The wonderful Manuel Liñán

My daughter asked me ‘why are you coming to London to do flamenco classes when you can do them every day in Jerez?’ That’s true I can, but the one thing about the teachers in Jerez is that a lot of them aren’t here very much. When I arrived last year, one of my favourite teachers, Mercedes Ruiz was in St Petersburg, Russia. Andres Peña and his wife Pilar Ogalla are dancing at the Flamenco festival in Nimes in France at the moment and my teacher Maria del Mar Moreno goes to Bordeaux, Paris and Milan to teach whilst the school Flamenco Puro in Jerez is in the hands of her sister in law, Irène Olivares (who is, by the way an excellent teacher).

So you have to catch the top dancers and teachers as they flit past you! SInce I am invariably in the UK for Christmas it seemed crazy not to stay on and go to the Escuela de Baile Christmas course when Manuel Liñán was the top guest teacher. I attend the Centro de Baile here in Jerez run by Vicki Ramos who is Nuría’s sister – the founder of the Escuela in London. I attended Nuria’s classes on and off for years and although I didn’t actually start flamenco with her I did carry on just after I started learning flamenco because I was working in London during the week. I have attended most Christmas, Easter and Summer courses since 2000.

Now Manuel Liñán is very special. Watching him in his show Reversible last year at the Jerez Flamenco Festival was a revelation and indeed his show won the critic’s award at the 2016 Flamenco Festival here in Jerez and deservedly so. He dances in a bata de cola and mantón like no one else and his choreography is totally amazing. So I count myself really really fortunate to spend a week doing class with him. I spent a week with him last summer whilst he was teaching here and loved being back in class with Manuel. His Tientos in the advanced class was hard, but his tangos was terrific fun and full of the tricks he uses to catch an audience’s attention. I will be back for more, I hope.

Midnight Marmalade

Why is it I always seem to end up making my marmalade or jam at about midnight just before I am due to get up early to travel somewhere? I set off for Madrid early yesterday morning and the night before I had parked my car below some heavily laden naranjos amargas – bitter oranges to you and me. My apartment is surrounded by them and many of the songs I sing refer to the oleando de naranjos – the smell of oranges, which you catch as you pass by. Most of the trees have fruit that is quite high up. As I said in a blog last year, my mother was a wonderful marmalade maker, as is my ‘bestie’ Heather. I have inherited this and most years if I have had facilities have made many kilos of bitter orange marmalade. This year I was determined to take some home for my family and for once the fruit on these trees was low and easy to reach and the street not quite so public! The fruit is in fact harvested by the ayuntamiento and sent to Great Britain – I believe to the Kiellers factory in Dundee. So they must gain a fair income from the fruit so yes I am stealing if I take some. Confession time. At least I wasn’t using a step ladder as one of my friends suggested!

So I picked about a kilo of oranges and then went to sing in the choir concert. So at about 11pm I ended up making a batch of marmalade. I have never used an induction hob to make jam and my jam pan is a copper pan, so I suspect would blow it up. So I had to make it in a pretty small IKEA stainless steel saucepan and since it was spattering over the side I divided it up into another smaller pan. So there I am stirring the jam at midnight forgetitng that marmalade needs several hours to boil. Oh dear. This time I used fructose which had been left over in the shop Aderezarte so experimental all round!

I have to keep calm to make jam and marmalade and control the rising panic of whether it will reach set point before I’m too tired to continue and have to go to bed. The colour of these oranges was very pale this time and the colour a lovely pale yellow. I love the smell of cooking marmalade which I reckon keeps me going in these midnight forays. I made the fig jam, the apricot jam and now this in these frantic midnight manufacturing sessions.

What happened? Well I had to leave it at 1am and put in the fructose to dissolve before I went to bed. I reckon the bag with the pips must have come open because I couldn’t believe the amount of pips I had to skim off. The kitchen looked frightful – I don’t like to have an untidy kitchen although I invariably do. I haven’t worked in this kitchen before either so it was all a learning process.

