Viva La Danza: My Adventures in Dance.

My much needed sabbatical from the PhD In Asturian Flute Playing gave a me a little time to think. Reflecting on my past visits to Asturias and time with various fluters, it was clear that there was an increasing trend to refocus the music on its link with dance. I wanted to understand the rhythms of the music connected to the dance. One criticism of the revival groups of the 1980’s and groups outside of Asturias playing Asturian tunes was that they played the music too fast, the music was smoothed out. The anacrucis (the upbeat or beats before the first down beat in the bar) at the start of a tune part was lost. The phrasing was too much like the reels and jigs of Ireland and Scotland. I’ve learnt some Asturian repertoire and recorded it for my album. I noticed that I was dropping the anacrucis. I am used to playing Irish music and the beginning of an A or B part of a tune is often the place I take a breath. Inspired by Asturian revival musicians learning to dance, after years of playing dancing music to a non-dance audience, I committed to learning to dance.

I have a funny old relationship with dance. I took to Irish dancing at the grand old age of 12. For a brief period I was a bit of a whizz at the Lally School of Irish Dance in Manchester. A tad lazy at this point in my life I decided dreaming was much easier than doing. At some point later ‘I married a morris dancer’. Now there’s a title for a book.  I aspired to wear the green trousers of Sheffield City Morris. I made slow progress but dreamed of high end hanky waving, stick cracking and hazy summer days, the faint whiff of morris sweat and real ale after a good dance out. Fate and family life got in the way and I had to leave my remedial morris classes behind.

This year saw the resurgence of my dance exploits. In attempt to see each other a bit more beyond tired conversations at the end of the day, my wife and I signed up for Flamenco classes in Sheffield. Once a week we meet in town. I slip on my clicky Cuban heels and attempt some dances of southern Spain. My wife is a great dancer. One of the reasons I fell in love with her. High speed Rapper dance with swords, North West Morris with clinking bells and a whiz at Clog Dancing. She has great focus, coordination and poise and memory for dance moves. All of which I struggle with. The lessons go like this…

Photo Courtesy of Flamenco In Sheffield

Our teacher Barbara calls us to the dance. “Ok everybody vamos, let’s go”. I struggle through my Fandango steps….1, 2, 3, 1,2,3. I channel my inner duende. I call out to the flamenco gods for inspiration. My left foot is willing, it’s like Michael Flatley after ten cups of coffee. In my head I’m Jaoquín Cortéz. My hair is long and drenched in flamenco sweat. I am topless, my body is lean, wearing only tight black dance pants (save us from this!) and my specially commissioned clicky sparkle boots catch glints of the single spot light shining down on me. The stadium erupts with shouts of ‘Olé!’ and ‘Vaya!’… and then I notice my right foot. My right foot. My poor old dragging behind when I’m tired right foot. It does its own thing. It dances its own dance. My left foot screams.. “Focus yes!”… clicky de click… my right foot says “Fuckit, I’m staying put”, or “No way will I make it over that ever so slight incline in the floor surface”. Its disobedience spreads to my head. I hear music I’m working on. Die ya didle die dee dom da didlle. Oh a bit of fiddle there… some more cello please. “Michael, what are you doing?”. I hear the cry of the dance teacher. I look down to my feet over my protruding belly. I’m not doing the same as the others save for a bit of effeminate hip waggling which, for men, is a no no. Hasn’t she heard of queer Tonada? If ate a few less biscuits I could be the flamenco Rodrigo Cuevas. (Rodrigo Cuevas is a sensation in Asturias fusing Queer aesthetic and dance music with Tonada, traditional song of Asturias.. more of which in a forthcoming post)

This is usually accompanied by “Well done Sarah”…. And a ripple of applause for another performance nailed by my wonderful wife. I have three choices. Get back in the zone and focus, do a comedy side click of the heels leprechaun style or run and hide in the loos. Most of the time I get back on it.  It’s great exercise and it’s interesting to look at dance from the Iberian peninsula from different to that in Asturias.

There’s enough in my dancing ability to make me believe I could dance a Jota. The Asturians are coming to Yorkshire, so I prepare myself…..

If you want to know more about Flamenco in Sheffield and the saintly Barbara Thornes check:

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