Monday, 30 September 2013

Real Lesson 7

Cansada, again.

So today I had 2 hours practice before my lesson, which was OK, I felt as though there was more conviction in my 'Braccio' movement but still trying to get to grips with rotating the wrists in that position. Its so hard. I hear in the other room the amazing stamping of the flamenco shoes and its so advanced, so amazing, so frightening!

As I was walking to the school today, I saw a guy with a T-shirt on that said 'Decide'. I had to decide to win today, but it wasn't so easy. Because I have very little space at weekends to practice, all of the hard work from the previous week gets forgotten in some way, and also, I think there has to be a time for resting the body as well.

Watching 'Bajari' on Saturday was good as it allowed me to look at the moves of one of the most amazing flamenco dancers (Karime Amaya) and from that try to unleash my own spirit and energy to put this into what I'm practising at the moment.

There were some good points of the lesson. I have improved on the movement and sensuality of the tango I am learning, but also I am forgetting key beginners stuff that really needs work. When I come to practice, I just find I'm unable to open up and take those steps into really getting my head around committing to the steps. Like there is a fear there.

Also, when I am practising with my teacher, its like I'm embarrassed and fall apart doing the moves. I need to strip away at the ego and start understanding that this is for me and the final outcome. Its not for that person who is teaching me, though to some extent it is as well, to encourage them about their capacity and ability to pass on techniques.

But I  have to remember its a lesson as well and that I'm not going to take in everything at once if I'm still focussing on the last steps that I'm not getting the space to practice.

So today, the new bit was learning some stamps to go with the Braccio movement. It was so hard to get my head around. Its still not perfected, in fact I haven't moved on with it at all. I can't seem to get in the headspace for taking in the new stuff that quickly - is it an age thing? Maybe. Toni said the best way to go about this step, (essentially when the arms move out in the circular position, the corresponding foot comes forward for planta stamp, and then when the arm comes up, the corresponding foot moves back in a golpe stamp, but both stamps very subtle and with not so much force) was to think in terms of the body being separated. There's so much to take in.

So we ended with the stamp moves and its amazing how after a few days rest the legs become tired and weak again! Toni said I still need to relax more. Hard when there's so much more to organise for this phase of the project.

We spoke at the end of the session about where this practice was all going to go in terms of the final choreography. Of course I'm being realistic and understood when Toni said he wanted to teach me something based on 'Embrujo del Fandango' which was right for my level and I totally agreed and was happy with that.

So out of the last few sessions, I think what I've learnt is not to be disappointed with a seeming failure and that you have to be realistic with these things if you're just dipping your toe in the water with them. What matters is the outcome and the essence of the final installations for the exhibition which were always going to be based upon the performance I would do.

At this stage I've also learnt that perhaps I don't spend enough time on projects. This could have easily been done over 3 months to enable me to be kinder to myself and not rush so much. That's the main thing I'll take away from this, the sense of time I need to create something, though there is also virtue in learning something very intensely in this way. Particularly how I need to get over myself and my ego and unleash my 'duende' and also, essentially how its important not to get lost in worry about the direction that things are going. Trusting things are going the right way is often the hardest thing.

So from now on its non-stop practice for me, wherever that may be. La studio, la habitacion, la career, la platja Wherever this flamenco may take me.

Sunday, 29 September 2013


Really tired today so had another resting day.

Been having issues with my 7D camera which has really out me out of rhythm (even if I did have any) because I need to be getting documentation pictures of life here in Barca, but something has gone wrong with it and because of the language barrier, its hard to explain or get an explanation or solution about the issue with anyone in a camera shop here.

Had a restful afternoon on the beach in Barceloneta, not far from Sorromostro area. Did some more background reading about Flamenco's origins and then worked on a flyer for Phase 2 of the project to engage the participants in the school in Halewood, Merseyside UK, where the video installations for the exhibition will be created.

Estoy muy cansado, so a very short post. A long day ahead tomorrow.