So I decided to get up at 6am to continue boiling the marmalade. it was a big mistake not to finish stirring and dissolving the fructose. It had sort of settled and solidified at the bottom of the pan which probably extended my work. I keep thinking it’s all learning and like Edison discovering the light bulb I had just found another way not to make marmalade. However it reached jam set point in about 45 minutes and I managed to bottle the marmalade and get off to catch my train to Madrid. We shall see whether the jam has set to the right consistency when I get back in the New Year. It tasted good, that I do know!

Written later – I came back from my trip to the UK at Christmas to find perfect marmalade. A wonderful colour and consistency. Could I reproduce this? No… so I have to experiment yet again!

The House in Calle Merced

My flamenco teacher, Luis Vargas, lives in an old house in an iconic street called Calle Merced, in Barrio Santiago, which is one of the flamenco quarters of Jerez de la Frontera. He was born just along the road in a building that used to be a maternity hospital and is now a school. He went to school with many of the flamenco great names and he himself comes from an illustrious line of flamenco gypsies.

I asked how old the house is and he replied probably several hundred years old and I suspect that it might even be more. The house is complicated and they have to enter through a part of the building that is owned by someone else. He said that it is a house of ‘vecinos’ and that all the buildings would have surrounded a lovely Andalucian patio. This part of the building abutting his has been let to fall apart, but Luis is proud that he has inherited this house and has papers which show his ownership. When he is not singing he has spent a lot of time renovating and maintaining his part of the property.

However the back of the property is another story all together. It is like a war zone, with walls falling down and a waste ground at the back. To one side of his house there are props since the other side has also been neglected. So what is the story?

Apparently a developer has gradually paid off all the vecinos in neighbouring properties and deliberately let them fall down so that he can build an apartment block at the back. However there is no access – the only access would be through the space that would be Luis’ house. So he has tried a few very nefarious ways to get Luis’ family to leave. The latest is that he has said to the Ayuntamiento that Luis’ house is a ruin. I don’t know what the definition in Spanish law is of a ruin. I suspect that it would probably apply to about 75% of houses in the historic districts of Jerez. The Spanish don’t seem to value old properties and besides many people just don’t have the finances to do what needs to be done to bring them up to standard. The houses that I have seen being renovated are being done by mainly Scandanavians in Jerez, and several by Scandanavian architects.

What this order means is that the family will be evicted and the property worth nothing. In order to fight this order they have consulted a lawyer and they say it will cost them 800 euros to do something about it. I can tell you that is a lot of money to a flamenco singer (and to a lot of people including me).

Now the house next door but one is about to be renovated and they are proposing to separate the roof of the house in the middle which effectively probably means that Luis’ house will fall down. My brother in law is a surveyor and although we can probably prove the house is not a ruin he can’t do anything about this since it depends upon Spanish law. I feel so angry and helpless.

After studying economic geography at University I very nearly trained as a Planning Officer in the UK and when I hear people complain about our UK planning regulations.  I want to give this case study to show the regulations also protect us. In the UK, this developer and the people in the house adjoining what we call a ‘flying freehold’ would not be able to try to do what they want to do without making sure another person’s property is not damaged and ensuring that costs are shared. Besides which the frontage of the street is ‘preciosa’ and as I said ‘iconic’. In British planning law it would be protected and no one allowed to damage the beautiful line of houses fronting this street.

The latest part of this story is that Luis and his wife have been told that they need to replace the roof and that will cost 15,000 euros.  So the story gets worse. How come they can’t sue this neighbour to make him at least share the costs of the roof?

So what do I do next to help Luis fight his campaign to retain his rightful legal ownership of this typical Spanish family dwelling? How do I prevent his family from being thrown out on the street? How do I learn enough about Spanish property law to be able to help? My Spanish isn’t good enough to be able to work in the technical language required, besides which when I get angry and emotional my Spanish just deserts me. It’s not surprising since all the cortical connections required to work in not my native language shut down when flooded with cortisol and adrenalin.

