Sarah + Tim

a canadian, american and calico living in perfect harmony

Learning the art of flamenco dancing by Lia Grainger July 24, 2009

One of my favorite passions is flamenco dancing.  Here is a phenomenal article by a gal I danced with in Vancouver, Lia Grainger, published in the National Post, a major Canadian newspaper.

Post reporter Lia Grainger participates in a summer intensive flamenco dance class. Photo by the National Post

Post reporter Lia Grainger participates in a summer intensive flamenco dance class. Photo by the National Post

Lia Grainger, National Post Published: Saturday, July 18, 2009

The first thing you will notice will be her eyes, black beneath furrowed brows, staring intently as she barks orders in Spanish. Next you will see her arms, lean and tan, cutting circles in the air with quick, fluid movements. Last will be her feet, pounding the grey mylar floor — ticka ticka ticka ta!–as she shouts without missing a beat, ” Hacer los pasos no es bailando -neccesitas sentirlo!” Doing the steps is not dancing — you must feel it.

Ursula Lopez has travelled from Seville, Spain, to this basement studio in downtown Toronto, where for the next week she’ll be teaching a small group of Canadian women the art of flamenco.

For the uninitiated, the word flamenco conjures images of flowing ruffled skirts, stomping feet, clicking castanets and the strum of a Spanish guitar. The art form does have its origins deep in Andalusia, and for those intent on learning to dance, sing or play flamenco, nothing compares with spending a month or two in a small Spanish town, hanging out in the caves of Granada or the bars and cafes of Jerez with the descendants of the Amaya or Farruco families, flamenco’s living legends.

But for those who don’t have the time or money for an annual jaunt to the south of Spain, each summer, many of the Spanish flamenco masters travel to Canada to share their gifts with unlikely northern flamenco junkies like me.

Today’s class has six participants, all advanced students that have been studying for years. At 28 and with six years of flamenco under my belt, I am probably one of the youngest and least experienced dancers here, for unlike ballet, flamenco does not exclude based on age or body type. Instead, as a dancer grows older, her style evolves to match her maturing physique. I’ve been in classes with women in their seventies, and some of the most respected purveyors of the art form are portly grandmothers, or, as my Vancouver teacher Oscar Nieto calls them, “flamenco mamas.”

“It’s easy to become a flamenco junkie because you can’t get enough: You feel so good when you’re doing or watching it,” says Esmeralda Enrique, the director of the Esmeralda Enrique Academy of Spanish Dance where this one-week workshop with its Spanish guest teacher is taking place.

Maria Litman, one of my fellow students, is one of these flamenco addicts: “I didn’t think that it would really affect my life, but once I started I couldn’t take just one class –it just feels good. It’s the interaction between my body and my mind that really makes me feel alive.”

I moved to Spain in search of that feeling. It had taken less than a year for flamenco to completely consume me. School, relationships and jobs all seemed bland and irrelevant when compared with the raw vitality of flamenco music and dancing. I dropped everything and bought a flight to Granada, where for six months I studied dance in a small, whitewashed cave buried in the hillside of the small city in southern Spain. In places the room was so small that I couldn’t raise my arms above my head. Each day for five hours 11 students and I would cram into the tiny, sweaty space and perform drills and choreographies as my teacher banged the 12-beat rhythm out with a long wooden cane, shouting unintelligibly in Spanish. It was heaven.

And now, for this one week with Ms. Lopez, I feel like I’m back in that cave, with nothing to think about or know but flamenco.

She begins the class, running through some simple arm exercises and making corrections to our individual technique. “Siempre delantero,” she says to me, reaching up to pull my raised arms forward.

Ms. Lopez speaks no English, and though most of us understand little to no Spanish, her instructions rarely need translation. “There are always foreigners in my classes in Seville,” she later explains in Spanish. “If they speak even a little, it’s no problem. Everyone understands.”

She moves into a footwork exercise and I am quickly breathless. “Levante los pieds!” Lift your feet. My calves are burning and the beads of sweat roll down my forehead and cheeks, collecting in droplets at the tip of my chin and nose. I shake them off and feel my wet ponytail slap against my neck as my feet continue to pound the floor in a steady, rolling rhythm. I glance up and Ms. Lopez is looking back at me, smiling. “La alta,” she says. The tall one.

As a 6′ 1” ex-basketball player, I am an unlikely flamenco dancer: The best are generally small and compact. But seven years ago in a Vancouver restaurant called the Kino Cafe, I saw my first performance. The dancer’s name was Kasandra, and she silenced the boisterous audience with a choreography that left several jaws, including mine, on the floor. Kasandra pounded the shaking stage as though she wanted to break through it, a look of pure rage on her face, only to burst into an exuberant smile as she passed the fitful climax of the her performance.

The emotional abandon I witnessed that night is an essential characteristic of flamenco, and something Ms. Lopez constantly halted our five-day workshop in Toronto to discuss.

Though she meticulously led us through a carefully planned choreography, she always emphasized that the steps don’t matter; it is the feeling, the emotion of the performance that will connect the dancer with the musicians and the audience. “Los pasos no son importantes.” The steps are not important.

Of course in the beginning the steps are important — a dancer needs to have at least a basic understanding of the movements before she can perform with any real force.

It was during my first year that I learned about the basic elements of flamenco — song, guitar, dance and palmas (hand clapping) — and the essential interplay between these parts that creates that rare moment when everything harmonizes, a moment the Spanish call duende.

I also observed a tightly woven and fiercely loyal community of women and men bound together by their love of the “arte” of flamenco.

“This is my students’ second home,” says Ms. Enrique of her studio. “They feel comfortable here, and they have friends, lifelong friends … There are so many people that will go to anything flamenco.”

