Flamenco Part One – Time to Change Tempo or a Dose of Syncopation

Allow me to begin with some technical explanations for those of you who have some musical notions. Try tapping out the rhythm below with your hands then accelerate the tempo!

Bulería is a fast flamenco rhythm in 12 beats with emphasis in two general forms as follows:

1 2 [3] 4 5 [6] 7 [8] 9 [10] 11 [12]


1 2 [3] 4 5 6 [7] [8] 9 [10] 11 [12]

In other words, not quite what one would expect when images or sounds of flamenco spring to mind. I knew there were many forms and variations but was most curious about the bulerias which originated in Jerez during the 19th century and whose upper-body movements are most akin to the original North Indian influences. Buleria is among the most popular and dramatic of the flamenco forms and often ends any flamenco gathering as you can see from the short clips and photos of our evening at Pena de la Buleria.

The name bulerías comes from the Spanish word burlar, meaning “to mock” or bullería, “racket, shouting, din”. Speed and agility are required and total control of rhythm as well as strength in the feet which are used in intricate tapping with toe, heel and the ball of the foot, not that feet movements were on my agenda. In short, a damn complicated rhythm to grasp – but guess what? Must be my Anglo-Indian blood, or having been brought up on Ravi Shankar that made catching on relatively easy as Tatiana Ruiz’s surprise and pleasure can testify. I did however, do a little toe-tapping in the Powerchair – how could I help myself when immersed into three hours of bulerias with Tatiana?

It was boiling hot during that first session and my skirt was drenched, so my enthusiastic thigh slapping resulted in the bruises on the photos. But I had so much fun despite the effort and subsequent exhaustion. I was even tapping out rhythms in my sleep and have been dreaming of flamenco ever since.

Tatiana was an excellent teacher and full of communicative passion (just watch the video of her dancing) but she also drove me hard to concentrate as much as possible into that first session. Mind you, I had explained that I wanted to work very hard to learn some basics, so mea culpa and I assumed the consequences.

Flamenco is passion from the heart and although I concentrated more on learning moves and rhythm during that first session, it liberated emotions and an immediate connection with my heritage. I felt an immense sensation of freedom, despite being in a wheelchair.

There will be another blog about progress made during the second session. Now I have to think where I can practice with my wheelchair once back in rainy Portsmouth because I have every intention of returning to work with Tatiana on a full dance routine!

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Culture Popourri

I’ve always loved researching roots of different cultures because I believe we are the sum of all that has gone before, so before I begin writing about my flamenco experiences with Tatiana Ruiz or the visit to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, I need to explain briefly about Jerez de la Frontera and the unique Andalusian cultural heritage dating back thousands of years.

It is truly a potpourri or popurri right back to the Tartessians who traded in gold artefacts and gathered tin from the rivers running into the Bay of Cadiz, through the Phoenicians who settled here to trade, then the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Berbers. My ‘Learn Spanish in 15 Minutes’ should have made me realise that ‘de la Frontera’ literally means ‘frontier’. Here was the dividing line between Christian empires to the North and the Caliphate of Cadiz. Jerez is fascinating, proud and unique, with the love of bulls brought by Phoenicians and horses from the Arabs and a sublime mix of architectural styles interspersed with magnificent statues and works of art.

Andalusia is a complex mixture of invasions, settlements, influences, including the migration of Jews from North Africa who thrived under a tolerant Caliphate (there is a splendid synagogue here), and of course the North Indian gypsies who brought their dance and rhythms. Andalusia is the product of years of peaceful but also possibly painful and violent assimilations, resulting in a fabulous culture that still carries living traditions. Something similar to our own history, except that our traditions are dying or have become obsolete and we are now perhaps less welcoming of others. Are there lessons to be learned?

In any case, photos are the best means of showing you just how beautiful this city really is, so enjoy…

It is worth mentioning the prevalent ochre walls which is actually very specific to Jerez and the surrounding area. The colour of the paint traditionally came from using local soil which gives the deep-yellow tint.

PS The architecture is designed to keep people cool and we are in definite need of fountains, white walls, plazas full of acacia, jacaranda, lime trees and date palms offering shade during this heatwave! Trundling around with a padded Powerchair in 36C heat is most uncomfortable.

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A journey to Spain….break out time!

I am an eternal optimist and a striver even though logistics for ‘movements’ can be restrictive and horribly frustrating. My Arts Council grant includes part-funding for a number of days that should be dedicated to writing and since the beginning of the year, I have had three attempts at organising this – all failed for one reason or another but mainly due to the excessive hike in prices this year. Also because I need accompaniment and am unable to travel and sort myself out on my own.

But I have finally managed to break out! All the required conditions came together and I will be travelling to Jerez de la Frontera and Seville in Spain on 29 August for 13 days and exploring the inspiration of flamenco dance and music. My friend and writing colleague Amy Zamarripa Solis will be filming and helping me to post blogs and videos during my travels. I will possibly have a couple of lessons in flamenco upper-body movements to use when performing in my wheelchair, so there are bound to be some good laughs in store.

During my trip, I will be exploring the link between North Indian-descended Romani people who migrated to Spain and brought their music and dance with them to Andalusia. I’ll be taking pleasure in the Royal Andalusian ‘dancing’ dressage horses (I used to go horse riding). I’ll touch them, feel their strength and admire their beauty. I might even try and find a performance of the female flamenco dancer who dances a duet in the bull ring with a prancing white horse.

This long-awaited journey will open my body and soul, and drench them in sensations, smells, sights and sounds. Then I will write, pour words onto paper, and sing and rejoice at the fullness of life. 

Please sign up to updates from my website. You can also follow my story via the Twitter hashtag #PowerchairWriter @leblackwood or on my new Facebook page. Many photos, blogs and videos in store!