Buenas Noches x

Saturday, 28 September 2013


Decided to rest today and try to absorb a bit of Barca at peace, rather than rushing around. But before that, I thought it would be good idea to start studying the footage of Carmen Amaya's 'El Embrujo del Fandango,' after all, its what I have set out to (try) and perform at the end of this training.

Was a bit shocked to say the least, re-acquanting myself with this performance, and just came away thinking, 'OK, fair enough' and 'Just who do I think I am again?'

Admittedly, I was just about to head for packing my bags and getting the hell back to Liverpool when I took it what I was trying to achieve. But then, isn't this all just part of some great learning process anyway? Do I have to do this performance step by step, shot by shot?

As I said in a previous post, there's always a solution to the problem, and a germ of a solution came later, as I idly just sat on a bench in Plaza Catalunya, watching the rest of Barcelona rush on by.

I was reading about how The Ramblas was a war zone during the Spanish Civil War and something about how George Orwell was caught in the crossfire at the time in 1937. Funny how George pops up every now and then, I thought, but also remembered that 1937 was the year that the film was made featuring this (in)famous fandango by Carmen Amaya.

I just started thinking about the time from then to now and questioning again whether things have  moved on rapidly or slowly in terms of gender roles here and globally, and could I possibly incorporate this idea of time into the final work as a nod to the slow progression or even regression of gender roles?

After some time just kicking back and gathering my thoughts together here (and getting over the shock of the re-performance challenge), I headed down to Aribau Club Cinema and watched 'Bajari', a really beautifully shot documentary, set in Barcelona, about a collaboration between Carmen Amaya's grand-niece, flamenco dancer Karime Amaya and some of the best musicians from the gypsy community in Barcelona, to create a show with some of the best flamenco talent here.

It was a great film, though I could only really understand a little bit of what was being said, but the focus was very much on the music and dancing which was bewitching. And very good to watch for tips on how to 'let go' of my tense-ness and be more free with the exercises I'm doing at the moment. So, well worth the watch as research for this project and so timely that its out now here, when I'm doing this project.

Of course it made me think about what it was I had to say about flamenco when I'm only just learning the basics. More time needed on that one I think. So after a lovely restful day, back to practice tomorrow.

Lesson 6

Friday, 27 September 2013

Mastering the mind, first.

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant 3 hour flamenco session today, if very exhausting.

As there was more time, we could spend time on the circling my arms in the first move of the routine with the hand twists incorporated. And did we spend time on it!

The thing I found useful was that by working through this exercise with one arm at a time, and very slowly, patiently and meditatively, I could do it. Its just when I am doing it faster and with both hands twisting where they should be twisting that the problems start.

Basically, my shoulders (or hombro's) are too hunched and tense when doing the arm movement. I have to think like someone is pulling on my back, to keep my shoulders completely down and back. This works.

The other issue with this move is that when I move each arm alternately out to circle and introduce the hand twists, I have to remember that it is a full circular movement of the arm and the hand twists push that move on. At the moment I have a tendency to stop half way through the movement once the first hand twist is due and then carry on. It needs to be a fluid movement.

There's just so much to remember though at the same time! So we started the routine practice and there was no way I can include the hand twists at this point. Its far too hard and too fast for me.

Also, another new move was introduced to the routine, which means 4 moves to this tango.

Toni said a funny thing - he said that in flamenco they have 2 types of dance. Tango is a happy dance for partying and there is the more lamenting type too. I was too rigid and tense at the moment for this tango, could I remember any movement in any salsa I've done? So its ok to have some 'attitude' and feeling in the dance after all. I just need to be less stiff and more relaxed. But can I achieve that?

I tried my best to be more relaxed, put it that way. Perhaps thats what this is all about. Freeing a relaxed spirit form within me? Plenty of more practice to go!

Onto the stamping....golpe plano was again really tiring but getting stronger. And with the tacon, I need to always think in the 'down' movement, really directing the heel down deep into the floor. And I'm still swaying in the hips and the shoulders, grrrr! With these stamp moves I have to control my body with my abdomen and pelvis so that I am grounded and don't sway. Legs need to have a bit of flexibility and again be less tense.

