My experience with a summer course of Bata de Cola and Mantón

Wonderfully tired future dancers.
After Feria and the Rocio pilgrimage in Huelva, there is a small break from all things flamenco and then comes summer.  Summer brings a ton of flamenco festivals, white night of Cordoba, Flamenco wednesdays, flamenco thursdays, flamenco fridays, Flamenco on the balconies, etc.  Lots of foreigners arrive to Andalucia to take Flamenco crash courses.  This year I decided to join in with the rest of dancers, and signed-up for two courses, intermediate Bulerias de Jerez, and intro to Bata de cola and mantón.

a Summer festival in Andalusia .  Look at this girl's style, ole!

Bulerias de Jerez class:

Patricia Ibanez is located in the hear of Santiago.  Her academy is accross Santiago's main church.  She was teaching intermediate Bulerias,  a type of flamenco dance, very festive and danced in many parties in the South of Spain.  In my opinion, Jerez's style is the hardest to master. Within the rules of Flamenco, it is pretty much free style, but it has to be flowing, sometimes funny, soft and strong, and it just has to engage the viewer.  On top of all that there has to be a "conversation" between dancer and singer.   That is why it is so hard to perform it correctly.  Many people dance bulerias, but only a few can achieve all of this, without looking too forced, practiced and foreign.

Bata de Cola con Patricia Ibañez
If you are actually thinking of taking a course, make sure you know enough about flamenco technique so you don't waist your hard earned money in to learning basic footwork.  You can do that any where in the world.  Come here (to Jerez) to absorb the rhythm, the body language, the facial expressions.  And also it is very important to listen to really good singing, which is key to good dancing.  

This year I spent two whole weeks dancing with Patricia Ibañez and in her class I met a whole lot of great women, like me, eager to experience the duende (dance muse).   There were people from Japan, Norway, France, Mexico, Russia  Australia, Spain and Italy.  We pretty much had the buleria steps down, but we were stomping, not dancing, the opposite needed for Bulerias of Jerez.  Other flamenco dances, need the strength and loudness of the feet, but not for these bulerias.  With a little grace, some loud feet, and intervals of stomps and silence, lots of hips and expression engaging the viewer, and never predictable.  At one point Patricia was so frustrated with us, that she made us take off our shoes and dance barefooted.  This was actually quite hard.  We were forced to listen to the singing and to our inner beat in order to dance, and it proved quite a revelation.  I know now that I have to work on dancing barefooted more often.  Bulerias de Jerez, don't really need fancy footwork, so dance shoes are not really required.  It is the body that does the dancing.  Believe me, this is hard, very hard.

Introduction to Bata de cola and mantón class:

Bata the cola, is a flamenco skirt with a really long train, which has just recently has made a comeback.  The technique requires basic classical dance moves, like, "attitude, plié, arabesque, relevé, ronde de jambe"  and a whole bunch more I can't remember, but it proved to be plenty.

It is wonderful to see a bata de cola in full swing.   The way it opens in the air like a fan and spreads nicely as it hits the ground.  It looks easy but why would it be?  It is sheer torture and a pain in the … kidneys.

My teacher's Bata

A mantón is a big square shawl that when folded in a triangle, the longest side, should span your entire arms length and then some more.  The material is satiny, could be silk and the heavier it is, the better for dancing.  Mantón de Manila is its full name and that is because many years ago, the shawl was brought from the Philippines.  Over the years, the oriental designs morphed into the beautiful embroidered roses and flowers.   A good mantón can cost several hundreds of Euros!  And here I was, dragging mine all over the floor...

A good manton technique requires strong arms and shoulders, there is a lot of twirling in the air and after a few minutes of these moves, the manton feels very heavy.  There is also lots of bending at the waist.   Elbows are important, when wrapping yourself in the manton, the more you stick your elbows out, the better, because it helps show off the manton.  Strait arms are also important when you want the manton to really fly in the air, if your arms are not straight enough, the manton will wrap around you, making it really difficult for it to take off into the air.  Maria Pages is a great example of long straight arm technique:

Go to minute 2:25 where she appears on stage.

These past days were the most brutal two weeks I have had in a long time, but worth every minute.  I loved the classes and will probably continue learning how to move the bata.  :-)

Watch this great bata de cola performance with Dancer Luisa Palicio, wow!

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