Beginning Flamenco: How to Prepare for Your First Performance
You've practiced until blisters formed on your feet and you hear the toque when you close your eyes at night. You've gone to all the flamenco classes. You've braved weeks, months, maybe even years of your flamenco instructor's strong criticism, the restrained bien, the only crumb you've ever received. Now, the big moment has finally arrived, your big debut. You and your fellow flamenco dancers will perform together on stage in this demanding of Spanish dances. You may call yourself a flamenco dancer.
Now what? How do you prepare for the show?
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One to Two Weeks Before the Flamenco Show
The flamenco instructor will guide the when, where, and how of flamenco rehearsals. Natalia, my flamenco instructor, had us flamenco dancing every free evening and weekend the two weeks before the show. She had our guitarist and singer, her husband, at rehearsals whenever possible. Even their baby, already a budding Spanish dancer at two, attended rehearsals. However, in order to optimize your performance take preparation into your own hands as well.
- Practice: My feet were tired, and my arms ached in muscles that never troubled me before. However, I took at least 20-30 minutes every day to run through each routine – usually in my street shoes to preserve my aching feet. I especially concentrated on tricky areas where I often missed the compas or forgot a step.
- Listen to a rehearsal: A master of the flamenco dance, Jesus Muñoz, taught me in a workshop I took from him to record classes so that you can listen to the toque again later. I recorded an alegría from our rehearsal and listened to it every morning the week before the performance. Though I chuckled to hear Natalia's insistent instruction for us to "Turn!" the toque became second nature to me.
- Listen to Flamenco Music: If you have examples of the palos you will be dancing, that's even better. I don't necessarily, but listening to flamenco music on Pandora every day helped put me in the mood. I feel I also subconsciously started picking up on those very difficult flamenco rhythms.
- Watch Flamenco: If you are a fan of Spanish dancing in general and Spanish flamenco in particular, you may already watch a lot of flamenco. I searched out flamenco playlists on YouTube and watched those flamenco dancers while I got ready in the morning. Don't look for your flamenco stars, look for the average flamenco dancer. One very beautiful but not very talented dancer was a special favorite of mine; she trips at the end but maintains her duende, her flamenco soul.
The ultimate goal!
Two to Three Days Before the Flamenco Performance
- Wear flat shoes: We were rehearsing so much in the days leading up to the show that my right foot started rebelling; it developed a swollen bead in the middle. I put away even my most modest heels and wore only flat shoes. (I tried to get away with practicing in my tennis shoes, but Natalia wouldn't let me). Natalia, a quintessential Spaniard, was complaining about how much her feet hurt the night of the show because she wears high heels all the time. My feet hurt too – but not until after the performance.
- Conduct a Pre-Performance: A fellow flamenco dancer works at a school that holds a multicultural fair. It just happened to fall on the evening before our scheduled performance. She booked us to perform our two best numbers. We blew it. Recognizable flamenco dancing did not happen. Natalia told us afterwards, "You can cry if you want to – I would." Kinder, she observed that performing in front of an audience is very different than flamenco classes or even dance rehearsal. She reiterated, "You should cry." I didn't, but I practiced-practiced-practiced.
- Sleep: The night before the performance, try to sleep. I have insomnia under the best of circumstances, but I went through all my relaxation techniques the night before the flamenco show. Let the toque lull you to sleep, but don't focus on what might or might not happen – just sleep.
The Day of Your Flamenco Debut
- Drink water: Whether rehearsing or hosting family in town for your flamenco performance, make sure you hydrate. Dancing is a thirsty business. Bring water to the show – maybe it will be provided, but it's best to have your own supply.
- Lay out costumes: I had two different costumes for my four dances. I laid them out on my bed ahead of time to make sure I had all the pieces. I still forgot the safety pins, but I had everything else from flower to shoes.
- Nerves: They're ok. Natalia told me that without nerves dancers can get sloppy. She's seen it happen with our most advanced student, and she admitted that it has happened to her. If a dancer is too relaxed, she might make stupid mistakes. You've come this far – ride the nerves, just don't let them take over.
Pamper yourself: In order to ride the nerves without letting them take over, I pampered myself. I painted my toenails blue to match the toes of my shoes (even though no one would see them on stage.) I wore my expensive French perfume. I wore my underwear with the glittery angel wings. That way, whatever else happened, I would have blue on my toes, French scent on my skin, and wings on my butt.
At the Show
- Outfitting: More is better when it comes to make-up. According to my sister, all of us had pale faces. Go for the doll look – that's the only way to make your facial features appear on the stage. Wear big earrings. What looks monstrous in person just looks flamenco on stage. Also, gloss your hair – make it sparkle!
- Test the stage: Don't hog the space if there are other performers rehearsing, but take your turn to walk through your entire performance. A fellow dancer and I only practiced one dance, but we walked through every entrance and exit. When you're on stage you want to look confident, not like you're hunting for your position. (I wish I would have had the foresight to clear the area behind the curtain – it was treacherous trying to make our way in the dark during the show.)
- Drink water: It's more important now than ever.
- Trust yourself: You've been preparing for this for months, maybe longer. The week before the show Natalia finally added an ending to our jaleo, and we all practiced it. The jaleo was a dance we had started learning eight months previously. In the meantime we learned castanets (or rather, my fellow flamenco dancers did – I failed that flamenco test), the Sevillanas, and the alegria. Natalia assures us flamenco is piecemeal work, and you never learn a dance from start to finish from the beginning. Regardless, we had the dances down.
- Have fun: Don't worry about any mistakes that happen. Flamenco is a communication between the flamenco guitarist, the flamenco singer, and the flamenco dancer. Conversations are never perfect. Relax and have fun on the stage (unless you're performing a soleá, a lament of pain). Be the personality so that when you make a mistake – I did, a couple – the audience is invested in your success and doesn't mind.
Hubs About Flamenco
Beginning Flamenco: Flamenco Shoes: Flamenco shoes are the standard investment for the flamenco dance. Choosing the correct pair is necessary -- but tricky!
Beginning Flamenco: How to Produce Contra Tiempo in Compas: Contra tiempo, counter time, is the space directly in the middle of the beats. This “off-beat” provides an essential element of flamenco rhythm. Contra tiempo must come within the cycle of compás, the rhythmic unit of flamenco.
Beginning Flamenco: The Basic Foot Steps in Flamenco: This article details the basic foot steps necessary for zapateado, the footwork in Flamenco. These are by no means the only steps; they are simply the first any Flamenco dancer should master.
Flamenco on Hub Pages: A collection of Flamenco Hubs put together by master Hubber (and dancer) Marisa Wright.
After the Jaleos Have Faded
After all those hours and hours of rehearsals my fellow flamenco dancers and I agreed that the performance was over too quickly. We may not be ready to give up our day jobs in favor of flamenco dancing, but our first flamenco performance was a success.
My fellow flamenco dancers and I dissected the mistakes from the performance some, but mostly our ears were still ringing from the appreciation our audience had given us. True I stacked the deck in my favor, having eight friends and family members at the show. However, their praise sounded sincere. I had danced with some level of duende – the happy type, perhaps, but duende just the same.