There was also another new stamp move. Planta tacon (right) then tacon (left) (using heel down, sole up) then planta tacon (left) tacon (right) (using heel down, sole up) etc etc. I had to get into my own head space for this, it was too fast to follow Toni. I had to take it slow to get it right at my own pace.

Toni had some really great ways of explaining how to think within each move. For example, the golpe and planta stamps have to be very hard and strong to ensure my security in the ground. The tacon has to  be controlled by the abdomen and its all in the 'down' movement. With the newest move, mixing the heel tacon with sole up and the planta stamp, I have to imagine that the floor is bouncing the sole of the planta up to get the energy to mov.e to the tacon heel (with sole down) movement. At least I think thats right.

So what its showing me is just how powerful the mind is in this process of learning. Not just about the theoretical way something is done, but providing a strategy to get from A to B with a movement and how we can create the conditions mentally to achieve something physically.

It was such a fantastic day today. We had a bit of a laugh at my lack of rhythm in places and the weak moves, but I also felt as though more progress has been made and I even heard quite a few 'bueno's' from Toni and the suggestion that there has been some improvement. I feel more 'manly' in the moves as well and my body has definitely changed over this first full week. You can see the muscles and the arms are becoming stronger day by day, and I do feel as though I'm becoming stronger mentally and physically. It just takes a lot of focus.

Anyway, I managed to organise going into the dance school before my lessons to practice, so I'll start that next week. After today's lesson I went to do a bit more practice in my secret space but after about an hour felt very rough and dehydrated that I had to head home.

I've had a lot of realisations today about what this process is becoming about. Its as much about my mental strength as my physical strength, and ultimately, am I doing this because I need to lighten up and relax?

Also, though subconsciously I knew it, I really realised that what I'm trying to learn is a language with its own set of grammatical rules. And like any language, you have to constantly use it to get the best result.

Thursday, 26 September 2013


Lesson 6 and I have to say I kind of fell apart today. Felt as though I was getting the hang of the arm movements with hand twists and felt my teacher was getting a bit stricter today. He's probably fed up of me getting bits wrong all of the time and I think his patience is wearing thin!

We did our usual routine with new added elements (I will know the proper terminology tomorrow!) and  its obvious that my body is too rigid. The moves need to be more sensual, more relaxed, but also strong - with the upper body, big and grand.

Stamps today were also very weak. They need to be more fuerte!

So I am here, still getting basics wrong and I need to be there, starting on the proper choreography I want to learn as soon as possible. A lot of practice to put in. So I did an extra 2 hours at my secret space this afternoon, and it did seem as though I was progressing. But I can see now why they say its too dangerous to practice too much flamenco in one day...its very physically demanding.

The big win today was finding a potential space to practice in Barceloneta. There are civic centres here in Barcelona that have space either to use for exchange of a performance or to rent. And in Barceloneta, there is a room called Sala Carmen Amaya, so this evening I went down there to see if I could hire space.

It was a funny experience because the guy on reception made me really work it all out in Spanish, but all in good fun. There is a small charge for the rooms and all I have to do is decide which room I want and hope its available. Carmen's room seems too big for practice, so maybe this is a space for the final performance? Be rude not to.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


So I have been in Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain, for seven days now and its been a hectic week already.

Though its been another positive day, I'm thinking that some obstacles to my progress are rearing its head. Firstly it was language, trying to get the heel and tips of my zapatos smoother, (so that they don't scratch the floor and also to make it less 'tacky' for me when I do the stamping), which was a fail first time around. Then, although I thought I had cracked the hand twisting movement - there was yet more to come, with a few more cheeky steps and movements (including the hand twists!) thrown in by Toni.

There was a choreography class before my lesson both today and Monday. The dancers were amazing. Obviously been dancing flamenco for years but still it looked like the choreography was stretching them too. What am I thinking doing this?

