Back to Seville and Learning to Dance Drunk

25 Sep

I was mistaken for a dancer. It happened while buying a ticket for a flamenco show. The woman behind me in line asked if I was a dancer. I was so shocked I couldn’t respond for a moment. When I did I conceded that yes, it was possible that I met the definition of a dancer since I took classes. She said she assumed I was a dancer because I was so graceful. Wow, I never considered strangers might see me like that. Funny how one chance comment like that can lift one’s spirits.

My second floor apartment this week in Seville was promoted for its ‘dreamy views of the Alcazar’ from the balcony. It also comes with mosquitoes, five lanes of traffic noise and flamenco minstrels serenading diners at the tapas bar and restaurant downstairs. I’m not complaining though, it has other benefits such as a washing machine, bath, good wifi and plenty of room to spread out – all luxuries after two weeks at sea. At lunch time I can take my fifteen minutes of Vitamin D therapy on the balcony in my bra and knickers safe in the knowledge that 99 out of a hundred people never look up.IMG_6986.JPGIMG_6952.JPG
Coincidentally the restaurant below is where I lunched with Vanessa P last time I was here. She introduced me to delicious Franciacorta sparkling wine from Lombardy. ¡Salud Vanessa!

For this, the last week of a five week sojourn, we’ve both gone to our happy place – separately. Stuart is in the Swiss and Italian Alps with friend Alastair riding rented motorcycles. He skyped me tonight to say they’d been over a mountain pass in 0.5 degrees centigrade and were having to share a double bed tonight. I think I have the better deal. I’m in Santa Cruz, Seville, overdosing on flamenco classes and shows. It’s La Bienal all this month and the city is heaving with tourists and flamencos. On every street corner one or more tourists stand looking bemusedly at a city map or begging directions off passers by. The good citizen award today goes to the driver of a street sweeper machine stopped at the lights helping a Japanese woman, although he was nearly eclipsed by a girl student with purple hair and a nose ring assisting an elderly French couple outside the university.

And I nearly wet myself laughing at the Korean group disgorged by their tour bus onto the banks of the Guadalquivir. They rushed down to take their group photo in front of the palm trees. One woman produced a long stick and attached it to her mobile phone so she could take full sized multiple selfies of her group!

I’m following a fairly demanding routine this week given I haven’t danced for six weeks. Each morning I take an hourlong bulerias class with Pilar Ogalla at Escuela Manuel Betanzos (substituting for her husband, Andres Peña who is performing at a festival in Calgary) and each afternoon two hours of bulerias class with Juan Paredes in La Macarena. Overall I walk at least two hours a day and think longingly of the bicycle I sold to Miguel Perez.

Again I have to thank Vanessa P who introduced me to Juan last time I was here. I’d had my fingers crossed since that I’d be able to fit into his class. Juan is an ebullient, dynamic teacher, a true ambassador for bulerias. I feel I have the best of both worlds, the feminine style of Pili with her wonderful singing, plus Juan’s almost manic energy and unerring compas. More on that later.



As for Seville, there are a few changes, one in particular is most welcome. This sign has appeared and it seems to be working! Not so much dog pooh dodging required as I pound the streets.

The council is working on repairing drainage in the old centre and rubbish bins have been upgraded with better separation of plastic, glass, cans, cardboard, and general waste. Oh, and Señor Moreno at Bar Vargas has a new pair of yellow pants! I alternate between his bar and Triana Market cafe for breakfast. One morning I coincided with Maestro Manolo Marin taking coffee at Bar Vargas. For the first time we chatted briefly completely in Spanish (he is trilingual) and I was able to ask if I might be allowed to pay for his coffee. He agreed. However, lest I get over confident there’s always someone ready to bring me back to earth. One of the market stall holders in particular is on a quest to improve my Spanish. He listens hard and corrects any faults when I make requests and won’t allow me to move on to the next purchase until I have perfected each one. I don’t mind, he throws free bunches of coriander and parsley into my basket.



My only disappointment has been that I assumed I’d be able to get tickets to most Bienal shows and almost all have sold out. I even ran to the 11:45pm Hotel Triana show straight off the plane the night I arrived expecting to pick up a ticket at the door but left disappointed. I consoled myself with beer and tapas at a table on the footpath of T de Triana watching the passing Saturday night parade.

Walking along Calle Betis towards the centre I passed a dishevelled, slightly drunk, pencil thin bride arguing with her new husband who was dressed in the Spanish version of morning suit. Her gorgeous, heavy silk ivory gown had been dragging down the street and was now filthy at the hem. As I passed I congratulated her but she could barely raise a smile in return. Oh dear…..

Flocks of garrulous teenaged female students wearing miniscule skirts or shorts with five inch high heels streamed towards a night club with four beefy, tattooed men on the door. Not sure which terrified me more. More heartwarming was the father and son duo roller blading on the tramway. The son must have been about ten years old and I could see by their smiles they were having a great night. In Australia that kid would have been in bed at least two hours already.

