This is the first of a series we are going to do on the basic technique or rudiments of flamenco dance.
It is inspired by an email I received from a reader who had a question about how to look like a flamenco dancer.
What a difficult question to answer!
Every dancer is different. Flamenco, while it does have a specific 'look' allows you to find your own style or voice (one of the many things that make it a great art form to learn) and therefore it is impossible to impose a set of aesthetic principles on the many different types of bodies that flamenco dancers have.
However, there are technical basics that you can learn that will give you a strong foundation to build on.
Today we are going to talk about dancing with weight or 'being grounded'.
This is a phrase often used to describe a dancer that has awareness and control of the weight of their body.
Peggy Hackney, in her book "Making Connections: Total Body Integration Through Bartenieff Fundamentals" describes the sensation of being grounded...
"The sensation of being centred or grounded comes from being in touch with this centre weight area* and its relationship with the centre of the earth." (p 133)
* 'The centre weight area' refers to your centre of gravity. that point about which all parts balance each other.
She also writes,
"To feel centred and grounded as you travel you must shift your weight from your weight centre." (p 133)
This is key when thinking about using weight in flamenco dance. All flamenco movement, unless it is a specific choreographic choice by a dancer, emanates from your 'weight centre'.
So how do you connect to your centre weight area?
It is different for every person and will take a lot of experimentation and practice on your behalf. However, during your flamenco practice there are some things you can do.
1. Deepen your plié
The first thing you can do to lower your centre of gravity is to bend your legs at your knees and lower your pelvis closer to the floor. This will lower your centre and give you more stability.
Try to maintain this demi-plie position while you do all flamenco movement unless you are doing a specific step or choreography that requires you to straighten your legs.
You will find when you start that after a few minutes you will naturally start to straighten your legs especially when you start using your arms. When this happens, stop, take a few breaths and think about your centre of gravity lowering to create more stability for your body.
2. Drop the pelvis
Think of the pelvis dropping from the base of the spine like an anchor drops down to the ocean floor.
3. Relax your jaw
Tension in the sacrum will cause tension in the jaw (think clenched teeth) and vice versa. If you think about relaxing you jaw by allowing the muscles in this area to slacken your will also cause a relaxation to occur at the base of your spine which will help you to drop the pelvis.
4. Feel the floor beneath your feet
What you feel when you stand on the floor is the reaction force from the ground in response to the weight (force) of your body acting on the ground.
It is important to think about the weight of your body acting on the floor in this way to gain awareness of what happens when you change the position of your centre of gravity.
What does it feel like when you starting lifting and straightening your legs? What does it feel like when you lower your pelvis and lift your arms above your head? All of these different sensations will give you signals that will allow you to understand where your body is in relation to the earth during any given movement.
Now, if all we needed to do is drop our whole body weight down and sink into the floor, flamenco dance would be very easy.
In fact what you need to do is separate your upper body from your lower body at your hips and lift your upper body up out of your hips while you bend your legs at the knees and try to ground your self to the floor.
This can also be tricky to figure out and we'll cover it in more detail in our next post on flamenco dance rudiments.
In the meantime, experiment with your weight.
And remember that your body will feel different every time you dance. Give yourself time to feel and understand what your body alignment is on the day you practice and then figure out what you need to do to find balance.