Then there was the positioning of the camera again (all wrong!) You would not think I come from a film background, but I think what happens is the pre-lesson nerves about what's going to be thrown in kick in big time and I just panic about the documentation bit. Back to flip-cam tomorrow me-thinks, as the 7D keeps switching off after a certain amount of time and its off-putting to the lesson to keep going back and forth. The perils of self-documentation. Perhaps a more lo-fi solution is the key?

Anyway, it was a great lesson today with two new moves. The hand twists as the arms circle around the outside, and the point to the corner with each foot on each side as the arms circle inside. Put that all together with what we had by Friday last week and it wasn't actually that bad because I was much more into it.

I still keep making the same errors of moving my body when it should be upright, straight ahead at all times, and although there is a beautiful flow to the arm movements, flamenco is a very rigid dance, particularly the male moves, but it makes you feel full of conviction. That, I'm liking. Its like you're raised up with a presence, though it is like preparing for some sort of battle. With me its the battle of getting into the right headspace to give in to the dance. Weirdly, once I relax, it all seems fine.

On the stamping, Toni pushed for me to have more force in each of the stamps - golpe, planta, tacon. The goal being to make my legs strong. I think its working.

But this rigidity, its like what is going on with this project, as I'm actually moving in and out of a rigid mindset and set of situations, and working within a very rigid discipline that also requires the time, effort and patience to achieve something, as much a more fluid art practice.

Whilst the flamenco seems rigid and I'm looking for a rigid routine, there's no getting away that, for the moment at least, I'm having to go with the Barca flow.

So good lesson was followed by next obstacle as I wasn't able to get access to the practice space today just because of timings and home is a bit too small and busy.

I decided to check out the Centre Civic in my local area to see if they hire out space to practice. It turns out they do, but in exchange for a performance or something similar. Now this may be a good thing as I need somewhere to film the final performance I want to do. Thing is, because flamenco is loud, the only places that they allow to use for this are the theatre spaces but they are always busy. I'll try them anyway as its an interesting idea and may be the way forward.

I'm just yearning for that routine where I can just practice somewhere all day without any disturbance. Its so important at this early stage.

So, no footage today but I'll leave you with a still of one of my smoother tipped shoes. The thing I was looking from the shoe repairers was 'Limar Clavos'. It seemed to be the right thing to ask for.

There's always a solution to the problem.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Patience in practice

Today I felt I did master the hand twist challenge that I set myself, to some extent. It was a slow start to today. Knowing that its a public holiday here isn't great motivation, but I knew there was work to do.

Did a hour's quiet practice at home, where I'm staying, and really did start to figure stuff out. I also decided that I needed to fill up on energy foods so that I'm not feeling so tired before, during and after the lessons, as is the case at the moment.

Then it was off to the space I'll be using to practice near Placa Reial for a lovely lunch of very healthy vegetable and tofu stir fry followed by mango and pomegranate. Is this an art blog or a food blog?

That set me up for 2 hours practice and I felt so proud of myself for achieving what I achieved in this time, following the first couple of lessons of footage to get the positions and moves as right as I could.

Admittedly I'm still struggling with some of the co-ordination though and to be honest, I'm hoping that will fall into place naturally and unexpectedly because right now its not at the stage I want it to be. Do I need to learn more patience? I think, yes. As I've written, that's part of the issue here, racing to get to the next level. I do do these things!

But today I felt as though I mastered the hand twisting for sure and also the second arm position. I'm starting to see how the way I'm learning is more like the male flamenco moves, but again there is still a lot to do and I was quite reticent to practice the stamping because of the tiles on the floor of the space I'm using. But was I really just holding myself back on that? Sometimes I think we fear our own strength and power and I really have to get to grips with that in my art practice as a whole.

What I realised today was that I am learning through looking at the shapes of the postures. I can't decide if this is right or wrong, but its working for me. I'm just so happy that I'm getting somewhere with the hand and arm movements. They have been the proverbial fly in the ointment for this first week.

I also realised from viewing some of the footage, just how encouraging my teacher has been when I've been flagging through tiredness. Its made me think about how to encourage and engage the participants in the next phase of this project back in the UK.