Meanwhile I have moved to an apartment quite close by.  I joined in a demonstration recently that started in Plaza Mercado nearby and walked round the old town to bring attention to the precarious state of many of the houses in Barrio San Mateo and Barrio Santiago. I walk home past at least half a dozen really beautiful houses that are in sore need of renovation. How I would love to be able to instigate a programme of restoration and how I would love to renovate one of these houses myself and how I would love to be able to help Luis save his precious home.  I have to find a way though I am not going to let this happen.

Crowd funding anyone?

Loleando

I have several blogs that I haven’t yet written over the summer and I’m skipping a couple of months to write about this show I went to at the Teatro Villamarta. Why? I’m not sure – mainly because it is fresh in my mind and secondly because it was an extraordinary show.

So what was it? In summary a hommage to Lola Flores who was a great flamenca and born and lived a very short distance from where I lived previously in the Barrio de San Miguel. In fact walking home I passed her former house in Calle Sol and most days I walk past her statue in Cruz Viejo. So she is ever present.

The show was directed by and starred Macarena de Jerez, and what really struck me was how she really looked like the photographs of Lola Flores that I have seen in the Peña La Buleria of which I am a member and whose figure is part of the peña’s logo.

The next thing is how she seemed to be so like how I imagine Lola Flores to be. I don’t think I was the only one thinking that. I was surrounded by women in their late 60’s and 70’s all of whom I felt had known Lola Flores personally. Maybe I’m imagining this, but I felt it.

So who was Lola Flores? She was born in 1923 and died in 1995 from breast cancer at the age of 72. She would be 92 now if she was alive so you can see why many of the audience must have known her whilst growing up. She was an actress, singer and film star and performed internationally. She was known for her singing of coplas (rhyming couplets which are really poetry) and particularly for a rumba called ‘El Pescailla’ which was popular in the musical pop world of the 70’s and 80’s. Also for dancing bare feet and using her hands in a very characteristic flamenco fashion – really circling her hands in time to the music (a compás). This Macarena did brilliantly. She also danced up the aisle of the theatre which the audience loved.

I didn’t know her like many since I am relatively new to the Lola Flores phenomenon, but I felt as though her spirit had been revived. So it was like having an enormously famous international singer and actress down the road. To me she is like a local Marilyn Monroe and from the same era.

Missa Flamenca – the opening of Iglesia Santiago

For years the Iglesia Santiago has been surrounded by metal hoardings and scaffolding. Apparently it has been like that for many years. I’ve been visiting for 9 years and certainly as long as that and maybe more. Over the last year there has been greater visible activity. My singing teacher who lives about 10 houses along in Calle Merced says that the church was falling into the ground and they had to pour a lot of concrete below it to shore it up and prevent it from crumbling and falling down.

This summer the work was finished and the church re-opened. For me it is special since it obviously marks the Camino Santiago from Cádiz to Santiago de Compostella. The start of the Via de Plata is technically in Seville and the Via Augusta goes from Cádiz to Seville. I have planning to do this 1200km walk now for a while although I am not sure when.

So I would not miss this opening for all the world and managed to get a seat outside in front of one of the big screens. This session was a Missa Flamenca – a very special occasion which doesn’t happen very often.  Sorry no photographs at the moment – they will be loaded later.

A Huge Surprise

On Tuesday (this was sometime back in July!) I had decided to make a risotto but had run out of arborio rice. So I go down into the town to get some. It’s not far and I can call in at the organic shop, Panacea by the Teatro Villamarta and Tabanco el Pasaje.

So I get there and no arborio rice, so I thought I would call in at a shop called Aderezarte in Plaza Angustias half way between home at the Plazuela and Panacea. It’s one of my favourite shops and I nearly called in there on the way to Panacea. I walk in and the place feels a bit disorganised or disordered – it just didn’t feel right. After many years working in supermarkets and having been trained as a graduate trainee with Marks and Spencer I sense these things as soon as I walk into a shop. So I ask the lady (who I now know is called Conchi) what is happening and why are they selling things at a discount.

