Already I sense my flamenco teacher is disappointed with me, and we haven’t even started the lesson yet.
I’d seen her glance at my hands (fat, stubby fingers with short nails) and compare them unfavourably with her own (long, graceful, fluttery things with blood-red polish), and my clothes – shorts, T-shirt and trainers.
She arches one delicate eyebrow. “Australiana?” She nods knowingly. “Entiendo.”
Things don’t get much better on the dance floor, either. She sighs deeply as I try to splay my fingers into the classical shapes and revolve my wrists at the same time as lifting my arms up and down. In the wall of mirrors in front of us, dressed in black ruffles, she looks like a gorgeous black swan while, as I flap my arms wildly trying to keep up, I’m less flamenco, rather more flamingo.
I’m in Spain’s fourth largest city Seville, the centre that from the late 15th Century controlled much of the globe’s trade for an unbroken 200 years. It has the world’s third biggest cathedral, behind St Peters in Rome and St Paul’s in London, the fabulous Moorish castle and gardens that featured in Game of Thrones’ fifth season, and the grand Plaza España. Even more thrillingly for me today, it’s also the birthplace of flamenco.
Yes, flamenco. Now an art form protected by UNESCO as an ‘intangible cultural heritage of humanity’ and, some believe, dating as far back to the Phoenicians in 500BC, it seems an excellent subject for further study.
Besides, I’d been dazzled by an incredible performance of flamenco at El Patio Andaluz, watching a succession of young men stamp at such speed on the ground, and once, scarily, on a table, spin and flick their legs at right angles. The women were just as incredible, too, stamping, snapping castanets, arching their backs and swishing their dresses. Naturally, I wanted to know more.
Happily, Seville has a fascinating Flamenco Dance Museum with exhibits of shoes, dresses, drawings, paintings and sculptures, as well as film of some of the flamenco greats, explanations of the different styles of flamenco, and stories about the history of the dance. The city also has some great flamenco bars, like the Casa Anselma, with singing and dancing going on until the wee small hours.
But still, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to experience the passion of the dance for myself, stamp my own feet, swirl around and feel, just for a few moments, a part of the sultry, sexy Spain I’d been so smitten by.
I contacted a few institutions offering dance classes. They weren’t impressed by my request for just one lesson. “Flamenco is a way of life,” one email came back. “We can offer you an eight-week intensive course for five hours a day. But not one lesson.”
But finally the museum came up trumps, with a flamenco teacher for an hour for a bargain 60 Euros, and the beautiful Zaira Santos arrived, full of misguided hope. And she was patient, I’ll give her that.
We stepped to the side and tapped three times before stamping, then moving back. We gyrated forward, hips swinging seductively, and then retreated back. And we clapped our hands in some unidentifiable rhythm that I couldn’t quite grasp.
By the end of our hour, I felt I’d achieved something of an idea of flamenco, if only that it’s a bloody sight harder than it looks. But I loved it. I liked the swaying, I enjoyed the fluttering fingers, I adored the balletic poise and I had even started catching on to the rhythm, if not yet in my heart as Zaira implored, but at least in my mind.
“Maybe tonight I can join in the show the museum puts on,” I suggest light-heartedly to Zaira at the end of the lesson. “What do you think?”
She looked alarmed, even horror-struck. “Non!” she said firmly. “Non! Flamenco … he is …” she searched for the right word … “too beautiful for you.” Sadly, I couldn’t help but agree.
Bunnik Tours visits Seville on their small-group 26-day tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco, starting from $10,595, including flights from Australia.
Flamenco Show – El Patio Andaluz – elflamencoensevilla.com
Flamenco Dance Museum which also arranges lessons – museodelbaileflamenco.com
Flamenco Bar – Casa Anselma, Calle Pagés del Corro, 49, Ph (+34) 606 16 25 02
Bunnik Tours. Ph 1800 286 645. See bunniktours.com.au