Many who go to Spain to study dance or guitar never come back. I did, and now that I’m here in Toronto, I depend on teachers like Ms. Enrique to bring the masters like Ursula Lopez to me. And Ms. Lopez depends on us, on the strength of small tight-knit communities like this one, full of women and men who covet her skills and passion enough to bring her halfway around the world to spend a week with them, dancing.

lgrainger@nationalpost.com

Flamenco stirs something in us all.  If this article has made you graviate towards flamenco, here are a few how-to’s for your benefit from the National Post:

flamenco-how-to

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Flamenco Friday October 11, 2008

Flamenco dance is a healthy addiction I took up years ago. On my 18th birthday, a friend of mine treated me to a flamenco recital where I was astounded at the passion & fire I saw unfold before me on stage. For anyone who has witnessed live flamenco before, you know exactly what I mean! Shortly after Tim left on his mission, I began flamenco classes as a healthy outlet for emotions and haven’t looked back since.

A few months ago I began collaborating with a local flamenco guitarist named Gabriel Edgar who truly is among the most talented guitarists in the state. He plays with an flamenco fusion ensemble called Hidden Truth & we have been collaborating on some exciting pieces.

On Friday, October 24th, we will be opening up for a jazz pianist/singer in Salt Lake City at a non-smoking bar called the 5 Monkeys (7 East 4800 South just off State Street). Our set starts at 9pm and we’d love for you to come support the local arts community!

At right: a flamenco performance in Vancouver, Canada for Mozaico Flamenco Dance Academy.  Photo credit: Doris Freidich.

 

almaflamenco.wordpress.com June 14, 2008

Filed under: Sarah — Sarah @ 9:24 pm
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Since I’ve been getting really into flamenco again recently, I decided to register another blog – since I didn’t have enough already.  It’s http://almaflamenco.wordpress.com.   Since alma means “soul” in Spanish, it’s flamenco for the soul.  (Great shadow shot by Jennifer Wood – she’s so talented!)

 

Arte Latino Festival – Park City, Utah March 27, 2008

parkcitysat-007.jpgSomething about Park City makes me feel like I’m on vacation — must be because it reminds me a lot of Whistler, a favorite vacation spot. An avid fan of Park City and flamenco, I jumped at the chance to see Bien Flamenco perform at the Kimball Art Center on March 8 for their Arte Latino Festival.
Bien Flamenco is the only live flamenco ensemble in the entire of state of Utah comprising of guitarist, Godo, Sariah (in the green), and two other dancers. Sariah does a masterful job of arranging numbers for three dancers, and their castanets work is remarkable.

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My favorite photo of the night – Sariah’s Solea Solo with a fan.

We were in for a further treat since Mexican artist Joe Bravo, renown for his incredible art painted on tortillas, was in town from LA to kick off the exhibit at the Kimball Arts Center. Bravo said since tortilla was cheaper than canvas as a poor college student, this was how he expressed his art. And I thought tortillas were for eating…

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flamenco – just for me March 6, 2008

Today I decided to do something I haven’t done in a long time – flamenco. It was invigorating to think I wasn’t doing this for Tim, Blue Bijou or Pre-Paid Legal, it was just for me. You gotta know when I’m standing at work with co-workers and have the urge to break out into Sevillanas mid-conversation, it’s time to dance again.

The Academy of Dance Design in Saratoga Springs (website to come) has an airy, spacious studio that I rent to practice old choreographies. During the summer of 2006, Kasandra of Mozaico Flamenco taught a Solea por Bulerias choreography which I really took to and even performed that October alongside Pirouz of www.flamenco.ca and Marek of La Triana. Thanks to a recording from dear Farnaz, my Solea is being polished once more.

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Picture Credit: Jennifer Wood. Pictured – Sarah, Pirouz, Marek

This Saturday night, Bien Flamenco is performing at the Arte Latino festival in Park City, Utah at the Kimball Arts Center, 6pm. For more details, visit www.kimball-art.org. I look forward to being inspired by live flamenco and meeting Sariah, the genius behind Bien Flamenco. There is a growing caravan of us attending, so feel free to invite yourself and join us for this Saturday night getaway in Park City!

 

flamenco February 2, 2008

After a one year hiatus, I have officially returned to flamenco. Upon relocating to Utah, there were no studios to pick up where I left off and unfortunately my flamenco dancing dwindled. There is a new dance studio called Studio of Dance Design that opened up five minutes away from home by a gal in our neighborhood. I will rent the studio to dust off old choreographies and breathe some life into them again. Thankfully I have vidoes of old performances to go off of…

I was watching flamenco videos on YouTube this morning (many of which were somewhat painful to behold) and happened upon one of my favorites, Eva Yerbabuena. She came to Vancouver in February of 2004 and I had the pleasure of seeing her perform at the Orpheum theatre. It was astounding and inspiring. I happened upon this photo again today — one of my favorites in all flamenco.

eva

After watching some pretty bad choreographies on YouTube, it made me appreciate even more Kasandra “La China” and Mozaico Flamenco in Vancouver. You just don’t get that kind of quality everywhere you go and I’m grateful for the time I have been able to spend under their tutelage. Hopefully it won’t be long before I will study with them again.

kasandra “la china” www.mozaicoflamenco.com

In the meantime, I have contacted a performing flamenco group in Utah called Bien Flamenco and will be attending a show of theirs in March. Sariah, the leader of the group, is apparently “the closest thing to the mother land [Spain] in Utah” so I look forward to pursuing private lessons with her.

Furthermore, what Utah is in serious need of is a pena like Kino Cafe where people can go to see raw, live flamenco in an intimate setting and enjoy drinks, tapas, good company and be inspired.

Viva flamenco!