Sunday, July 3, 2011


The latest in adventure in my beautiful and blessed life has been a week in Seville, Spain.  I am aware that I am one of the lucky people from a first world country who can choose to chase a dream, this one of mine being a flamenco dance course in Andalusia where it all began. 

A little bit anxious about setting off without Kelly to a country where I do not speak the language, I endured the 21 hours of flights and lay-overs.  It was a little challenging to find my way around Barcelona airport, communicate, order food etc.  I checked the screens multiple times.  Although I couldn’t get wi-fi, I was pleased that my debit card worked in the ATM with no problems.  Being able to use an ATM card, having wi-fi in most places, email and skype etc is such a far cry from my first trip to Europe in 1988.  At that time my main form of contacting home was by letters which took two weeks.  Long distance calls were almost prohibitively expensive then.  This trip, I decided not to get a European cell phone for 100 Euros+ because I can call Kelly and Mum etc using skype on my laptop.

Enough of travel logistics.  What about Spain?  Well, Jose Carlos was a little late picking me up from the Seville airport, so it was very nice to meet him and be escorted to my apartment over the dance school.  Seville is hot in summer; most days are in the high 30s Celsius (around 100 Fahrenheit).  It’s fairly humid too.  That’s ok.  It’s like Darwin.  Having lived in the extremes of Darwin, Alice and now Billings, weather is usually irrelevant to me.  Just get the clothes and accommodation you need, adjust your outings and energy, and roll with it.  I love how Mediterranean cultures adapt so intelligently to their environment, compared to Australia in particular.  We’re getting better in Oz, but for so long we tried to pretend we were still in England or Ireland, planting green grass and building brick boxes.  I expected from living in Monaco that the buildings would have roof top terraces for the summer evenings, thick and well insulated walls, efficient use of space, and shutters facing the right way for morning sun and afternoon breezes.  What I have loved experiencing here is siesta.  It’s too hot to be out from 1 – 4 in the afternoon, so they don’t do it.  (As tourists with limited time, we make an exception, and that reminds us how smart the Sevillanos are to stay indoors.)  So then the businesses stay open till about 7:30.  The social life continues till well after midnight.  Hundreds and thousands of people sit out in the lovely, warm evenings, having dinner around 10, drinking and chatting till 1 or 2.  And they don’t work too hard.  When it’s getting towards siesta time, you might be ignored at a cafĂ©.  Everyone is friendly, but they know what pace of life is sustainable.  The other lovely thing is the use of fans.  They work!  Most of the local women carry a fan, usually from the dollar store, to hasten the evaporation of perspiration and cool off.  

Air conditioning with water mist at a tapas bar

On the Alameda, more spray mist provides relief from the heat

Taller Flamenco (Flamenco Workshop) teaches flamenco dance, guitar and Spanish.  It’s a handful of rooms in three floors of a building nestled within the old part of Sevilla.  This city was built by the Romans, then conquered by the Islamic Moors around 700, and then reclaimed by the Christian Spanish about 1200.  The mix of cultures is fundamental the charm and style of Sevilla.   Three very friendly and helpful people run the office, and a host of teachers come in and out.  I am staying in the one apartment above the school, sharing it with a family from Hong Kong whose daughter (I gather) has been a long time student, now a graduate.  A gaggle of fellow students is generally housed with friends of the school.  My new, dear friend Jessica from San Francisco is staying with the wonderful Laura.  Just around the corner, Laura is about seventy and often hosts students from the school.  She mainly stays in, with regular visits from her children and grandchildren (many also called Laura).  Laura rolls her own cigarettes, gathers people, gives advice, and on Friday evenings can be found dressed up, her blue eyes shining, sitting in a terrace cafe on her street enjoying a drink with a grand-daughter.  

City walls construct by the Moors

Inside the Alcazar palace

Exquisite gardens of the Alcazar

The magnificent cathedral includes a bell tower that was originally the minaret of the Moors' mosque

The city, featuring the bull fighting arena

I had a two hour beginners’ flamenco class each morning with Carmen, an excellent teacher.  We worked on a sample, short flamenco dance but didn’t get it finished.  Mainly we learned about the posture, strength, balance, and attitude of flamenco which took a lot of practice and will take much more.  Our little sample flamenco dance is an alegria, one of the few upbeat, happy styles of flamenco.  Many more are beautifully sorrowful and intense.  The beat of alegria and similar flamenco styles uses 12 counts (rather than 4/4).  We learned to count it as 1 2, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 – made more challenging for me because we counted in Spanish.  After warming up, we would practice the variety of hand movements and intricate footwork.  When we’d had all the dance and choreography we could reasonably take in, we could hear explanations about the timing, history, clothing, accessories, and musicians associated with flamenco.  I think I understood about 70% of what Carmen was saying, and occasionally asked for a translation.  It was lovely to have the Spanish wash over me.  My understanding of French certainly helped.  After that we would practice our ‘compas,’ foot stamping and hand clapping in delightful rhythms around the music. 

In the afternoons I studied beginners’ Spanish with Carmela for an hour and a half.  She spoke only in Spanish, and the other students already had some language.  It was the perfect level for me, with my Spanish phrase book, the 10 Pimsleur lessons I did on the Ipod and my familiarity with verbs, vocabulary etc from French.  Now I realize what Enrique Iglesias was telling me all those times he sang ‘Bailamos’ – “Let’s dance.”  Altogether, I have only scratched the surface of Spanish language and flamenco dance, but it has been so rewarding and so much fun.  My only regret is that I cannot continue studying flamenco dance in Billings. 

On Monday evenings, Taller Flamenco holds a ‘meeting’ (drinks) at a favorite bar in the neighborhood, Coral de Esquibel.  Such a simple idea allowed students to make friends with whom we could visit the sites and hang out in the evenings.  We ended up with a kind of ‘Noah’s Ark’: 2 Aussies, 2 Americans. 2 French, 2 Dutch, 2 Filipinos (some of these categories overlapping)… I loved the fact that around our table every evening we would be switching between Spanish, English and French, everyone able to understand plenty.  Before coming, I had reservations about being too old for this kind of class, and I certainly was a good decade or more older that the other students, but I was still very welcome and definitely ok with the dancing.  Yeah, and I found out that at 45 I can still have fun and stay out dancing in a club until 5:00 AM when required.  Meeting Jessica, a fellow American teacher, lover of dance and good food, made this week perfect for me.  I have been profoundly impressed with the set of young people I met this week.  They are so confident, multi-lingual, open to new experiences, good with money and people, fun-loving … It gives me more optimism for the future of our world.  

My beautiful dance partners, Jessica and Louise

Such great food... jamon (cured ham)

chorizo - delicioso

Jamon hanging in a cafe

I got to see some authentic flamenco, in Triana, the gypsy neighborhood across the river from the old city.  It seemed to be a family, with male singers and guitarists, and a woman (mum) dancing.  Such power and beauty in music and dance!  For 3 Euros we got the performance and a free drink.  It seemed more like these people were living their culture and welcoming tourists along for the ride rather than trying to make a profit. 

My last night was sublime.  We met at the Coral and enjoyed the usual conversation.  At the table next to us were some fun loving locals jamming with a guitar.  Two of the guys in our group also had a guitar.  We joined tables and listened to flamenco classics, as well as singing along to Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan and John Mayer.  Being Sunday night, we were eventually asked to have last drinks, and then moved to the Alameda, a pedestrian mall, where we danced and sang some more.  One old guy tried to teach me the Sevillanas, the folk version of flamenco.  One or both of us had drunk too much to allow much success, but it was brilliant fun.