Last year I was asked to teach yoga to a small class of students in the Casa de los Angeles in Jerez de la Frontera. A few people knew that I have been a student of Iyengar yoga for a long time – 32 years to be precise and thought that would qualify me to teach. Well it probably does on a number of counts. I did complete 2 years of teacher training 25 years ago and have spent a month in Pune at the Ramanani Memorial Iyengar Yoga Institute. It was quite an experience – but deepened my practise rather than qualifying me to teach. I didn’t take the exam for a number of reasons. One was pressure from my consultancy work – as the major bread winner I could not afford to take time out to get teaching practise. Second was a lack of confidence in my ability. I am very stiff and not very ‘good’ at the poses. Some of my teachers since have said that gives me an extra ability to understand pupils problems and that is quite likely true. I do not present the perfect postures when demonstrating in front of a class.

However it means that I am not insured since I have to have a recognised qualification to get professional indemity insurance. I have also been asked to take classes in a couple of flamenco studios but need the insurance to do this. So after experiencing yoga classes with Jane Nayar, a Vinyasa trained yoga teacher, at the Nutritional Healing Detox retreats (see previous posts) she suggested that I attended an intensive 200 hour one month yoga teacher training course. I looked at this and signed up to the Vinyasa School in Rishikesh – called the capital of yoga. It is located in the foothills of the Himalayas about 7 hours drive from New Delhi and where the Beatles had their Ashram where they wrote the White Album.

So after a postponement here I am. Half way through the course and just about to face a Yoga Philosophy test tomorrow and an Anatomy and Physiology test on Saturday. I have had to grapple with the Sanskrit Yoga Sutras of Patanjili and 4 hours of yoga practise a day. To be frank I found the process totally overwhelming and considering that one of the things that happens in yoga is opening up and release of emotional blockages I have ended up in floods of tears in yoga classes a couple of times. I am taking the opportunity to have major massages to loosen up my shoulders and hips and am truly getting stronger and have more stamina day by day.

Yoga seems to go well with flamenco. Some of flamenco’s roots originate from Katak dancing brought from Northern India by the forefathers of the people who were to become the gypsies in Spain. Like flamenco they stamp their feet but unlike flamenco in bare feet. The arm movements are reminiscent of the intricate arms in flamenco. Other than that there is no resemblance. However the yoga movements really help to ‘unwind’ a lot of the knots and tension brought about in flamenco classes. My flamenco teacher in London is also very keen on yoga.

However this has been a very tough course so far and I hope I get through it and pass. It is not a foregone conclusion.

Oh yes and the food. I get a bit fed up of white rice, chapatti, a lentil sauce and vegetable curry of some sort for three meals a day. I missed Indian food whilst in Jerez and made my own sauces since I wasn’t able to buy any (I have since found a source in Carrefour, however I still prefer my own). My home made chutney is amazing with my homemade curry.

I have been struck at how rich India is in wonderful fruit and vegetables as well as the ubiquitous rice. The little stalls up the road will do fresh juices for you and they are delicious – no blitzing in a Bullet there, and there is a huge range of fruit and vegetables. For two weeks now I have had no alcohol and no meat. Rishikesh is a dry town and everyone is vegetarian or even Vegan – so different from Spain.

However one thing I have found or rather renewed is my interest in Ayurvedic medicine. A little store round the corner sells their own homemade nut butters – peanut butter, cashew nut butter and more. Also a wide range of health foods, protein bars and dried fruit. It is a health foodie’s heaven. Today I was introduced to a seed or rather fruit used in Ayurvedic Indian traditional medicine – Ajwain – which is used to treat stomach complaints, but can also help with migraines, and heart conditions. Yesterday I discovered Sea Buckthorn, a Himalayan berry which has extremely high Vitamin C content and can boost the immune system. I also found Date Cider Vinegar which helps with stamina and energy and I need some of that. I feel like a kid in a toy shop. Tomorrow and Saturday we have 2 lectures in Ayurveda which I am looking forward to.