Really happy with the work I put in today and was even able to enjoy the final 'La Merce' fireworks display with my flatmate and her friend. Personally, I think the display at Barceloneta was much better the other evening, but maybe I'm biased because of its flamenco theme, which on reflection I really do think this was about.

My flatmate's friend enquired why I wasn't making a documentary out of this project, and because I come from that background, obviously that's been at the forefront of my mind since Dia 1. Its just so full on with focussing upon the actual flamenco training that something has to give sometimes. Its a shame though, it would have been so good, but maybe the next project will allow for that?

I also learnt a new 'term' today from these new German friends. When you can't get a song out of your head they call it an 'ear worm', which I'd never heard of, and my 'ear worm' is definitely the Nina Pastori tune I have lessons to.

Its been a successful day in that I'm taking the training much more seriously now and feel a bit more settled here. The daughter of the lady's who's space I'm borrowing for extra practice asked what was harder, samurai archery, which I learnt to look at my creative process a few years ago, or flamenco. I would definitely say flamenco right now. I don't know if its because my learning capacity has regressed as time has moved on, but its going to take yet more hard work still to get past this basics stage.

The clock continues ticking.

Monday, 23 September 2013


Quite a difficult third session today. Last night I was pondering on where this is all going in terms of impact on my process and outcome. But then I saw a beautiful firework display down at Barceloneta.

Barceloneta is a re-developed area alongside Ciutadella-Vila Olimpica, which used to be Sorromostro,  where Carmen Amaya was born and raised. There's even a street name after her here. As I sat and watched the fireworks on the edge of the beach, I was aware that I was obviously watching a piece of very fine tuned choreography, except where the cracks and bangs of the fireworks actually meant to sound like the clapping and stamping in flamenco? And was the fallout from the fireworks in the sky supposed to be shaped in the male second arm position? Or was I just going slightly mad and overdosing on flamenco? Personally, I do actually think because of where the fireworks were that it was a pyrotechnic homage to Amaya, as the explosion of expression and colour in this performance matched that of hers.

Was my self-expression about to explode with the help of flamenco? Maybe not today, though, according to Toni, my upper body posture was better positioned, and I was more aware of the correct shoulder positions etc.

But I was still having trouble with the basic hand twists, one of the first basics you learn in flamenco - twisting your hands from the wrist in an inside and an outside motion, curling your fingers closed then opening them again as you rotate.

This is done in all of the key arm positions - and it was so hard today to take it in as I had to go over the basic tango movements as well with arms in the various positions, and its tough on these arms, though I'm pleased that I'm getting the link between third position and second position better now.

Then came more stamps. Practising these basics has been an issue because of space and noise, so again it was hard to maintain the strength to power the stamp from the knee. My legs felt heavy or as Toni tried to explain, its what the Spanish called 'dolor' which translates as 'pain' or 'grief'. It was definitely hard work today because of the weekend break. Then tomorrow is a public holiday in celebration of the Patron Saint of Barcelona, 'La Merce', so no lesson as such tomorrow, but my usual lesson timetable for the next remaining 3 weeks at Escuela Flamenco Jose de la Vega will be:

Martes - Jueves: 12.30pm - 13.30pm and Viernes: 10.30am - 13.30pm.

I was also fortunate enough to find a space where I can practice outside the lesson time, at a friend of a friend's place, a British woman, Julia, who now lives in Barcelona and who is also an artist and an actor.

Talking today about what I'm here for, it seems pretty timely in the region's history that I've come to Barcelona to do a project about gender roles. Are gender roles regressing or progressing here? Also, while I'm thinking that this work is actually about opening up to other people, Catalunya is moving forward so much in its drive for independence, trying to maintain a very strong national identity. Definitely lots to think about.

What I recognised today though was that there's so much work to be done in terms of practice. Am I going to get beyond the basics in time to even try the 'Embrujo del Fandango' in enough time before the end of my stay here? I'm pretty determined to, put it that way. There's just no time to lose, but rest for me, my arms and legs is the main thing right now. Energy is huge huge requirement.

