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story by Linda Machado for DanceUs.org

The A to Z's of Flamenco Dance: K is for Knees

The A to Zs of Flamenco Dance:  K is for Knees

One of the things many students ask me is "will I hurt my knees?" The answer is no, and yes. It all depends.

Your knees are one of the most important parts of your Flamenco anatomy.  They allow you to execute footwork so that you look like a Flamenco dancer.  They also allow you to continue walking every day when you are not dancing, and they will carry you right through into advanced age.  So naturally you want to treat your knees with the utmost of care and respect.

Whether you start dancing as a child or as a mature adult, the same duty of care is required to use proper technique.  As an instructor I can be extremely persistent about using proper footwork.  I have spent an entire class hour repeatedly correcting improper leg and foot technique.  This, I am sure, was not very exciting for the students, but at least all of them left knowing how NOT to injure themselves.  More mature dancers in particular must take extreme care to learn and implement proper technique.  Mature dancers do not recover from the wear-and-tear of Flamenco dance as rapidly as younger dancers.  Flamenco is an extreme art form; so is the technique.  Just like paragliding, another extreme activity, if you don't use the proper tools and don't pay attention to proper technique, you can injure yourself, often badly.  In saying that, when you do use proper tools and do utilize proper technique, the experience is second to none! 

Here's a quick lesson for you on proper knee technique!

When you stand, be sure to flex or relax your knees, but just slightly.  I no longer say "bend" your knees because I have seen too many students take knee bending to an extreme which can also cause trouble.  

Find your proper knee position

  1. Place your arms (yes, arms) straight out in front of you, very rigid, with elbows locked.
  2. Now simply relax the stiffness in your arms.  You will notice your arms now form a slightly rounded shape at the elbows, sort of like you are holding a large basket.
  3. Now repeat the exercise with you knees:
    • Stand up straight, locking your knees (as you did your elbows).  
    • Now relax your knees, just lightly, as you did with your arms.
  4. You now have proper knee posture!

Tips on preserving your knees

  1. Never, and I mean NEVER dance on any surface that is not raised wood.  No tile, no concrete, no vinyl, nothing, just wood and wood that is raised (sprung) or wood that is over a padded surface.  (The times I have seen instructors allowing students to dance on concrete are incredible.  These students will regret the experience sooner or later).
    Flamenco footwork - dancing in dirt - with hourse

    So here I am, breaking rules – dancing in dirt!!!! Actually, notice the board behind me, which is what I did my actual footwork on and yes, with the horse doing his at the same time.  (I am sad to say his footwork was faster than mine.)  You will notice, however, my knees are flexed!!!

  2. Observe proper technique at all times.  If you do not keep your knees flexed (but not flexing and unflexing), you risk injury.  Not to mention you will start bobbing up and down.  Watch Flamenco dancers when you can; if they are bouncing up and down, you can bet they have poor leg and footwork technique.  Learn from them and don’t make the same mistake yourself!
  3. Only wear proper Flamenco dance shoes to dance in.  They are constructed with the support needed to protect your entire foot and knee.  No other shoe, none, will do this.  No Flamenco shoes, NO footwork.

How it looks

This video of the legendary Carmen Amaya gives a very clear picture of how the knees work in Flamenco dance.  Watch it a few times to get over being mesmerized by her astonishing ability, then come back and focus only on the knees.  

When you dance, you must keep your knees in this flexed position at all times.  You must not flex and unflex as you dance.  This is the tricky part.  It is not easy to do.  But if you incorporate hip movement/weight shifting into your movements (a topic for another article), you will now be able to move like a Flamenco dancer and safely, preserving those knees for a lifetime of great things!

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