If you have read my previous articles, you’ll know that I moved to Castelló de la Plana to teach English. So what does Castelló have to do with flamenco? The answer is: not much! Before I relocated to Spain, I naively thought they danced flamenco all over the country. While most dance schools in Castelló offer flamenco classes, the Spaniards I met were really quite confused when I said I was learning flamenco in Castelló!
At first I learnt flamenco for fun, but it wasn’t a passion. Surprisingly, it was the COVID-19 lockdown that changed my relationship with flamenco! While every other activity stopped, my flamenco teacher started offering classes via Zoom. It wasn’t the same as in person, but when you’re in such a strict lockdown that you’re not even allowed out of the house for exercise, I can tell you it was incredible! The classes gave me structure to my days and something to work towards. I had more time to practise, and my teacher was great at sharing her joy through the screen. After a year and a half of online and masked, in-person classes, I decided to relocate to Seville to dive deeper into this intense, passionate dance.
Here are my top tips if you want to follow in my footsteps and learn to dance flamenco in Spain:
1) Travel to Seville
You can learn flamenco in dance schools anywhere in Spain, but Seville is the flamenco capital for good reason! It’s not the place where flamenco was first documented — that’s Jeréz, a town just south of Seville— but it’s definitely the place with the highest number of top-rated flamenco dance schools.
Seville is a must-visit for anyone who wants to dance flamenco professionally. The standard is high and the atmosphere is incredible to learn from, even if your goal isn’t to go professional (mine isn’t). Seville lives and breathes flamenco.
Aside from the dance schools themselves, if you walk down any street in the city you’re likely to hear someone — a busker, a group of friends, or professionals — singing, dancing or tocando las palmas (clapping the accompanying rhythm, which is not as easy as it sounds — this is almost an art form in itself!). There are also a multitude of tablaos and theatres to watch professional performers, and many flamenco artists play concerts here.
2) Research Dance Schools
As I mentioned, there are many dance schools in Seville. But this means you should do some research first and choose carefully. Obviously, you should consider general logistics: location, class times, and prices. Seville isn’t a massive city, but there’s no point in choosing classes far away if there’s also a good dance school down the road. Some schools offer classes only in the mornings or evenings, but there will be classes to fit around any commitments you have. At many schools, the more classes you take there, the cheaper they are. It can be more economical to keep classes together at one school, or you can opt for more variety at a higher cost.
But you should also consider the teacher, palo (the specific style), and focus. I started taking classes with two different teachers. Although one class was closer to my level, I was more inspired by the other teacher, David Pérez, who I highly recommend, so I started exclusively taking his classes.
At first I just looked for generic flamenco classes, but I soon realised that this wasn’t the most common option. I didn’t know which palo I preferred, but now I know more about my tastes. And you also have to consider the focus — I take a class based on improvisation, a technique class, and a set choreography class. Research the different options on websites, in Facebook groups, and in person before choosing what suits you. Many dance schools allow you to watch a lesson for free to see if you like it.
3) Find a Job
Some people are lucky enough to have savings or a grant to come to Seville for a period and not work. If you really want to focus solely on flamenco and you have this option, it is definitely the best. I wanted to learn flamenco and also experience living in Seville, so I looked for a job. But it can be difficult to find one that also allows you to make the most of the different flamenco experiences. I love my job, and I’m actually staying longer than planned in Seville because of it, but it has some setbacks to learning flamenco.
The hours are important. This includes the number of hours and the schedule so it can fit around your classes. My job was accommodating on both fronts by moving my shift an hour later so I could enjoy all of my flamenco classes first, and agreeing that I could work slightly fewer hours than what is usually expected. But it is still a lot of hours on top of the nine hours of flamenco I currently do. It is also surprisingly physical work (I’m a waitress) which again, is a lot on top of flamenco, and took some getting used to. This combination leaves me with little time and energy for other activities, but the reason I came to Seville is because of flamenco, so I’m happy!
4) Watch Flamenco
Learning to dance flamenco isn’t just about going to classes. It is also about watching as much flamenco from different performers as possible, and learning about the structure of the music and the culture behind the dance form. There are so many places to watch flamenco, and I haven’t been to them all yet, but the two that I would recommend are La Carboneria and Casa de la Memoria.
La Carboneria is a bar with a free flamenco show every day from around 8:30 p.m.. You can get tapas and drinks while watching the flamenco in a friendly, diverse atmosphere, and it is the highest level of free flamenco I have seen in Seville. I usually go there when people come to visit, and also by myself.
But if you want a really high standard, then you need to go somewhere like Casa de la Memoria. They have shows at different times each day, usually between 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., and it’s usually best to book in advance. The venue is more intimate, and it’s not a bar so the sole focus is on the incredible dancers and musicians. I recommend arriving early for the best seats.
5) Join in a Jam de Bulerías
In addition to watching flamenco, it’s also great to use your new-found skills outside of class. You may get to do this at parties or weddings or in a fin de fiesta after a show, especially if you dance bulerías (a specific palo). But an event that I recommend to practise your bulerías in a friendly atmosphere for all levels is the “Jam de Bulerías” run by the dancer and singer La Chocolata.
She sings wonderful bulerías all evening, and anyone can get up and improvise. At the time of writing, this happens every Monday night at 9:00 p.m. in the Plaza de Armas shopping centre’s Plata Odeón Imperdible, but check her website if you visit in the future. I love it because I put myself out of my comfort zone improvising in front of others, but it is so rewarding and an event I’m sure I won’t find if I move elsewhere.
6) Learn Sevillanas
Sevillanas are related to flamenco and are a set of four folk dances from Seville. They are traditionally partner dances, and the first step is the same each time before they branch out. Sevillanas are not exactly flamenco, but most people who dance flamenco also know how to dance sevillanas because they are simpler and it is easy to learn the basics. Once you have the basics you are free to expand, improvise, and adapt the steps however you like, with different styles, more spins, or dancing in a group. I recommend learning to dance sevillanas specifically to be able to dance in social settings (they are often danced at weddings in Seville), and also at the feria in Seville and surrounding places.
7) Attend Flamenco Festivals
April brings the Feria de Abril in Seville, followed by other ferias in other parts of the region. Whether you’re learning flamenco or not, I recommend visiting to see the colourful casetas (fancy marquee-type structures) and the stunning dresses, and to soak up the joyful atmosphere. Although it isn’t specifically a flamenco festival, you can dance your heart out to the sevillanas you’ve been learning, and in Jeréz you can find casetas with bulerías too. Because so much of these dances are improvised, dancing them in real-life situations is more rewarding than in class.
Two other events that are dedicated to flamenco are the Festival de Jerez in February and March, and Seville’s Bienal, which happens every two years in the autumn. Both are events where you can watch various flamenco shows from the best artists in the world, and often include premieres! These are great opportunities to get to know different artists and their styles.
So, has any of this inspired you to learn flamenco in Seville? I sure hope so! Flamenco is such an intricate and complex art form. Although I have learnt so much in the eight months I’ve been here (much more than in the three preceding years of classes outside of Seville), every day I realise just how much more there is to learn and discover. Now that I have experienced this, flamenco will always be a part of me. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had, and those which are to come, during my time in Seville.
by Kira Browne