Reflections on what I’ve tried and reaped.
2020 sprouted a gamut of options for my flamenco learning paths. From Festival workshops in Jerez and daily classes in Seville, from learning from video courses I produced for my artists and starting flamenco dance online from my quarantine hotel room.
While it was annus horribilis for many, I know for some others, including myself, that time of reset and recharge opened new ways of thinking, as well as exploration (by choice or the lack of!)
Initiating Passion Projects as a way of learning
I headed first to Jerez, the little town in Southern Spain big on flamenco, sherry and Andalusian horses. It’s a great example of how arts & culture inject economy into this land If any cynic needed any justification to support arts & art workers, just study the Festival de Jerez. It manages to draw the global flamenco community to its throbbing pulse every February and March.
It was my annual immersion to learn flamenco and catch up with the artistic presentations in theatres, streets, tabancos/taverns and Peñas. Plus, simply absorb and appreciate the culture that the art of flamenco is so steeped in.
I also had a passion project to produce – online flamenco video courses.
At that time I still wasn’t quite sure how this way of learning would be received. After all, we’re talking performing arts: dance, song, guitar and how they interact live.
The value beyond the studio
One motivation was that besides just training physical skills, I’ve always appreciated the cultural knowledge, life experience and teaching wisdom from my maestros: Manuel Betanzos, Manuel Soto, Javier Ibañez and Paloma Gómez.
That has so much value beyond the action in the studio and on stage. It has been what is most enriching and meaningful to me over the years of our relationships. I felt it merited sharing and accessibility.
Not in fleeting ‘hi, bye’ ways as physical encounters and workshops may be, but in more tangible ways. Documenting diverse teachings transmitted by unique flamenco personalities.
In a nutshell, somehow my artists came on board yet another ‘crazy’ untested idea of mine. It had been gestating in my mind for three years, and when the Stars aligned, it fell into place.
Things don’t happen overnight though, and people don’t say ‘yes’ just like that. I’m aware that we’re having to get to know people and let them get to know me, as part of a natural relationship growing.
Our first Maestros flamenco video course, Tangos de Triana, was shot in Seville and launched in March and our second course, Alegrías de Cádiz was shot in the beach town of Cádiz in June. It was intensive working on it, burning midnight candles on editing, transcribing, translating, website creation, social media outreach. At times, it was overwhelming.
I was receiving a new way of education too. I reckon what didn’t sink into my head working out at the studio would surely sink in with all that meticulous transcribing and translation.
Learning Flamenco via Video Courses
After the launch I was able to sit back and reflect on it, this time as a student-user. What have I personally enjoyed from this format of learning via video courses?
I loved the high quality recordings our video artist, Felix, captured with his super dupe cameras and sound equipment. He made it look great, better than any Zoom or my Iphone recording can do.
Clarity of visual demonstrations and sound made it a pleasure to watch and rewatch. No blur images, fuzzy sounds to mar my enjoyment. Or risk being cut off by poor wifi.
Something to have and hold – forever! I could ‘attend’ and access as many times as I want 24/7. And if I didn’t catch something, I’d replay and ‘make’ the teachers demonstrate again.
I like having the flexibility of learning at my time, without having to set up yet another appointment. I think video courses are great for busy people whose international time zones don’t coincide with live schedules.
Flipside? This being self-paced, if we aren’t disciplined, we might slack-off our own flamenco milestones.
And since the teacher isn’t there to correct you or give direct feedback on the spot, you’d need to develop an awareness of how you are learning and the ability to self-correct.
In-person Flamenco Classes – the Daily Experience
When the new normality kicked in, a few flamenco academies in Sevilla started to resume physical classes from July. I took classes at the Escuela de Baile Alicia Marquez and at the Academia de Manuel Betanzos.
Daily classes are my preferred way of learning in Spain. I like them better than workshop formats such as those in the Festival de Jerez. Festival workshops – usually 7 days each – are great if we don’t have a lot of time and need to learn in a short, intensive way.
But, if you have more time, I’d recommend daily classes of at least 2 weeks. If you can stay for longer weeks and months, even better!