 

A Long Summer

 

On reflection it is probably not a surprise that people think I have stopped writing a blog, since the last post I wrote was at the end of May 2017 and now it is just turning into September. I had forgotten it was so long since I last wrote and yes many things have been happening – both foodwise and flamenco. At the end of May I must have been frantically busy preparing for two end of term shows – one in the Teatro Villamarta and the other in the Sala Companía. The latter was tough because I honestly thought I didn’t know one of the dances well enough, having missed quite a few of the weekends that Maria del Mar Moreno taught back here in Jerez. A couple just before Christmas when I went home to the UK for my mother’s funeral. Maria  spends a great deal of her time running workshops with loyal pupils in Milan, Paris and Bordeaux. So in May I was doing practise and rehearsals nearly everyday. I am immensely proud of a) dancing on the big stage of the Teatro Villamarta. and b) remembering the complex Soléa and Solea por Bulerias dances that we had learned during the year in Escuela Flamenco Puro. Dancing in the Teatro Villamarta was literally awe inspiring. In fact the 5 of us just froze at the dress rehearsal. The lack of full lighting means that you can see the size of the auditorium and the stage and realise just how big it is! We were dancing a version of Manuel Liñan’s Tangos a Titi. I have to say it was huge fun and we managed to bring the house down with our performance by ‘filling’ that big stage. I learned a huge amount about performance in this year’s shows, and wearing our wonderful dresses felt fantastic and we looked great. Unfortunately I was one of the few dancing in both the Soléa and the Solea por Bulerias so there isn’t a photograph of me in the wonderful purple costume that we wore, but below you can see us in our lovely azul y lunares dresses for the solea por bulerias.

The performance with my Flamenco Puro intermediate groups was much more nerve racking though. The stage at the Sala Companía is narrow and deep. Since I was dancing in the 2nd and 3rd row I was nearer the musicians than the audience and therefore our teachers, Irène and Maria del Mar Moreno who could see everything. I reckon I did OK though. I still have to work on technique and getting my footwork fast and clear and my arms strong and much more flamenca than danza estilazada and baroque.

The one thing that I did achieve this year was a performance of bulerias on my own at the fin de fiesta. After a year of learning it was only a simple bulerias. However I have performance anxiety when I perform anything solo. To do this at the big fin de curso show was a big big thing for me. I am actually immensely proud of myself. I loved the groups we were dancing in as well. These people have become very good friends now. We have survived through thick and thin – poor footwork, bewilderment, criticism, changes of choreography, and a lot of hard work.

 

 

 

Letting Go

 

 

The theme of this detox retreat is ‘letting go’. I write this very personal post just after the New Moon on the 25th May 2017. The new moon is a wonderful small crescent in the Northern sky here in the Sierra Cabrera. I am writing at about 6am having woken up just sometime between 4.30 am and 5am. In the Chinese medicine tradition each organ is associated with a time of day and if we wake up in the middle of the night we look at what might be happening. I have woken up three times between 4am and 5am this retreat and this time is associated with lungs and with grief. So this morning I got to reflecting on what might be happening.

Many of the readers will not know that I am a widow. My husband died young from a heart condition when we were skiing in Colorado 9 years ago. My journey to flamenco took off just after he died and to a large extent I have found flamenco a way of dealing with my grief. We had been married for 25 years, together for 30 years, and I was desolate after he died. One of the things that came up a few days ago was that I had not completely mourned or let go of the grief of losing my life style, which was good at that time, even though I believe I have dealt with the more personal emotional aspect. We had spent a lot of time and energy renovating a large Victorian house that had been built in 1901. Now we have WiFi, but my husband installed a LAN (Local Area Network) in our house before easy connection to the internet was available.  So we had full internet connectivity way before most people knew what this was, and early on I completed a distance learning Masters degree in organisation psychology at Birkbeck the second year that it was available. Logging in to the modem connection was difficult and it made a funny noise as it happened. He gave me a jacuzzi for my birthday present about 15 years ago and I had a wonderful birthday jacuzzi bath!  So this – as most family houses are- was a special place for me.

 

A few days ago I recalled the beautiful roof top bedroom with skylights that I could lie in bed and watch the clouds that we had built after removing the roof. I loved that room with wood and floors that Rob had varnished so carefully in which I would do my yoga practise. After he died I spent a great deal of time and money finishing that house – well almost finished, since I didn’t get to the basement which I wanted to convert to the kitchen opening on to our terraced garden. I sold the house with its memories of the family and chaos for a great deal of time. But there was a lot of love in that place and as I write I can feel the tears well up for the loss of it. My daughter has grown up and now has her own life, but I realised that I hadn’t fully acknowledged the grief of moving out and moving on from that time.

