So often I see Flamenco dancers executing extraordinarily complex and fast-as-lightning footwork patterns, whipping their arms about in a frenzy, their wet hair clinging to their faces, chests heaving from exertion, jackets being tossed aside, but when I see their faces, look at their eyes, too often I see... nothing.
I see no spirit, no emotion, no connection of their heart to their audience and, worse, no connection of their heart to themselves. What I do see is an exhibition, a proud display of their technique. A display designed to wow the audience with their technical expertise.
Yes, yes, - I can hear you now saying whats wrong with that? Well, absolutely nothing. Nothing that is, if you just want to dazzle the audience with technique. But, Flamenco is much, much more than just technique. It must have heart to really, really be Flamenco, or it is just another dance form, which most anyone can learn but not everyone can feel.
"Flamenco is an art-form of deep inspiration, a necessity of the soul, a lament against life itself, and a shout to the freedom which is born within the heart." - (author unknown)
It is not the dancer making faces at the audience, it is the dancer feeling the passion of their heart at that moment and being unable to hide it behind a mask; emotion straight from the heart. Heart is what gives Flamenco dance its power not blistering or precision technique. Heart is what connects the dancer with their audience, not a glare from the eyes. Heart is what connects the dancer with themselves not edgy choreography or the latest costume. Martha Graham says it best in the quote below It would seem that Flamenco dancers are not the only dancers that require heart to become great.
Now there is nothing wrong with blistering-fast footwork I happen to enjoy doing blistering fast footwork myself; but I have learned that when I dance, footwork is only a part of what I do and I do not do it to impress my audience. I do it because I enjoy it, I do it when I feel like it; but I always dance from the heart.
I personally prefer the more jondo rhythms to dance to (the deeper, more profound rhythms). So naturally, when I dance those rhythms I am not smiling very much. Some people ask why don't I smile more? My answer: "I don't feel like smiling; if you want to see me smile wait until I dance an Alegrias". But I can tell you, that when I dance a Tientos or, my favorite rhythm, Peteneras, the audience definitely gets a piece of my heart (along with some pretty fast footwork).
Dancing Flamenco without the heart is like looking at a picture postcard of the Grand Canyon instead of hiking down it. Pretty to look at, but you've missed the exhilaration of being part of something very special.
When you dance, I want to see YOU, feel what you are feeling; I know you can do great footwork and I love your costume; you've shown all that to me. But I want to see your heart I want to see Flamenco!
This photo of La Farruca, the daughter of the late, great Farruco, and mother of Farruquito, shows she has it all - fast footwork, great costume, and heart!
(PS: about the wet hair... I've read newspaper reviews of dancers commenting that their hair was "dripping with sweat." Well... in my backstage apprentice days I've seen dancers spritzing their hair with water so that when they get on stage and dance, its sure to be "sweaty." Just sayin.')