Words by Katie Hagan. 05.07.19
Flamenco. It was unlike any dance style I’ve ever sampled in my life. Whereas with some dance styles you can to an extent see similarities — the bent knees, low to the floor prevalent in jazz and African dance — flamenco stands apart. And even though I’ve experimented in some Latin dance as a teenager, the flamenco experience was indeed very different to what I had initially expected.
Walking into one of Sadler’s Wells’ studios to attend an Alegrias class run by professionals MarÃa JesÃºs and Charo Pedraja from the Sara Baras Company, people from different ages and backgrounds were exchanging their flamenco histories and stories; pressing their skirts and ritualistically tying their shoes.
I divided my time between dancing and observing, as some parts of the workshop really required you to have an existing understanding of Alegrias, a variation or ‘palo’ within the wide flamenco vocabulary with a 12 beat rhythm.
The flamenco is an emotive dance, but also highly formulaic and built on an extensive body of movement and rhythmic principles. Even though I had heard it is for a more matured soul — and in my youth I had been quick to question this tradition — dancing in the workshop I understood why this is very much the case.
The flamenco needs you to embody something that I at my age haven’t experienced before. At times I couldn’t quite figure out what I was supposed to conjure from my body; but it felt like I was trying to light a fire without having collected enough material to burn. It took the type of physical and emotional strength and resilience that my youth could not be prepared for.
One movement required us to take three steps in a slight-jumping forward motion, stamping your foot whenever it met the floor with such force to shake the room. Another movement needed more fluidity and softness; involving more nimble, lighter footwork whilst the arms took over. These movements were both balletic and flicker-like in their twists and distortions. The intricate footwork was intoxicating — only the more experienced finessing its speed completely.
Even though I should have taken a few flamenco classes prior to this workshop, I felt as if I experienced total, undiluted professional flamenco dance. Since, I have been transfixed by its enigma; googling classes, watching performances and educating myself on its diverse history.
Without sounding as if I am romanticising or speaking in clichÃ©s, flamenco encompasses passion and principle. What sets it apart is its agelessness and maturity; two vital qualities that are definitely not to be underestimated.
Running from 2-14 July, Sadler’s Wells’ annual Flamenco Festival is merging the cutting-edge with the classical; experimenting with genre and gender roles to bring fresh tastes from Andalusia to London’s stage. See their website for more information.
Image Santana de Yepes.