Well I was pretty shocked when she said that they were going to have to close the shop and they needed to sell all the stock.

‘Why are you having to close the shop?’ I ask. She sadly explained that her husband has started to show signs of dementia and she needs to be with him. The care system in Spain relies totally on family in these scenarios. They are only just beginning to have specialist dementia care.

‘So what about Raquel?’ I ask. Raquel I find out is Conchi’s niece and her co-owner. Conchi explained that Raquel would love to keep the shop on, but doesn’t want to do it on her own. So then I find myself asking (this was a case of my mouth speaking before my conscious mind had caught up. I still don’t know where the question came from – it didn’t seem as though it were me).

‘And if she had a business partner do you think she would carry on?’

‘Oh yes’, Conchi replied. So I said, ‘well I’m prepared to be that business partner – can I meet with Raquel?’ So then Raquel walked in and we agreed to have coffee the next morning before the shop opened.

Our meeting was a delight. I find that I get on very well with Raquel. I learn that she is from León, as is Conchi, but she came to Jerez when Conchi made the suggestion to open a shop based upon artisan products from León. So aunt and niece set up together. Apparently León is known for having wonderful chorizo and cheese (queso) and I find many more wonderful food products. So even though I am British and my Spanish is not quite fluent I find myself now the co-owner of a fantastic artisan food shop called Aderezarte. The name alone is worth something since they have registered it and I must confess I have visions of franchising the brand. I can offer my business and retail expertise – it’s not for nothing I spent 4 years with M&S and then 1 year with Somerfield (I wish it had been longer, but the dire financial situation led to me being made redundant) and time doing consultancy work for the Belgian supermarket group Sarma Penney and Sainsburys in the UK and a brilliant sojourn with Disney where all I seemed to do was play – but also learned huge amounts about customer service.

I did some due diligence before I started and looked at the figures from the time the shop opened two years ago and it has had a 30% increase in takings year on year. We would need to lift the sales even more in order to make a profit, but the shop is beginning to move into profit (excluding substantial set-up costs). That’s not a bad record and one I can live with. However what I can’t fathom out is how Spain works the business basis. In the UK I would have to buy Conchi out. It’s not at all like that here and right now I am learning day by day how businesses work in Spain. They don’t as far as I can gather, favour entrepreneurs, something that I would dearly love to change if I get the chance. I have noticed that shops don’t seem to grow naturally here in Spain but remain one shop entities and I am now beginning to learn why this is. However that is apparently one of the things that a new Spanish Government has to do when they finally get that sorted out (after a 3rd set of elections). With my years in facilitation that is another thing I would dearly love to organise – all the parties actually being professionally facilitated to arrive at a solution – but I don’t think Spain does facilitation let alone democracy.

So now I will be selling the wonderful legumbres and especial (spices) that are characteristic of Aderezarte. I will be able to make supplier visits – I already have plans to visit a vinaigre de Jerez supplier and a ecological salt manufacturer in San Fernando on the way to Cádiz. I have also been meeting some of the customers who are wonderful. I could write a book just based upon them alone!