I reflect on the two dogs that I have lost as well since then – lovely Blue Roan cocker spaniels. I had wanted to breed from Tilly and due to Rob’s death I just didn’t get to achieve that. Just after Rob died I rehomed a male (neutered!) blue roan spaniel called Flash (his kennel name was Joylers Lightening Strike) who became, after an initial settling down period, a faithful companion to Tilly. They were well known in the Bishopston area of Bristol where we lived and I was distraught when eventually I had to put him down. Now both Flash and Tilly are gone. I had had Tilly for over 10 years and haven’t really mourned her passing last year.

My daughter moved away from Bristol to continue her career in London and I moved to a newer house in the outer suburbs of Bristol and developed my flamenco at classes with a Spanish teacher from Madrid who came across from Cardiff every week to take lessons with us in the Cotham School dance studio. I started to develop my flamenco further with workshops in Spain at the Jerez festival and in London with Juani Garcia and the Escuela de Baile. I would go up to London for a weekend every 6 weeks or so for intensive classes and attend the Spanish Dance Society workshop in the summer and the Escuela de Baile week long workshops at places like Sadlers Wells and Dance Attic.

During those last 9 years, this interest and passion in flamenco grew and my desire to take it further until one day talking with Ester Tal in a workshop I said ‘I’d like to move out to Jerez and do flamenco seriously’, and she said ‘why don’t you rent our apartment then?’ So I did.

I have lost a lot – not just the house in Claremont Road, Bishopston but my access to rock music that Rob introduced to me to and the English folk music scene I love. My life with the Gasworks Scratchy Orchestra. Walking the dogs and my friends in Bristol. My friend Kate commited suicide last year which I have hardly mourned. We were part of the Early Music group that I belonged to for many years before I started flamenco and before Lucy was born and during her early childhood. Kate was a very gifted viol and recorder player and directed the music for our productions. The group is dispersed now with one person living in Montpellier in the South of France – I make a note that there is a flight to Montpellier from Jerez and I have been saying that I would fly up one time. I called by last year on my way home to the UK.

My big passing was that of my mother just before Christmas. Not unexpected in that she was 101 years old and had been failing from Alzheimers for the last 9 years. However it marked a big letting go of my past and probably led to the severe bronchitis that I suffered over Christmas and the New Year and took months to recover from, and from which my body is probably healing now in this retreat. I had the same happen to me after Rob died so it must be my body’s reaction to deep seated grief. I acknowledge it and let it go and my healing continues.

So this post is a requiem to all that has passed and the grief that I have not felt as I have grappled with the life changes. My life is hugely different now and I love what I have become and the life that I have made and feel excited for the potential. Out of these tragedies and changes have come other opportunities – not least developing my passion for food, flamenco and indeed painting and making jam.

Food or Flamenco – Health or Dancing

 

This week I have left my flamenco classes in Jerez behind despite the impending and alarming end of term show. We have been exhorted to turn up and practise. I however have been suffering from what I reckon was food poisoning and have felt well and truly grim. So last Tuesday I went to the Tuesday evening flamenco class at Flamenco Puro because I knew that it was a three line whip. However this time my head and feet just did not connect. We had to do one of the footwork phrases one by one, which I hate at the best of times, and I knew that I know the steps but could I get my feet to do them. Not a chance. I ended up virtually in tears.

Fortunately a message to one of my best friends had reminded me that one of the detox retreats run by my Nutritional Healing Foundation was just about to start. A quick check elicited that there was a room available and so last week at the very last minute I signed up. I am not new to these and I wrote about the detox retreat I went on last year. This one is in the same place in the Sierra Cabrera just outside Mojácar in Almería and it will be my third. Each one has helped me a bit more and I knew that not only did I have this rather alarming stomach ailment to sort out, but after the death of my mother and issues with my siblings, not to mention the break up with a ‘man friend’ of pretty long standing a week or so ago, (partly because of what happened when I was in the Pinxtos bar and nearly collapsed on the pavement with what I thought was a heart attack and then turned out to be eating something which definitely did not agree with me. I was left collapsed on the pavement whilst he blithely carried on chatting to his friends). Anyway the less said of that the better. However this year has not been an easy year emotionally for me, put it like that!

