Emilio's Troupe

The flamenco troupe, at it’s smallest is a guitarist, singer [often sitting on a beat box] and dancer, work together to maintain the rhythm, but along the way they speed up, slow down, introduce different rhythms and counter-point. Larger troupes might have a male dancer too, and a separate percussionist.

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The Carmen De Las Cuevas School
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School Secretaries
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Emilio, Guitarist And Teacher
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Carmen, Head Of School

We decided to base ourselves in Granada for a while, so we found a school. Called Escuela Carmen de las Cuevas. You can learn Spanish, flamenco dance, Compas, and flamenco guitar. Colin takes a guitar class with Emilio, gives up, then books in for the language course and I book in for dance with Pilar. In the afternoons we both learn compas with Raimundo.

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Dancer Flamenco Museum, Seville
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A Classic Flamenco Pose
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Male Dancer, Seville
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Palmas (Or Clapping) The Compas

We were very impressed by the flamenco we saw at the Museum of Flamenco in Seville, and both want to know more. The group in Seville stirred our interested in the rhythms. Learning Compas, is the basis for all flamenco; singing, guitar and dance.

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Raimundo And The Compas Class

Flamenco is a gypsy art form traditionally developed by the oppressed peoples of Andalusia. It’s believed that the dance was originated by the “untouchables” in the Punjab and travelled with these nomadic “Romany” people all along north Africa, from Egypt to Morocco and into southern Spain. The very particular style of plaintive singing and the differing rhythms have many influences, including: Persian, Islamic, Jewish, Mozarabic, Arabic and African.

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Male Dancer In Flight
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Tango

To learn flamenco dance, I have to buy the right shoes, which are simple black Mary Jane’s with nails hammered into the heels and toes. I also buy a long black skirt with white spots, as they tell me my jeans won’t offer enough movement.

Hips need to be rotated on every beat, so I can see the problem with tight jeans.

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Pilar And Her Dance Class
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Helen In Dance Class
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Pilar, Dancer And Teacher
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Flamenco Dance Class

At first it’s like rubbing our tummies and patting our heads. We learn to turn our wrists circling every finger inwards and outwards. At the same time we tap to the odd beats and rotate our hips. We do heel, toe, stamp, and turn, across the tiny floor in the dance room, a tiny white washed cave.

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Flamenco Babes, Helen And Terri Get The Look

By the end of week two we’re not exactly graceful, but at least we are all in time with each other. The dance students are from all over the world, Canada, Holland, Germany, France, Japan. The only chap in our class is an Iraqi Kurd who lives in Switzerland.

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The Dance Class On School Stairs

Shunning the tourist traps, where you arrive by coach to see a watered-down version of the real thing and get a dinner thrown in, we find a good club to see flamenco. It’s named after the Bunuel film, “ Un Chien Andalou”. In a tiny cavern-like space we have drinks and tapas and watch Emilio, the guitar teacher and his troupe play and dance. The dancer uses her body as a percussive instrument, tapping very fast and clapping her hands all over her body at some points. The singer has huge black eyes and curly black hair, he looks Egyptian.

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Emilio And His Singer
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Dancer In Un Chien Andalou Club
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Troupe In Un Chien Andalou Club
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Un Chien Andalou, Interior

Colin gets introduced by a local friend, Manuel, to a bar where the gypsies go to play very late at night. I won’t give its name, because it is a private space run by a great guitarist. We go up to the Sacre Monte hills one night dressed very simply. We have a drink at one bar and wait till after midnight. Then we go to the gypsy cave and order a drink. The tiny space has no fridge, so drinks are either whisky, or rum with mixers. The owner-guitarist recognises Colin from before, he raises his glass to us to clink. I make the mistake of holding my glass in my left hand “Mal Suerte” he scolds me, so I apologise, change hands and clink again. “Suerte” I say, hoping to be forgiven. Evidently this works, as some time later he beckons us into the back room, where a couple of regulars are drinking and chatting. He plays really well then hands his guitar over to some very young men in shell suits who have the worst haircuts we’ve seen for some time: 1970‘s Mullets.

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Colin's Sketch Of A Flamenco Dancer

They are refining their skills and are already very accomplished. After an hour they leave. Later some people arrive, looking like they’re extras in a Spaghetti Western. [These should be called Paella Westerns as they were filmed in Andalusia.] Enter a skinny buck-toothed, cross-eyed man and a tough, bald guy with a beautiful Moroccan girl on his arm and a trace of white powder under his nostrils. They are closely followed by a guy with a tanned leather face, wrinkled like a landscape after a drought, wearing a nylon bomber jacket and black leather spray-on flared trousers. A tiny eagle-nosed drunk is gently but firmly evicted after annoying our host. A local woman gets up to dance and first checks the compas-“is it a Buleria?” She asks.

Two more gypsy guys arrive, decorated with huge tattoos on their hard wiry arms, they have wildly shining, drug-bright eyes. The last to come in is a young guitarist who looks like David Essex. This completes the group and they sing and play, constantly swapping the guitar and breaking into each others’ songs. They play and sing brilliantly without stopping – we leave them early in the morning. It’s edgy but a great experience.

No photos – these people are secretive and superstitious, we wouldn’t dare photograph them.

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