So I've set myself a target for tomorrow. I won't go beyond the first basic of the hand twists until I have mastered them completely. Here is where the real work starts if I'm to achieve what I came here for.


Sunday, 22 September 2013


Quick hour's practice on my friend's beautiful rooftop terrace today. Can't bring you any pictures because still having tech issues!

More importantly, I have cracked how to do part of the basic tango co-ordination exercises I was trying to master on Friday. Just shows it takes determination and practice. Still a long way to go but some of the basics are there and coming along nicely. Managed to master the link from second position movement back to first position movement, but feel like its something that takes conviction to confidently do these movements. Its something that can't be done halfheartedly.

Got a lead on a potential studio I could hire for an hour or so each day to keep up the practice and its essential that I get into some sort of daily routine quickly, form now because the pace of life here is actually quite fast and overwhelming at the moment, so still feeling quite tired, and still settling in whilst there's a lot going on in the city with 'La Merce' festival taking place.

Pleased with the small breakthrough today with the missing link at least.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Flamenco Training - Dia 2 - Segundo Classe

And breathe...

Bit of a rest day today, catching up on technical issues with video, cutting footage and project admin, but back to my own individual practice of the basic flamenco moves I've learned so far, tomorrow. I'll try to find an outdoor open space as I don't think the stamping would go down very well with the neighbours.

Also, trying to find a showing of the new film 'Bajari: Gypsy Barcelona', mystically, also made in homage to Carmen Amaya. So maybe I can pick up some good pointers for my training from this?

Footage to be posted from first 2 days asap - many things being learnt about this blogging on the run lark, again all part of this great journey I'm on. Everything is a benefit.

Friday, 20 September 2013


Day 2 of my training and I was buzzing from yesterday's first session but obviously wasn't prepared for just how demanding today would be.

Before I went to the dance studio, I tried to just take some time out to get into the present. I'd read somewhere that its impossible to do really good filming of Flamenco because it requires being so present and not having to re-take shots all of the time.

So I tried to just get a little space in amidst the hustle and bustle of this very busy city, just resting and focussing upon that moment.

If I'm honest, nothing could have quite prepared me for today's very intense session.

After a warm up, we went over the first and second positions (similar to ballet) and then the twisting hand movements which, although there was some progress on yesterday's attempt, I find quite difficult.

Then we went over a co-ordinated tango moves again, right foot step forward co-ordinating with right arm movement (in third position) and same for the left. Except this time faster and also alternating with a second position movement.

Its important to get the second position right in terms of the way the arms are out in front, facing half way down, very wide apart with elbows higher than the hands and the way the shoulders drop should be relaxed, but you need to be standing tall, though not tense.

Again, this is how Carmen Amaya would dance, arms very wide apart. The shape of it makes me think of a bull-fighter!

Again, I was seeing how difficult it is to co-ordinate all of these movements, holding the arm positions whilst twisting the hands etc, and then adding in the feet movements, but any progress is good. Its just remembering everything together.

In terms of language, I think Toni and I are doing well to be understood despite his poor English and my poor Spanish. But there doesn't seem to be a problem - its more my co-ordination! I seem to know that I'm making the mistakes with the moves but not being able to do the right thing at the right time.

I'm also trying to do the moves too quick, so need to have more patience. Like being present and in the moment.

Next came some pretty serious stamping, to which there is a very fine technique.

We went over 3 different types of stamping, golpe (stamping the floor with the entire bottom of the foot), planta (stamping the floor with the ball of the foot) and tacon, (stamping the floor with the heel).

Toni recommended that the stamping be done with force so that there is the security of balance. I found it quite hard to take everything in at this stage as I was flagging slightly but from what I gather, the stamping is controlled from the abdomen, thinking as though this is pulling down to the floor for balance and to create a connection between the floor and the sky, which is why its important to work form the core of the body and stay centred.