I just knew that if I didn’t do something then I would just collapse and fall apart. I am aware of my body being a dancer and yoga teacher and whilst I probably abuse my body to a certain extent I also respect it and listen to its needs. I knew that a weekend of 2 hour classes would crucify me and I couldn’t actually cope given that last week I didn’t eat for 4 days and one of my yoga students advised me that if I was E. Coli it hid in the intestines and gave all sorts of problems and that I needed to see a doctor. That didn’t fill me with deep joy since I don’t like allopathic medicine and prefer the naturopathic route. So to be able to come away and be with the ‘mother ship’ as it were, reconnect with my naturopathic principles and be with people who I knew would be enfolding and welcoming was just what I needed.

I do indeed have E. Coli and more besides. Having worked and travelled in places like Africa, the Far East and the Caribbean I know that I could pick up little ‘passengers’ on the way. Parasites that sit inside and gradually deplete your nutrients, energy and general well being. One of the treatments showed something that I suspected for a while that I had indeed had unwelcome residents inside my body and not just very unhealthy bacteria I had an explanation for the hacking cough that my daughter keeps urging me to do something about. Fortunately the Nutritional Healing regime keeps me well. But a body can only go so long when it is receiving onslaughts from external toxins as well as internal organisms.

So after driving over 5 hours to get here. More given that Google Maps sent me scenic route via Cabo de Gato and Carboneras. It was the Ruta Esplendida but not the 20 minutes shorter that it said. I needed to slow down though after dashing across Andalucía far too fast and it is many years since I travelled this scenic route with my late husband. So I stopped a few times en route to take photographs from the cliff tops and although I missed the induction talk I arrived at exactly the right time for the last solid food for the week. Yes for one week the ‘food’ every day is two green smoothies, one coconut juice, a shot of apple cider vinegar/lemon/ginger and turmeric and bicarbonate of soda in water oh and the exciting bit of the day – potassium broth which is many vegetables boiled together with cayenne pepper. This is totally fantastic. Oh yes and nettle tea before yoga first thing in the morning. That’s it.

I arrived and after eating promptly virtually collapsed for two days. I was in a half sleeping, half dreaming and a not very with it state. My body realised that it could just ‘let go’ and did. At one point I even felt as though my body was melting and the cells were just kind of fluid and not within my structure. I have had one very good massage and another magnet therapy which hopefully will kick out the E. Coli bug. I managed one yoga class before bowing out and today many meditations. I always meditate every morning anyway and I was given two in the middle of the day and a half hour mindfulness session at the end.

I finally feel that I am healing and that my body is putting itself back together again. I will get to perform flamenco and this time brought my bata de cola to perform a really rather spectacular dance – an Alegrias with Mantón that was choreographed for me a few years ago by one of my teachers who has a studio in Fuengirola and came across to Bristol for a few years to take classes.

My food is liquid and my body will use the opportunity to heal and repair. I am indeed fortunate to have the means and where with all to do this. However without it I suspect I would have become very ill indeed.

Owls in Surround Sound

Technically this isn’t about food or flamenco, not unless owls sing in a flamenco palos such as the bulerias, but it is about music and the natural world which are also important to me.

I live now in the old part of town called San Mateo and often walk up the hill along a road called San Ildefonso past the old Domecq Bodega towards Plaza Mercado. This area means a lot to me. I first met my singing teacher in Jerez sitting outside an old Tablao on the corner of Plaza Mercado called Tio Parillo. I had met Luis before in the UK where he comes to sing with my flamenco teacher Ester Tal. I was just sitting in the sun and he noticed me and then invited me to a performance that night. I sat in the small audience at a table in the front. I had recently been to an exhibition of paintings by Stephen an artist who lives in Bournemouth and dances flamenco and attends flamenco lessons as well with Ester. It was meeting Stephen and his partner Julie that got me into learning with Ester in the first place. I didn’t think anything about the performance or the picture. However when I got home I realised that I had sat in exactly the same seat that Stephen had painted my picture from. There was Luis and the rest of the group.

Anyway I now live a short walk away from that spot and the old building is for sale and the Tablao no longer operational – sad.

So walking home I sometimes hear owls hooting to each other whilst out hunting. There are pieces of open ground around where the hunting must be good. They are invariably out on a full moon as well. This time it was pouring with rain and I was walking home from choir practise close which takes place in a church close to Plaza Arenal in the Centre of Jerez. I have to walk past the Cathedral and then up the hill past the convent and then the Fundador Bodega. This time I reckoned that there were about four owls calling to each other and I stood in pouring rain to locate them. The last time I did that I saw one of them in silhouette perched on the top of the roof of the Bodega. Given the perspective I reckoned it was a pretty big bird – nearly a metre in height and certainly the height of a good-sized raptor or bird of prey like a Goshawk.

