Monday, 31 March 2014

The Flamenco Diaries Part One.

So way back at Christmas, my lovely boyfriend Rich got me a wonderful present.
There we are on Christmas Day, complete with a horrendous jumper
 I got for Rich as punishment for being a Scrooge!

He is the worlds most thoughtful gift giver - expert at remembering little things I've mentioned in passing and whipping them out on special occasions, much to my surprise!

As soon as I found out I would be in Seville on placement, I said I wanted to learn flamenco. That was on the 5th March 2013...Richard being Richard, on the 25th December, there in my lap was the confirmation letter of a weekend flamenco course. I was over the moon!!

Booked through, my course included 3.5 hours of technique and compás and palmas (the clapping rhythms that accompany the singer), 2 hours of choreography and entrance to a flamenco show in the evening on the second day.

Starting on friday at 6pm, I went straight from work to the school, Taller Flamenco. It was easy to find, located on Calle Peral one of the streets leading off the Alameda de Hércules (a buzzing hub of tapas bars and children shrieking in the spray of cooling water fans). As I approached, I could hear telling claps and chords being strummed from a flamenco guitar, but couldn't quite work out which building they were coming from as the sound bounced off the other houses in the narrow street. I soon got my answer...
As I was ridiculously early (over half an hour), the lovely receptionist invited me to join a flamenco party that had been in swing since 2pm. As she ushered me up the stairs, offered me a drink and sat me at the table, I realised that the music hadn't been coming from a classroom at all...
...but from the roof. As well as the locals, there were Americans, Russians, Japanese and Germans and, of course, me, the little Brit in the corner, all basking in the sunshine on the terrace. Everyone had nothing but praise for the school and its staff so I was excited to get started.

At five to 6, I wandered back to the office, was presented with my welcome pack (a discount card, a map and a flamenco event/shopping guide) and told to head for Carmen's classroom. With mirrors on two sides, there was nowhere to hide - thankfully as a beginners class they were expecting nothing at all!!

The five of us made a lovely group (two Canadians and three Brits). Carmen was a wonderful teacher, guiding us through our first tentative steps and stamps! There were certainly no photos to document the event - we were all to busy absorbing all the information, brows furrowed in concentration. It was hard to believe that those 'basic' rhythms we were taught make up the fast and furious combinations you see the professionals use -  at 100mph, its hard to distinguish left foot from right, let alone distinguish the actual movements their making.

My only worry about the courses of Go Learn To was that they are clearly intended for tourists. I was worried that we would get a tourist friendly experience (as in 'Well done, you're doing great' when in fact you look like walrus having a fit) rather than an authentic experience where you actually learn something, are corrected on your mistakes and helped to improve.

I needn't have worried about that, I can tell you! Carmen was a hard taskmaster and had us doing thing within the first hour that we never imagined we'd achieve in the whole course! We exchanged pained faces when her back was turned, convinced we'd screw up the latest combination she'd given us, but were usually pleasantly surprised (and if not, we laughed it off!).

After an hour and half of stamping (the poor neighbours), we headed upstairs to our class of compás and palmas. Who knew clapping could be so darn complex?! I mean look at this white board:
 There is our teacher, poised and ready to wipe off the board for a second round of scribblings.

He explained not only the bases and accents of the rhythms but how they combine with the other accompanists (the singers and the guitarists), the hierarchy of accompanists, which rhythms belong to which music style, which rhythm would accompany each stage of the dance...I was almost dizzy!

At some points in the lesson, there was nothing left to do but laugh, as our claps sounded more like a messy round of applause than the rhythm we were trying to follow. I know as a teacher its often laugh or cry...he chose the former and laughed along with us! As our clearly not very musical ears tuned in to the subtleties of the music and our hands turned an alarming shade of red, he was overjoyed when we finally clapped out something coherent in unison!

I will never look at clapping the same way again.

Feeling accomplished, at the end of day one, us Brits rewarded our efforts with a sharing plate of tapas and a well deserved glass of wine...

...anticipating what Saturday would bring.

P.S. Look out for part two, with Saturday's exploits and the flamenco show, coming soon!


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