It reminded me of the techniques in pilates where we imagine its like there's a plumb line going down the centre of your body helping you maintain a straight, centred posture.

We did many stamping exercises in a routine of right 8, left 8, right 4, left 4, right 2, left 2, right 2, left 2 and then starting back at 8 so physically it was quite demanding with Toni pushing for me to put more power into the stamp to maintain this security.

Its easier than you think to go wrong on the stamps as they have to come from raising the lower leg behind from the knee, not lifting the whole leg up in front, as I was doing from time to time. It was also hard not to feel unbalanced, hence the need for more power in the golpe stamp.

It felt great doing this though. Very masterful and powerful and in control, though not tense. Just an assertive, confidence in the stamp, making me fell very 'big' and open. Would this be where we get the phrase 'putting my foot down'? Who knows, but it would be appropriate because its done with conviction, not in a weak way, its about strength.

In the same way, the planta and tacon had their own technique. The tacon in particular was an interesting one because its the stamping of the heel only, so again the power has to come from the abdomen to really stamp hard on the floor.

It will take some practice but I think Toni was pleased with my initial technique, saying that if I learnt this technique now and keep practicing it, it will be easier for when we come to learn the choreography, to which I laughed, and as I continued to stamp, thought to myself, what have I let myself in for here? Will I really be able to do the Fandango I wanted to do?

Next lesson is now Monday 12.30 - 13.30 so lots of practice on my own between now and then is essential if I want to achieve what I set out to do.

Please bear with me on the video documentation - there are a few technical issues that need sorting.

Besos x

Flamenco Training - Dia 1 - Primera Classe

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Dia 1 - Primera Classe

First hour long lesson today. Really enjoyable but tough session, Flamenco is much more difficult than I anticipated, but I have a very patient teacher, Toni, which is good.

He pointed out that the choreography I want to learn is very difficult so the first session would be going over the basics and we agreed to see how I progress over the next few weeks.

Today saw me learning the basic hand movements (twisting the hands) and testing my co-ordination through some tango and hand clapping (palma sordas - I think!). Toni explained the rhythms of different types of dances and how Flamenco works with a rhythm of 12 beats.

He explained some of the traditions with different movements for men and for women and we agreed I would learn the female moves first, then move onto the male moves, because I want to interpret this choreography similar to how Carmen Amaya performed, mixing male and female roles.

At this stage its just the basics, but its definitely the start of a journey. I can understand already how much this is about physical strength - particularly the upper body. But its also about my capacity to learn and absorb this culture and how I can relate this to my process and the themes I'm looking to challenge.

Returned to base happy and tired. 3 hour session tomorrow. Ambitious? Maybe.

Hola! Que Tal?

This is the in-depth blog for the project 'Gender, Process & Collaboration' which is supported by public funds through Arts Council England's Grants for the arts. My main art practice blog can be viewed at:

So I'm here in Barcelona, finally, for this project.

A bit of a back story about what's brought me here. 

Last year I attended a European Summit for Women in Business in my capacity as Business Mentor for the We Mentor programme. Chatting to the other women there, I mentioned that the reason that I felt my former film business had failed was because of a lack of confidence. Not in the product me and my former business partner were producing, in fact I still can't quite understand what the lack of confidence was about. It was just some subtle, inner thing that questioned my belief in myself. Anyway, it materialised that this was what the whole conference was about: self confidence, self esteem, self efficacy and the fact that these things are actually learned in the early stages of our lives.

It also materialised that there was a clear gender divide when it came to these ideas of confidence, and that this confidence and belief that you can do something is formed in the early stages of our lives, at home and in school etc. and that the tendency to encourage young people into one direction rather than another to fulfil gender stereotypes was also culturally specific. 

After the conference I saw a great piece of work at the Bluecoat Gallery in Liverpool as part of Liverpool Biennial. 'The Unfinished Conversation' was a film that explores ideas about cultural and ethnic identity. This three channel video was so beautifully executed and so easily understood that it was the stand-out point of the festival for me. 