This time I located the sound and realised that it was coming from deep in the foliage of the tree I was standing under. So I looked up and there it was with its head swivelling every time it hooted. I don’t know who was more startled him or me! I was certainly attracting attention and the bird certainly knew that I wasn’t prey but something more alarming. However in these sorts of circumstances I stay very still and project calm and stillness and love. Birds and animals respond to that and this one certainly did. It didn’t fly away but kept on ‘talking’ to me (and his compadres!). It was amazing to hear these very loud hoots in surround sound with this one just a couple of metres above my head. I stood there frozen until I got bored and very wet and decided to walk on home. However it was a very special moment.

Because it was raining the moon wasn’t out, but later I realised that once again it was a full moon. So even thought the moon wasn’t giving out light they must still be attracted to hunt then because it always happens no matter how cloudy or bright.

18 Months On

I am noticing that events that I wrote about last year have come round again and I am in a new cycle. Also artists or shows that I have seen are coming back or are being written about in the newspaper.

What I am noticing is that my life here is like a spiral. I am revisiting these events, or shows or palos like the Bulerias, but there is a change in the quality of my experience. Or as happened last Saturday at the Peña la Bulería when I noticed the wonderful dancer and teacher Angelita Gomez sitting on a bench at the back very close to a friend of mine who has recently returned from America. Angelita is one of the greats of the flamenco teaching and performing world and taught my teacher Maria del Mar Moreno. She has attended a class I have been in and so knows my dancing. There is an exhibition dedicated to her at the moment in the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco. I recognised her and acknowledged her and was able to give a tribute to her personally. Later she danced a bulerias. Now those of you who follow my blog will know that I have been working on my bulerias week in and week out for the last 15 months. I have gone from utterly hopeless to really pretty confident and able to do some complex steps and react to the singer and dance on my own with the singer without stopping or getting hopelessly lost. I have still been told by Maria del Mar Moreno that I need to attend more frequent bulerias classes before appearing in the show, however I know that my style, arms and hands are really pretty good now. I also noticed when Angelita danced – now I am a tiny midget compared to the giant that she is (and she is about 4’ 10” tall, but with huge presence) I knew that if I had danced I would not have disgraced either the Flamenco Puro school or Carmen Herrera who teach me. Also to feel acknowledged by Angelita Gomez itself was quite something in my heart.

The Semana Santa has just gone past and I saw a lot again this year. Last year everything was a bit of a mystery and very exciting. I was dashing from procession to procession collecting the Hermandad and their palco a bit like a train spotter. I really had very little clue as to what was going on, apart from the fact I know my Bible and the story of the Passion of Christ extremely well. However I was brought up in a pretty strict Presbyterian tradition, so anything looking like an ‘idol’ was frowned upon. As a consequence I was very much overwhelmed with the beauty, devotion, spectacle and colours last year. This year having sung in the Cathedral Choir for nearly six months and seen the images of the Christ and Virgin very close to in the Cathedral as well as being a participant in the Semana Santa rather than tourist and bystander I had a very different experience. I listened to a lot of Saetas and whereas last year I was lucky to catch a few this year I listened and recorded lots. I sing a Siguirilla so I know how the form works and will go deeper into what is happening. I began to see the processions as a community coming together to express their part of the story of the Passion of Christ. Each one had a different feel and set of emotions.

The last piece is one that I will also write about in more depth. However several of the shows I have seen more than once – Antonio el Pipa and Eduardo Guerrero’s Guerrero being two. Also I have seen some very famous performers in different shows more than once – Rocío Molina, Olga Perricet and Farruquito for example and Gema Moneo who comes from Jerez and regularly performs with Farruquito. Olga Pericet I know very well having seen her shows in the UK and having been taught by her for a bout 7 weeks. She calls me ‘one of my most faithful students’ I know the people she dances with – Marco Flores and Mañuel Liñan being two who now command shows of their own and both of whom are magnificent teachers who I know well. I am seeing their development and feeling a lot more confident when I say ‘you have to see this show’. Which I did for Eduardo Guerrero, who comes from Cádiz and whose show I first saw there over a year ago. He is an extraordinary dancer and director and had three excellent singers. This year his show won the audience prize. I am trusting my judgement about flamenco. Not only do I know the technical side of the performance, but also the choreography, direction and development of the performers now. I don’t have to look in the programme to see what palos they are dancing – I know from the song and music. I can spot the up and coming dancers and singers in shows on stage and in the tabancos around Jerez. People are asking me for their opinion.