Flamenco Viernes

One of the people in the course last week was Scandanavian and commented that there didn’t seem to be much dancing to watch in Jerez. She said that in Sevilla she had been able to go to lots of tablaos to watch dance performances. This is true. There aren’t so many opportunities here. There are only a couple of Tablaos and some have closed – the market is smaller and people come to watch the ‘greats’ in the two weeks of the Flamenco Festival in February. I explained that for one Seville is a lot bigger and there are more tourists there, and secondly the Andalucían Junta pours a lot more money into the flamenco in Seville than it does in Jerez. (Especially in this the biennale year with the big festival in Seville in September) It removed (or considerably reduced) the funding from the Teatro Villamarta so that very little of any art forms could be performed in Jerez of any size. Another reason is that whilst in the UK and northern Europe the flamenco dance is seen as the most important aspect of flamenco here it is not. As Pilar Ogalla said last week in our class, ’the dancer comes last, it is the singer who comes first.’ So here in Jerez there are plenty of places to listen to flamenco singing. It is no accident that all the dance teachers here sing and I have learned a phenomenal amount through taking flamenco singing lessons that I just did not know through my teachers in England. It is almost a completely different art form. There is also another reason and I found it interesting to talk to a Scandanavian person about this. The flamenco in Jerez is almost a clandestine activity. It is actually very difficult to find out what is happening here unless you are in the know or actually living here. It is as though people make it very difficult! You can of course visit the Tourist Information Office – but there are surprisingly no hand outs giving lists of teachers and classes and their locations and a What’s On of flamenco week by week. This is strange.

However I also found it strange that this individual even though I told her about two opportunities – one was a good Tablao and the other was Flamenco Viernes which takes place every Friday at 22.00 in the garden of the Alcazar during the summer did not pursue the opportunities. When I asked she said ‘no we were tired’ or some like. It was as though she had to have it given to her on a plate. There are posters everywhere, including in the Tourist Information and I know for sure there were leaflets in the hotel this woman and her professional dancer daughter were staying in. This last Friday the Montoya family were performing. Now these are probably the best male professional flamenco dancers in the world – they are a flamenco family from Seville and their nicknames are La Farruca (mother) two sons Farruquito and Farruco and the other main performer the grandson, el Carpeta.

I went to this performance which was fascinating. First of all the musicians were young and playing in a way that is fresh and different. Second el Carpeta was young, powerful and electrifying. He broke two pairs of shoes and even though young, commanded the stage immensely. I have seen Farruquito dance a number of times – in Madrid on the big stage and here in Jerez at the Guarida del Angel as well as a couple of times in the Teatro Villamarta. I wouldn’t miss a performance of his for all the world. To see the whole family perform together was amazing. The most exciting thing was probably seeing their two youngest girls do a bulerías at the end. I have never seen such composed dancers at the age of about two and four in my life before. These girls have been born into a great flamenco family and know it even at this young age. I have seen lots of talented young girls dancing now, but with nothing like the command of these two. It was beautiful to watch. Now I know that the Finnish couple did not go to it – all of the other experienced members of the class were there. So what did they expect? Perhaps I should have offered to get them tickets, but they had been in town shopping so I knew that they were close to Plaza Arenal to the Tourist Information Office. I suspect just to be delivered to a flowery Tablao not to have to do some work themselves in getting there. What they missed was probably the greatest opportunity to see some of the greatest performers of flamenco in one family on the same night. How could you miss that?

First Curso de Verano

I flew back from the UK via Madrid on Sunday and was back in the dance studio at 10am on Monday to start an intensive set of workshops held during the summer at the Centro de Baile de Jerez run by Vicki Ramos and a series of some of the best dancers and teachers available at the moment.

This week I am being taught by Pilar Ogalla from Barrio Santiago, Jerez. She is the wife of Andres Peña and this February at the Flamenco Festival they won the audience award for their show. She is a magnificent dancer and a generous teacher. We are learning Cantiñas, which is one of the Alegrías family of dances. My singing teacher, Luis tells me that the compàs and rhythm are the same, but the song and music is slightly different. Like Alegrías it comes from Cádiz, on the coast about 35 kilometres from Jerez through Puerto de Santa Maria and Puerto Real. It is a sassy dance where the female can strut and show off both strength but also sexuality and femininity. I am also doing the bulerías class with her where she is teaching us a bulerías de Cádiz which would typically be danced at the end of the Cantiñas so it’s great learning the two together. It is altogether more ‘flirty’ than the typical bulerías de Jerez and this one has more virtuosity in the steps and footwork with a lot of flicks and different weighting and balancing which means that you have to have your weight in exactly the right place or you will fall over. That means knowing exactly where you need to be ahead of time so that you move through the steps without falling over. At one point, for example we have our weight on the heel and fall onto the back foot and then over the front. It would be quite easy to collapse in a heap with that one!

