamon but a body can only thrive for so long on that diet. Stock up on healthy snacks (nuts, dates, rice cakes) at the supermarket (open six days a week) and fruit and veg at the market. People often go down with colds and flu at Jerez and miss class because they don’t look after their nutrition.

Safety:

I have never felt threatened in Jerez (or in Seville during the three months I lived there) or had any incidents occur but I employ the same street smarts I use wherever I travel. I never take all my valuables/credit cards out with me or leave them unsecured in my hotel/apartment. I wear my handbag across my chest, not just over the shoulder. I do walk alone late at night but when walking I always pick well lit busier streets, walk briskly with purpose and shadow a couple or another person so I’m not isolated on the street.

Spanish:

The Festival is a huge international event, you classmates will come from 15 different countries, but the common language is Spanish. Your professor will most likely only use Spanish to teach (some have a little English and Japanese). Make friends with a classmate who has good Spanish so you can ask for a translation when necessary. In addition the people of Jerez have little English. Between now and the Festival work on conversational Spanish, you will be very glad you did!

Money:

There are plenty of ATMs that accept foreign cards to get cash. Banks are open Monday to Friday but not all change foreign money and the process takes time you probably don’t want to spend. Most restaurants take credit cards.

Relaxation:

The Hammam Andalusi near the Cathedral is the perfect place to destress. Book a session in the baths with a massage to renew body and soul.

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One Response to “First Timer’s Guide to Festival De Jerez, Spain”

  1. DM August 8, 2015 at 1:04 pm #

    Thank you! Next year will be my first Jerez Festival and your feedback is just what I’ve been searching for.

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