That same evening, I was shown another piece of genius when a friend showed me some youtube footage of flamenco dancer, Carmen Amaya, performing 'El Embrujo del Fandango' from 1937. 

This excited me. I was already questioning gender roles in society and the fact that there are still many ideas and societal 'rules' about what men and women SHOULD be doing in certain situations in 2013 was bugging me. The expectations and paths of men and women are still so rigid in so called modern society, so it was refreshing to see this archive footage of a woman who back in the late 30's really pushed the boundaries of gender norms and re-appropriating gender identity through a dance that was, to my limited knowledge, very strict in its boundaries. 

Of course her performances in matador attire and her flouting of gender roles in her uncompromising performances caused controversy at the time, but thinking that this was back in the 30's made me wonder just how far we have really come in assigning gender roles. 

Amaya performed with such confidence and passion. How could I use this inspirational performance in my work?

Almost a year on I'm here in Barcelona, Amaya's hometown, and though Amaya wasn't formally trained, today I will take my first steps in flamenco, taught by a male flamenco dancer, at a Flamenco school here, to try and learn the routine in that archive film. 

Why? Because I'm interested in researching this dance to utilise in my creative making process (similar to the residency in Japan when I learnt the art of Kyudo) and also to understand the male perspective of this dance, as a woman, and does this collaboration have an impact on my process as an artist?

Back in the UK, I'll be using footage of this re-performance to create video installation with two groups of young people from my old school - Halewood Academy Centre for Learning (formerly Halewood Comp). I'll be working with young men and a male editor will work with young women as research to challenge and raise their confidence and aspiration through this type of project and also, what impact if any does the gender of the artist collaborating with a group of participants have on the outcome and also, how does this type of project challenge those ideas of societal gender roles and minimise any disparity between young men and women in terms of self confidence?

Tying all of those original motivations for this project together, we'll present this at an exhibition on the 19th November 2013, the 50th Anniversary of Carmen Amaya's passing, in homage to what she brought to flamenco and the challenges she brought to the world. Great timing ay?

This in-depth blog will be exploring the process of this project on a daily basis, so back to the recent present and I've learnt so much already in terms of organisation and preparation of this type of project when I reflect on the last few weeks since the funding was confirmed.

The least I can say is, always add in time for an administrator into funding bids and try at least to learn some of the language of the place you're going unless its a totally non-collaborative project.

Also, preparation time for your mind and body - if its a physical activity - is essential. I've been doing pilates for the last fews weeks but could really have benefitted from more mental preparation time. I read somewhere to dance flamenco you have to be in the present. Maybe I needed more time to adjust to this?

Also, as I learnt with the Japan residency, give yourself time to ease yourself into the project, or adapting to the place you're going. There are positive and negatives to this but it just allows more time for preparing for the type of project I'm about to undertake.

So Phase One is in full swing. School are preparing to help engage the participants for when I'm back in the UK. I arrived here late Tuesday night which has given me a day to sort out some of the things I needed to sort including shopping for flamenco shoes and getting my bearings for this amazing City, which is so alive right now.

Had a great conversation yesterday with a young Catalunyan woman (who can speak English) from the place where I'm staying, all about her adventures across Europe dancing flamenco as a way to get by.  Although she wasn't trained, she told herself she was a gypsy and performed in hotels and bars. Her face was alive with the memories and the experience, but the beautiful thing was when she said she felt like she found her passion through this dance. Flamenco brought out the passion in her. This part of the process interests me because I like to work with processes that strip away at the ego and allow us to just let go of everything. Its also about that confidence I was talking about earlier. Can this confidence be passed on to the young people I'll be working with when back in the UK creating the video installations? Do they even need it? We'll see.

Right now I'm preparing for the first lesson at Escuela de Baile Flamenco Jose de la Vega which is at 5pm this evening. I'll be taught by the School Director, Toni.

Some other schools said I couldn't be taught by a man because I am female, so interested, if a bit nervous, to see what this first lesson will be like.

Anyway, as a woman, it took no persuading for me to go shoe shopping yesterday. Look what I got for my lessons.