More on the Saeta

I have just looked back at my blog on Saetas from last year. It is really interesting to see what I have learned since then.

Last week I walked as usual from Plaza Mercado to the Nueva Medina apartments where I live and pass by San Mateo church. I realise that I’d read that there was a saeta ‘show’ on at the start of Semana Santa and I went in. I was a bit late and the singing had started. There is something electric about the saeta. Juan Garrido – a journalist who writes in the Diario de Jerez about flamenco was giving an address and he spoke about how you hear this sound come out of the silence from the balcony. It is a flamenco hymn to God and is based upon the Siguiryas, one of the cante jondo forms of flamenco. I would have to explore more about the tonality – it is based on one of the modes in music rather than a normal classical ‘scale’ and right now I am not sure which one. However it has lots of half tones and very complex tonality. I walked in and had a ‘wow’ as I saw the beautiful retablo at the front and heard the saeta being sung. It is a very heart stopping moment.

A week later I had a ticket to go to the Iglesia Santiago for a similar event and some of the very famous saeta singers of a very reknowned flamenco barrio. Then another week later I attended a Saeta competition run by the local flamenco Peña Buena Gente. This time I heard in person my singing teacher’s uncle Antonio Vargas. Last year in one of my lessons he played me some of the saetas on YouTube. This year I heard him in person and he came second. Actually he won because there wasn’t a first place. I am so proud of having that lesson from Luis about the saeta and then hearing him at the competition. Later as I was watching one of the processions in Semana Santa I heard Antonio singing the saeta in the early morning in Plaza Santiago just by Iglesia Santiago. I feel so lucky to experience this. I call this year’s Semana Santa the year of the Saeta.

Ultimately it is about the spine tingling melody, the reverence of the words and the total silence of the crowd as they watch and wait and then listen to this ethereal music.

 

After 18 months here in Jerez – the Cradle of Flamenco

I am noticing that events that I wrote about last year have come round again and I am in a new cycle. Also artists or shows that I have seen are coming back or are being written about in the newspaper after happening in other parts of Spain.

What I am noticing is that my life here is like a spiral. I am revisiting these events, or shows or palos like the Bulerias, but there is a change in the quality of my experience. Or as happened last Saturday at the Peña la Bulería when I noticed the wonderful dancer and teacher Angelita Gomez sitting on a bench at the back very close to a friend of mine who has recently returned from America. Angelita is one of the greats of the flamenco teaching and performing world and taught my teacher Maria del Mar Moreno. She has attended a class I have been in and so knows my dancing. There is an exhibition dedicated to her at the moment in the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco. I recognised her and acknowledged her and was able to give a tribute to her personally. Later she danced a bulerias. Now those of you who follow my blog will know that I have been working on my bulerias week in and week out for the last 15 months. I have gone from utterly hopeless to really pretty confident and able to do some complex steps and react to the singer and dance on my own with the singer without stopping or getting hopelessly lost. (I still haven’t plucked up courage to dance at the Peña performances in public yet) I have recently also been told by Maria del Mar Moreno that I need to attend more frequent bulerias classes before appearing in the show in July.  However I know that my style, arms and hands are really pretty good now and I can dance on my own. I also noticed when Angelita danced – now I am a tiny midget compared to the giant that she is (and she is about 4’ 10” tall, but with huge presence) I knew that if I had danced I would not have disgraced either the Flamenco Puro school or Carmen Herrera who teach me. Also to feel acknowledged by Angelita Gomez itself was quite something in my heart.

The Semana Santa has just gone past and I saw a lot again this year. Last year everything was a bit of a mystery and very exciting. I was dashing from procession to procession collecting the Hermandad and their palco a bit like a train spotter. I really had very little clue as to what was going on, apart from the fact I know my Bible and the story of the Passion of Christ extremely well. However, I was brought up in a pretty strict Presbyterian tradition, so anything looking like an ‘idol’ was frowned upon. As a consequence I was very much overwhelmed with the beauty, devotion, spectacle and colours last year. This year having sung in the Cathedral Choir for nearly six months and seen the images of the Christ and Virgin very close to in the Cathedral as well as being a participant in the Semana Santa rather than tourist and bystander I had a very different experience. I listened to a lot of Saetas and whereas last year I was lucky to catch a few.  This year I listened and recorded lots. I sing a Siguirilla so I know how the form works and will go deeper into what is happening. I began to see the processions as a community coming together to express their part of the story of the Passion of Christ. Each one had a different feel and set of emotions.  I appreciated that Easter really means something to people here and isn’t just about Easter Eggs, chocolate and Easter Bunnies.