I learned a cantiñas with Rafaela Carrasco about 5 or 6 years ago and looking back I didn’t have a clue. So I am pleased with how I at least can adjust my style and since I danced an alegrías in the school show choreographed and taught to us by Vicki Ramos a few weeks ago, I have the strutting and big movements in my body memory! I have been working on my style – especially of my upper body, and hands, since that is what people in an audience notice. My footwork is strong, but my memory horrible so it takes me a while for my feet to catch up! The principle is that you can work on that to get it up to scratch through practise. It is wonderful to be taught style and technique by someone like Pilar who is great fun. Pascual our guitarist is from Cádiz and lovely to work with. We are indeed very fortunate.

On day 3 of a week workshop I invariably have a very off day. Somehow all the work is in bits in the body and hasn’t quite come together. It didn’t help either that last night was very hot and I don’t have air conditioning in this flat so I didn’t sleep well and did not feel at all on form. Hopefully I will catch up tomorrow.

I am planning to do a class with Pilar at the Flamenco Festival next February where she will be teaching an alegrías with bata de cola. So similar to what we are learning but with the dress with a long train. So that will be familiar and fun – another level of difficulty – although I already perform an alegrías with manton and bata de cola, so hopefully not too unfamiliar and difficult.

Flamenco in London – Paco Peña’s show Patrias

Paco Peña opened his latest production Patrias in Sadlers Wells on Tuesday and just by chance I had the good fortune to attend the opening night. Paco Peña is based in London and brings together a talented range of flamenco dancers and musicians. The male dancer, Angel Muñoz is based in Córdoba and has been dancing with the company for 16 years. Not only a very exciting dancer, Angel is also an excellent teacher who visits London regularly for workshop intensives and teaches every year at the Jerez Flamenco festival. I remember being electrified by Angel’s dancing in his first show with Paco Peña in Edinburgh in around 2001 and whilst more self assured and more lyrical than fiery now, he is nevertheless a wonderful performer who can command his own show – such as Blanco y Negro which he brought to Sadlers Wells and performed at the Jerez Festival in 2015. He is partnered by female dancer and choreographer Mayte Bajo.

Patrias is an important word in the Spanish language and means ‘the country’, but within it are concepts deeper and more meaningful to Spaniards. This piece is a homage to the poet García Lorca who was executed in the Spanish civil war and it is the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. It is a darker piece than Paco Peña has shown before, the artists are all dressed in ochres, and greys in the style of peasant clothes. There are quotes from the poetry of Lorca, Pablo Neruda and Antonio Machado with the spoken voice of General Franco and photographs projected onto the back screen. One of the cast reads both Spanish and English pieces in between the music. The dances are predominantly folklórico – Verdiales and Fandangos – rather than the more fiery or showy flamenco dances. There are some heart rending songs which suit the plaintif tone of singer Gema Jiménez.

The sense is of saying ‘goodbye’ and love and loss of loved ones. Of the attack on learning and community, but not of the direct fighting of war, but the sense of coping as a community. For me the sentiment was more about poignancy and sadness and the difficulty of standing up to the fascista element.

Mi Flamenco and the Peña Flamenca de Londres

I have missed my flamenco here in the UK until last night. I have been madly dashing round the country – first to a 60th birthday party in West Wales – St David’s. Then to stay with a friend in Bristol and then back to London to do lots of admin type things not to mention celebrate family birthdays. I haven’t had a lot of time to think about flamenco – except to confirm the courses that I am doing back in Jerez during the next few weeks.