With daily classes, what we learn is consolidated in a consistent way, repeating and revising. The key word here is consistency. This is important especially if we are relatively new to learning the art. Consistency gives us a boost and concretizes our foundation.
Giving myself time also took away a sense of anxiety of having to cram in as much as possible. It gave assurance to be at ease with the process of learning. It was also a reminder that flamenco is a such profound art we’d never learn it all in in our lifetime. So might as well enjoy the journey.
There were experiences just as important outside the studio too, such as ‘me time’, reflection, absorbing and understanding different cultures. Time to meander.
This is how I started understanding the notion of personalising my own path.
By the time I got back to Singapore, my learning shifted to live online flamenco classes, from my quarantine hotel room.
Going from the spacious Sierra Nevada in Granada, my last stop in Spain, into the confines of a hotel room was not something to look forward to. But I was fortunate on so many accounts – being in a well-organised country and fully-provided for in my hotel, meals and all.
Andres Peña started his online classes in August after being prompted by a student. Those of you who know Andres will know he’s an expert at teaching the Bulerias de Jerez. That was the workshop I signed up for at the Festival de Jerez, and then continued in Sevilla when he taught at the Academia de Manuel Betanzos.
Now back at the Academia of My Hotel Room and with my Mac Air teleporting moving images across the distance, I could relive and continue my learning with Andres.
Admittedly, the con of online learning, particularly for a movement art, one that is very rhythm-oriented, is the internet time lag.
All teachers and students have had to surmount this challenge. My first live online class was somewhat of an ‘arghh’ first hour frustration. Because we all had to deal with that annoying split seconds delay, right?
For a precision art, where you’ve worked all your flamenco life to be (or at least look) in compás with your teacher and mates, not being on time together is disorientating.
It’s a different ballgame, where pleasure is directly connected to (internet) speed.
In comes our coping mechanisms and brain rewiring.
Learn to shut out gallery distractions (put Zoom to ‘Speaker View’ to see only your teacher. Solve sound issues, dissociate what your teacher does, to what you actually are hearing. Eventually, just focus on dancing to sound, after the brain has absorbed the visual reference of your teacher.
And for the teacher, it means having to ‘see’ the students differently – behind a screen and within the dimensions of their device – instead of a moving body of physical energy to touch and correct.
It also means getting accustomed to ways of analysing whether the student is doing it right or not.
Despite these challenges with live online or recorded video courses, I root for their existence, because it has given me more choices.
Because had I not explored these options of supplementing my physical classes, my experience would have been the lesser.
It would have meant missing out on getting to know more of the Tangos de Triana, the Alegrías de Cádiz, missing out on furthering my understanding of how to dance to live, improvisation song and guitar, and missing out on learning from the calibre of great generous artists like Manuel Betanzos, Manuel Soto and Javier Ibañez.
Knowledge that I gained from the video courses I produced with them puts me in a readier position to train with my own musicians in Asia. Fresh knowledge gained means I can share more with my students.
Not doing online classes would have meant missing out on 4 months of lessons (mostly twice a week) with Andres Peña on the Bulerias – getting to know different cantes each lesson, tuning my ears and understanding how to respond.
It would have meant missing out on continued conversations, not just to absorb the wisdom and experience of my maestros, but also the interaction with, and encouragement from my fellow course mates.
A reflection by an Italian online classmate I got to know, is that while Covid takes something away, it also gives something back.
One thing is certain – tech has dynamically opened more avenues to access global learning communities than ever before. If that’s one silver lining that appeared with Covid, then 2020 did, to some extent, redeem itself.
Where to learn Spanish Dance and Flamenco online
- Maestros Flamenco – High quality video courses taught by Spain’s renowned artists. With special focus how to dance to flamenco song and guitar, how to sing and play the guitar, interacting in live flamenco.
- Maestros Danza Española – A step by step curriculum to learn Classical Spanish Dance and Castanets. Suitable for students as well as teachers.
ONLINE LIVE CLASSES
- Maestros Flamenco Online Academy, for dance, song and guitar classes.
- Paloma Gómez International Spanish Academy, for Spanish Dance & castanets.
- Andres Peña, click here for his Facebook.