I mentioned that I have seen several flamenco shows more than once, for example Antonio el Pipa and Eduardo Guerrero’s Guerrero being two. I have also seen some very famous performers in different shows more than once – Rocio Molina, Olga Perricent and Farruquito for example and Gema Moneo who comes from Jerez and regularly performs with Farruquito. Olga Pericet I know very well having seen her shows in the UK and having been taught by her for a bout 7 week long courses. She calls me ‘one of my most faithful students’ I know the people she dances with – Marco Flores and Mañuel Liñan personally, both of whom now command shows of their own and both of whom are magnificent teachers. I am seeing their development and feeling a lot more confident when I say ‘you have to see this show’. Which I did for Eduardo Guerrero, who comes from Cádiz and whose show I first saw there over a year ago. He is an extraordinary dancer and director and had three excellent singers with him in the show. This year his show won the audience prize at the Flamenco Festival. I am trusting my judgement about flamenco. Not only do I know the technical side of the performance, but also the choreography, direction and development of the performers now. I don’t have to look in the programme to see what palos they are dancing – I know from the song and music. I can spot the up and coming dancers and singers in shows on stage and in the tabancos around Jerez. People are asking me for their opinion.

Yay I did it!

The fin de curso zambomba for Carmen Herrera’s school at the Peña La Bulerias was fun. I thought I would have to go back to the UK beforehand for my mother’s funeral, but it turns out I was there and as a pupil I was slated to take my turn – eek! This is the home of Bulerias – Barrio San Miguel where it was invented. I have had the honour to be practising – yes practising – with José Mijita from one of the very famous flamenco families. I have been listening to their CD’s (along with others) so that I can absorb the rhythm. I haven’t been hearing it all my life even in the womb and it shows! The dance looks deceptively simple, but it isn’t. Bulerias means joke and in effect it is a game between the singer and the dancer. The singer rules, so the dancer has to listen to what the singer is doing and dance accordingly. You can’t do a rematé in the wrong place and you HAVE HAVE HAVE to keep to compás. It is very easy to lose yourself and in effect although you can have a sort of choreography up your sleeve you have to extemporise picking out a menu of steps and the steps have to go in a certain order – paso de bulerias before a llamada for example. It is very easy to do too many of a step and then get ‘out of compas’. If you get it right then you get an olé. Oh yes and you do it on your own in the middle of a circle where everyone else knows what they and you are doing. It is terrifying and only those natives don’t have nerves (and even some of them admit to getting nervous as they stand up to walk forward to signal that they are dancing next).

It is wonderful seeing the Downs Syndrome people who attend many classes around the City and invariably dance very well. IMG_0254IMG_0254

Well heart beating as I stood up and slowly walked forward into the middle in front of a room full of Jerez natives who lived, ate, slept and breathed bulerias. I did it and Carmen knew what it meant and how the week before I had fluffed it every time. I have learned my enganches (the joins) I have learned where to come in and start dancing. I have learned to keep it short and sweet and not ‘outstay my welcome’. I have most importantly learned to have fun and enjoy myself. Olé.

PS At my first lesson back after Christmas Carmen told me that people had said that I had danced well. Wow!

PPS Next week I have 5 days every morning of doing Bulerías with José Mijitas. That will certainly give me a big boost! Carmen says normally people transform in confidence afterwards. Olé!

The XXI Flamenco Festival of Jerez

 

I have been coming to the Flamenco Festival each year in February/March in Jerez since about 2009. The first year I decided to drive up from Marbella where I was staying and just happened to get a ticket for the very last seat in the Teatro Villamarta for the big star, Farruquito. This year the Farruquito show was sold out months in advance.  The other strange thing that happened then was that I parked the car, walked to Plaza Plateros – what I thought was the centre of Jerez – well it is and who should I bump into, but my really good friend from the Bristol and South West flamenco scene, Philip Kinsman. Very strange. That year they were renting an apartment in one of the old buildings in the square.

