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Flamenco: Dancing to a different tune
Saturday 03 September 2005
Carmen is used to explaining what she wants in simple language. She knows that most of her students don't speak enough Spanish to understand everything she says, but by speaking slowly and demonstrating what she means, she manages to get her points across.
She is the teacher of level 0 - in other words, the seven of us that face her on Monday morning for our first two-hour flamenco dancing session are complete beginners. Most of us don't even have the right footwear - we need comfortable high heels, if such a thing exists - preferably with taps on the heels. But in the beginners' class, we can even dance in bare feet.
We start off with some gentle warm-up exercises, trying to copy everything Carmen does. Then we start on some arm movements, rotating our hands inward and outwards. After that, we add some footwork, tapping our heels and toes, then stamping enthusiastically in a sequence of different rhythms. About an hour of this, we start on a simple dance routine: the faster the music, the smaller the steps. Stamp, slide the foot, stamp, slide the foot, stamp, move one foot backwards and stamp the other in front. Or something like that. With a bit of practise it seems easy enough, until we put the feet and arms together. Then suddenly the music gets faster and we all realise flamenco is more complicated than it looks.
Taller Flamenco, whose classes we have joined, is a dance school just north of the centre of Seville. It was set up a decade ago by Eukene Izagirre to cater for the growing enthusiasm for flamenco dance across Europe and Japan. She tells me that most students spend anything between a week and a month at the school, often combining dance lessons with a Spanish language course. But Eukene assures me that for flamenco what you really need to understand is rhythm.
We have all joined Carmen's class for different reasons. Tomoko is a classical dancer with a part in Don Quixote, who wants to bring a bit of Spanish authenticity to her role. Mathilde saw the world-famous Joaquin Cortes in Paris and thought he danced so beautifully that she had to try, too - "although I'm not very co-ordinated", she said.
Jennifer is an American teacher working in Budapest. "I just wanted to do something for me," she told me. I asked Eukene whether we would be experts by the end of the week-long course. "No," was her reply. "You can't learn flamenco in a short time, any more than a language. It is an art - there is no end to what there is to learn." Carmen admitted that she doesn't know everything, even though she has been dancing for 20 years. But even after two hours, most of us were talking about finding a flamenco class back home where we could show off our new skills.
Taller Flamenco: Calle Peral 49, Seville (00 34 954 564 234; www.tallerflamenco.com). Week-long beginners' courses cost €240 (£171), with accommodation available for €105 (£75) for six nights
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