So last night I went to see Mi Flamenco perform at the Peña Flamenca de Londres. Mi Flamenco consist of flamenco dancer, Ester Tal and her guitarist husband, Uri Tal, together with visiting professionals – singer, Luis Vargas Monje and dancer Kelián Jímenez who is from Madrid and I saw performing in February at the Tablao Cardamomo there. I am closely connected to all of them. I have known Ester and Uri for about 15 years I suppose when I started to do flamenco regularly. I was working in Bournemouth and met with a couple who found out I was keen on flamenco and recommended me to learn with Ester. Since I lived in Bournemouth during the week and my residence was in Bristol I used to call by the dance studio they were looking after on the edge of Southampton. It broke up my journey and I could catch up with a private lesson. I attended general classes during the week. Ester was in the process of moving back to the UK from Jerez where she had been living for about 7 years. During the next years I have first attended regular classes with Ester until I found that after moving back to Bristol I just could not continue travelling the 2 1/2 hours each way and I had to suffice with the workshops she ran from time to time in Bristol. Luis Vargas would also come across and perform with the group and occasionally give singing lessons. Kelián as well came over to the UK and gave the occasional weekend workshop. So over 10 years or so I have got to know the members of the group well.

It was through Ester that I came to live in Jerez. She was giving a workshop for the Peña Flamenca de Bristol members near Bristol and I was saying, ‘I really think it’s time I put my money where my mouth is and go and live and dance in Jerez’. Ester looked at me and said ‘why don’t you rent our flat then?’ I knew their flat well, and had stayed there a number of summers to do the Curso de Verano with VIcki Ramos at her Centro de Baile in Jerez. So I investigated renting out my relatively new house in Bristol and discovered that it was a ‘no brainer’. That with the money from my house rental and the difference with the Spanish flat I could live comfortably and pay for classes. So I made it happen and here I am (well not right now since I am in London as I write).

I only saw Ester and Uri a few weeks back in Jerez when they were running a 3 day intensive workshop. I see Luis twice a week though for singing lessons and through him have learned a massive amount about flamenco and the various palos’ since the time I have lived there since October.

It’s different seeing them perform though. However the difference this time is that I know the words and music to many of the songs and could sing them with Luis if invited. I recognised some of the choreographies that I have learned with both Ester and Kelián and have a confidence with Jaleo – the calls that the audience and musicians make to encourage each other on. I am an active participant in the show and much much more knowledgable. In my recent shows I have seen my weaknesses in my upper body and whilst not being quite right still – both Ester and Irène (my teacher at the Flamenco Puro school or Maria del Mar Moreno) – it has finally dawned on what I need to do now. I thought I was doing it, but after having seen photographs and a video I now see at last where I am going wrong. I think it’s a touch of arrogance and also a touch of perception blindness but I couldn’t ‘get’ what they were talking about when they criticised me for limp arms. In fact as a former dance teacher it’s more that my whole upper torso isn’t strong enough and the turn doesn’t come round enough from the centre back. I know what to do now to correct this rather horrible failing. It has been a frustration for years. Basically my ballet training has led me to a weak insipid set of movements. I think and trust that this realisation will enable me to make a dramatic change. I could also ‘see’ Ester’s movements in a different way.

So I felt that I had gone from outsider to inner circle in this country then now to outsider in Jerez and I suspect that when I go back insider in Jerez. I will I suspect look and feel very different. I knew the steps – I remember in Javier Latorre’s class this year in the flamenco festival noticing that although we were virtually at his professional level that the difference between me and the professional level assistant students was that they could see a series of steps and just be able to do them, whereas I have to have them broken down and if not for me by the teacher then I have to do it myself from the video.

So it was lovely to see my friends again and support their lovely performance. Uri played the guitar wonderfully and I love Luis’ rough powerful flamenco voice. Kelían and Ester dance together with a palpable sexual tension. All are consummate performers – I know their choreographies and styles well and am trying to emulate them.

Tomorrow night I go to see Paco Peña here at Sadlers Wells and on Thursday I see the theatrical show given by Mi Flamenco in a theatre in Trowbridge. I am gearing to go back to Jerez on Sunday and start my summer workshops and back to class again in September. This time with new awareness and hopefully a stronger style and technique.