Last year was the first year that I attended the whole two weeks and hadn’t long been here. This year again I did the two weeks and had a different experience yet again. We have to sign up for the workshops that we want to do through the official festival organisation, on the 1st September,  It is a bit of a guessing game as to how you will feel and what you want to do. Last year I did classes in the second week with Javier Latorre and decided that I loved his choreography so much that I wanted to do classes with him again. I am not up to his professional class in the first week, at the moment. I would love to be and could probably manage it, but might not enjoy the experience. I notice that the professionals can see the steps demonstrated and immediately do them. Whilst I catch them, then lose them and so on. I have to work harder. So to do a professional class would mean I would probably get quite lost and frustrated. However I remember feeling like that in Medio classes in London at first and a medio level in London is lower than here and I was quite surprised at how I managed in my first medio class here in Jerez.

For the first week I chose primarily by palos – the type of song/dance. I have been researching about the tarantos and am considering doing a doctoral thesis on it based upon something I heard some gypsies tell me in a talk in Bath a long time ago and then discussed with some controversy with someone called Robin Totton who also used to live here. I have never learned a tarantos so decided to do that and with a teacher I love – Ángel Muñoz, who often comes to London and is one of the lead dancers with Paco Peña. The class was at básico level and so would be probably relatively easy for me – although you can never be sure. I remember doing my first medio class having bought the place from a friend who couldn’t come. It was with Andrés Peña who has his studio not far from where I live now in Barrio San Mateo, near to the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco which has a wonderful library and resource centre of flamenco materials. I was terrified but actually did OK in it.

If we do the classes with the festival then we get 5 days of festival shows at the Teatro Villamarta included in the price. This is a big attraction for me – we get to see the shows of the top dancers and singers of the moment. Generally the up and comings perform at the more intimate smaller stage of the Sala Compania and there are other venues which show more edgier shows – the Sala Paúl and then smaller concert spaces for the singers. This time Maria del Mar Moreno (and one of my regular teachers) who can easily fill a large theatre was performing in the more intimate Sala Compañia and Marco Flores – who comes from Arcos de la Frontera and whose brother Titi performs with my singing teacher there performed in the Sala Paúl this year with a dazzling show. So it depends what the artist wants.

I remember feeling the anticipation before the festival started – there was a buzz as the international participants started to arrive. I was looking forward to seeing old friends and former dance class mates from Bournemouth and London.

Last year I felt half in and half out of the festival. This year I felt different yet again. It was like walking to work to the studio in the gimnasio in Juana de Dios very near to where I live. I was part of a Whats App group chat of students from the Escuela de Baile in London where I have done classes regularly for the last 15 years on and off. However I don’t eat out so much and I can use my own washing machine which is a distinct advantage when you are doing 2 hours 20 minutes of class a day.  I felt more like a resident going to work – a rather strange feeling.

There are also some really good off festival classes with various teachers and schools around Jerez. This year the Centro de Baile, where I do regular classes had arranged a really good two weeks of classes and at the weekend they had Ana Morales doing a Saturday and Sunday of 3 hour professional level technique classes. Now I wasn’t sure whether I could manage that but Vicki my teacher suggested it would be really good for me – and she was right. I loved it. We worked hard on our turns, food work, arms and line. I was really pleased with the result. I didn’t know who she was and then found out she was the lead dancer in the Villamarta the Monday afterwards. She’s a lead dancer with the Compania Andaluza de Baile in Seville and teaches there as well. Top top level and fabulous experience. I actually managed a professional level class along with teachers that I know. Scary!

Meanwhile the tarantos was lovely and Ángel as generous as ever and great fun and then Javier was wonderful. This time we had loads of space to do the Tientos/Tangos we learned since we were in the studio in the Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe bodega. Javier choreographs dances with a lot of movement (as does Ángel actually). Javier also demonstrates what we have learned that day and we video it and then are expected to practise so that we can move on through the choreography quickly. That’s 7 days of 2 hours 20 minutes so that’s 15 hours in a very intense concentrated manner and we do 2 hours a week over about 20 weeks over a year in regular classes.

With Ángel Muñoz                    With Javier Latorre on the stage of Sala Companía

To put this into context we are learning a whole 6 or 7 minute dance which in my weekly classes take about a year to learn and work up to performance standard.

You have to have a fair amount of stamina for this. There are other performances as well – so sometimes I would be doing a class from 4pm to 6.20pm and then rushing to a performance at 7pm and then another at 9pm and another at midnight! I think I might select a morning class in the future it spreads the day a bit more!