Continuing on with our guide to flamenco dance for complete beginners today we are going to start looking at the different techniques of the body.
First up is the technique of the feet.
Flamenco dancers use their feet to create percussive rhythmic patterns that mix with the music created by the rest of the flamenco musicians, the singer(s), guitarist(s) and percussionists etc…
Flamenco footwork is part dance with the upper body and part percussion with the feet. A dancer that has a great sense of rhythm and more importantly how to play with it is so much fun to watch. A great dancer will take you to the brink and back again (after the singer has of course) with their feet and body. I love flamenco footwork, it is very satisfying and more importantly lots of fun.
Now all that aside it is in no way easy to learn. As I write this I have a what feels like a million different sounds swirling around in my head after my class with José today. If he was to ask me I wouldn’t be able to repeat the steps that we did in class, I need to do a step mil veces (1000 times) before I have confidence calling it mine.
If you aren’t used to using your feet in this way you will need to time just to get your feet moving and on top of that you will need to start developing your sense of rhythm. Both of which take time and patience.
If you are just getting started you do not need to buy an expensive pair of flamenco shoes to start learning footwork. You need a hard soled shoe with a heel that is soft enough to move with your feet. Something like a character shoe would be fine.
However, if you want to study flamenco seriously then you will need to invest in a pair of shoes.
Basics of flamenco footwork
There are only so many things you can do with your feet. You can use the whole foot of a part of it to make different sounds.
The basics are:
golpe - a stamp with the whole of the foot striking the floor
planta - the ball of the foot striking the floor
tacón - the heel of the foot which can strike the floor from the whole foot being lifted up first or dropping with the planta (ball of the foot) already being on the floor.
From there there are just different combinations and techniques for how you can use each of the above.
Before we get to some steps that you can try lets talk about what you should do with your upper body while you are learning. Your torso should be lifted up out of your hips and should not be leaning forward or back. Keep you hands on your hips with you elbows pointing straight out to each side, not drooping backwards. To keep your elbows in the correct position you need to use the muscles of your back which is what we want.
Let your shoulders drop down your back and lengthen your head and neck. Look straight forward not down at the floor or at your feet if you are standing in front of a mirror.
Some basic steps to try
Try this basic step, watch how José (when he does the step slowly) really emphasises the separation of the planta from the tacón.
This next step is slightly more difficult. There is an extra tacón on the opposite foot to the one you used for the planta before the heel of the first foot comes down. Take it very slowly and make sure you try to separate the ball of the foot from the heel as much as possible.
Finally this exercise is another step up in difficulty. It includes the tacón that drops down with the whole foot being lifted into the air.
You might think that learning footwork is just about the feet but in combination with the feet you need to study what your upper body is also doing. Without a good understanding of the posture of the upper body you will struggle to get a good sound out of your feet.
Eventually you will want to play with the volume, dynamics and speed of your footwork as well as adding complimentary movements of the arms and head. Without good posture and control of the upper body that won't be possible.
You definitely want to be able to do something like this one day so don't forget to work on your body!
Next we'll be looking at body technique.
Thanks for reading!
Renae & José