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.

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 can be found there!

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Hola Jerez!

My wheelchair travel experience is probably not the best way to start, though were some rather funny anecdotes that are stories in themselves. Patience dear reader – it can wait and will fill up quite a bit of space in the days and weeks to come.

The only thing worth mentioning – and here’s a kindly shout-out to the relevant parties – is the Disabled Assistance service at Gatwick North. Enough said until I can write a whole page on it! Not the smoothest of experiences and could be improved.

Apart from hitting a 40C wall of heat upon arriving in Seville and a kidnap attempt by local taxi mafia (yet another hilarious story for a subsequent blog!), I did arrive in Jerez intact though a little worse for the wear as testified by the photos.

Anyhow, here I am. In Jerez at last, and since I was a tad sluggish this first morning, I managed to get lost in the old town. Luckily, we found a very helpful Tourism Office and managed to trundle back to the hotel in time for some respite from the gorgeous but extremely hot sun.

Phew! Bottles of water stashed in my side-bag, and overloaded with wheelchair charger, laptop and various sundries, we fully explored the town. Reccing means taking charger just in case the Powerchair battery runs out – testing, testing! I did a trial run with heavy bag on knees in sweltering sun, photos as proof, and all good – no need for charger for a half-day.

Jerez is truly a beautiful town – my kind of place – filled with dazzling light and vibrant colours. Turn a corner, and you encounter small, unexpected plazas filled with lime, acacia and jacaranda trees, tiny cafes and restaurants serving delicious tapas. Very disability-friendly apart from some bone-shaking cobbled sections.

The only issue around the ‘café culture’ of living and sitting outside to escape the heat is if you wish to work in the room, like me: in the hotel room, we found unfortunately no coffee-maker and surprisingly, no fridge. The check-list for any subsequent working trip is growing longer.

But that’s what I’m here for – to pave the way for others, test and trials so I can impart my knowledge and make things easier for others. A bold pioneer, I am!

Off for spa and massage to soothe away travel pains and loosen aching body for tomorrow’s flamenco session, so hasta la vista amigos!

Ps Must put in some serious thought into how I can finance an off-roader with long mileage range and better suspension. Crowdfunding?!

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!

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