I promised more about my teachers. Pili uses a similar teaching method to Andres, i.e. starting with compas (clapping in bulerias rhythm) and marking with the feet, then breaking down a remate (closing step) combo that we then insert in the correct spot as she sings. We’ve learned a remate a day which we combine with a llamada and filling steps either correctly or incorrectly according to how she sings and how proficient we are. My strike rate so far is about 70%. I am happy with that.

Juan on the hand teaches a new ‘pataita’ (collection of small steps) each night. He creates it in the first hour class then repeats it in the second. About fifty per cent of students take both classes. This works well for me because if I don’t nail it in the first hour I have a chance in the second and every night is something totally different (good for my gold fish brain).

Everyone is encouraged to dance the pataita solo in the circle each class, as you would in a fin de fiesta. So far I have stepped up to the challenge each night. When my nerve started to fail me last night Juan leaned in and said, ‘Just listen to the bulerias compas, don’t think about the steps’. He is right. It doesn’t matter if you don’t replicate the steps exactly as long as you stay in time and place the emphasis where the remate rhythm demands it.

Tonight he created a cool little routine, describing it as something one would dance drunk at 5am. Except you could only do it successfully if you are most parts sober. I’ve seen Manuel Betanzos and Joaquin Grilo dance something like it before but to see Juan’s creative process with his myriad variations was brilliant. In bulerias it’s the element of surprise that brings joy to the spectators.

Tonight I had an insight that felt profound and explains why I am drawn to bulerias. You can’t fake it and that means you must take risks. I’ve watched many young, attractive dancers glued to their reflections in the mirror as they drill their intricate steps. Tonight I noticed another one. She danced her prepared choreography for herself and within herself. That can work for a Farucca or Seguiriya but it doesn’t work for bulerias. It leaves the viewer cold and unsatisfied. What it taught me is that from now on I will concern myself less with making movements look pretty or ‘right’ and more with relaxing into the music and trusting myself to know when to come in and where the accents need to be. And if I look drunk doing it so much the better!

And so to the return home on Saturday. Our timing is good, there are family health issues on the horizon and a house to sell. Wish us ¡Mucha mierda! we will need it.

I leave you with a few more glimpses of Seville, a city I never tire of.

The first time I have had Fatima’s hand protecting my door.













Museo del Baile Flamenco show by Juan Polvillo and Ursula Moreno (dance), Chieto singing and Antonio Andrade on guitar.

















I was the sixth person to join this new Andalucian cultural organisation, I hope it is a great success – it is so easy to do nothing, effort should be rewarded!







Stills from the Casa de la Memoria show by Marta Arias and Juan Carlos Cardoso dancing, Javier Rivera singing and Manuel de la Luz playing guitar.














6 Responses to “Back to Seville and Learning to Dance Drunk”

  1. George and Heather September 25, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

    Safe travelling home tomorrow to you both

  2. Barry O'Leary September 26, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

    Wow, that’s a lot of photos in Sevilla. Love your post. I’ve lived in Seville for about 9 years and I do get tired of it, but I can see why some people don’t. I know where you stayed too as I walk round the Jardines de Murillo most days with my lad in his pram. I’m making a list of useful blogs about Spain, can I include this? Thanks. Nice to see someone who speak so highly of Sevilla.

    • Sharon Tickle September 26, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

      ¡Por supuesto Barry! Maybe it’s because the longest time I have spent here at one stretch is three months and also because of the quality of the flamenco teaching. I feel privileged to be here. I look forward to reading your blog on my trip home to Australia. ¡Adios! st

  3. October 3, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    hello Sharon,

    very enjoyable blog post! i just got back from Sevilla myself, finally able to realize the dream of attending (some of) the Bienal. all the way from California for just one week is pretty tough.

    I also blew it by not getting ALL my tix in advance, and was thus unable to see “Y Sevilla…” at Teatro Lope de Vega. but at least saw Antonio Rey, the singer and also a wonderful El Pele show. If I ever make it again I’ll get those tix waaay in advance.

    lovely pictures. enjoy while you are still there.

    cheers, -ig

    • Sharon Tickle October 4, 2014 at 5:29 am #

      Good on you IG, you have demonstrated true dedication to flamenco! Am home in Australia now but happily I will be dancing Sevillanas tomorrow in class. Once you’ve memorised the steps Sevilla always stays with you ;-))


  1. Best Blogs about Spain and Expat Life: Hong Kong, House Mates from Hell and more… | A Novel Spain - September 27, 2014

    […] really enjoyed reading this post by Sharon about a trip to Sevilla where she learnt to dance drunk. Sharon took a load of great photos of Sevilla too, so it’s worth checking […]

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