Unless you were listening to flamenco from within the womb having and keeping good compás is a constant challenge.
What is compás?
It is the rhythmic cycle of a flamenco palo. To flamenco, compás is absolutely fundamental.
As flamenco dancers we do not follow the music we hear like we would do in other dance styles or if you were dancing to a recording.
We are responsible for controlling the rhythm (compás) with our bodies which guitarists and other musicians follow.
When the singer is involved we defer to their leading of the compás and need great understanding of the compás as well as the cante in order to accompany the singer and offer a physical interpretation of the song.
So how do you get good compás?
1. In the beginning you need to count (later you will sing)
When you first start learning flamenco you actually need to count the compás so you can understand where you are in the cycle. If you are practicing a marcaje or a little footwork exercise, count until you can feel the rhythm naturally as you dance. When you start to have a feeling of the rhythm start to sing it. Sing it in any way that makes sense to you but sing, sing away!
2. Use a metronome
For a part of your practice, not all of it. Use a metronome. The reason for this is that a metronome doesn't lie - so you will know (if you are paying attention to what you are doing) whether you are in or out of compás. This is especially helpful when you are practicing footwork.
3. Do everyday things in compás
Pick simple things that you do everyday (like walking to catch the bus) and do them in the compás of your choice. What ever you are listening to that week be it tangos, seguirilla or bulerías, run the compás over and over in your head and move in compás. Walk in compás, make coffee in compás, brush your teeth in compás. The only people who may notice what you are doing (if you are in public) are other dancers in which case they might be doing the same thing so you'll be in good company.
4. Pick one song to listen to and accompany it with palmas
All dancers should have good palmas, practicing in this way trains two skills. Your ear for the compás that you are hearing and your palmas. Start by practicing just the underlying rhythm, when you have that practice the remates that you hear, after that practice inserting some contratiempo in different places. How does it sound? How does it feel? This is along the same lines as José's advice for studying cante when you are a beginner. Make sure you watch that video if you haven't already.
5. Find a flamenco friend and do palmas for each other.
Take turns being the dancer and the accompaniment. If you are the dancer it is your responsibility to embody the rhythm so you friend can follow you. If you are doing the palmas you need to pay attention to what your dancing friend is doing and provide support. If either of you stop doing your job things will fall apart very quickly.
These are some ideas to get you started. We'd would love to know how you practice your compás - let us know in the comments!
Renae & José