The Morning Before El Jaleo de Verano

By Kasandra “La China”
July 26, 2009

I sit here at my laptop in the wee hours of the morning before our performance “El Jaleo de Verano” at the Capilano theatre tonight.  (The baby got up before 6am so hence I am awake even though she is now back asleep.  Oh well.)

What does the teacher think about before the show?

Well, mostly that my work is done.  I know that it is now all up to my students to pull themselves together.  I have choreographed, prepared them and even given some back stories to their baile.  In my mind, my job was done a couple of weeks ago when all the choreography was completed.

However, this is not how my students see it.  They eagerly come to class, linger around me hopefully, wishing that I impart some valued piece of knowledge or magic…but there is no magic.  Only sweat, individual practise and hard work.  As a flamenco rule of thumb, for every 1 hour of class, there is probably the equivalent of 3 hours of individual practice to perfect the 1 hour of class.  I don’t think people realize that because people come to class to practice.  When I sit back and stop dancing, my students stop dead in their tracks.

“Aren’t you dancing with us?  Can you review it again?” inquire the flamenco babies wistfully.

“No flamenco kids, this is tough love, if I keep dancing with you always, then you won’t be able to dance by yourself…” says Flamenco Momma.

Alas, there is the dawning realization that one needs to fend for oneself in flamenco.  Time to practice.

Panicking before the show, my estilo de mujer class with the massive alegrias choreography (read the following as if ordering from McDonalds:  1 salida, 2 letras, 1 subida, 1 silencio, 1 castellana, 2 escobilla, 1 palo seco escobilla, 1 bulerias de cadiz and walk off) decided that it was freak-time and I have heard through the grapevine that they have practised 4 times this week at 8am no less.  AWESOME.  Well it’s about time.  This term I choreographed the estilo class because I was thinking of my own alegrias choreography to perform in the near future.  A 9 minute alegria is huge, people.  There are remates in there that I know I’d have to practise 3X a week for at least 20 minutes for a month before I could do on the fly under the imminent pressure of an audience.

I have also seen my intermediate solea por bulerias class at the studio at 9:30pm this week.  Finishing up a couple of classes at 9pm, I see my flamenco gals hovering around the lobby and washroom, peeking in sheepishly.

“Are you finished now?  Can we use the studio?”

I grin and am very glad to see them, as they probably have the choreography with the second highest difficulty tonight and we’ve got some jeopardy compas moments.
Do I like performances?

Personally, I like the pressure of dancing in a performance because it forces me to put out.  I need pressure to be at my best.  What can I say?  If I have too much time or zero pressure, I’m a lazy butt, I’m sorry to admit.  I like performing because it is only then when I know what I am capable of doing.
Do I like preparing my students for a performance?  Yes and no.

No, because sometimes I have to be mean and give them tough love.  It is only at the end when people know what Flamenco really is.  Flamenco is not necessarily pretty, nice dresses and feel good vibes.  In the end it is a gritty, personal and internal battle with one’s own psyche.  Flamenco is not for the meek so when people find out that it is in fact difficult, it is daunting.  Which is why I started out with about 27 people in my solea class and only 9 of them remain now and are performing tonight.  Flamenco survival of the fittest.  The keeners remain in flamenco.  And they are likely hooked for life.

Yes, because I relate preparing my students for a performance to being much like a final exam at school.  If you never had a test in school, would you learn the material as well?  Doubt it.  Therefore, I know my students are learning as much as they can with the threat of a performance. I have witnessed all kinds of reactions to the method of my madness.  Some praise me, some want to throttle me. That’s life.  I’m a Sagittarius, man.  Take it or leave it.

“No guts no glory.” 

No guts no glory.  That’s what I always say.  At some point, one must grab the bull by the horns and take the animal down.  The flamenco keeners will do just that tonight when you see them.

I am very proud of all my classes.  Thank you to all my students who have listened to my flamenco soap box ravings.  Let’s start El Jaleo!  Como ya!!!  Do your Momma proud.

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