“Ms. Mayte, could you give this poem to all the kids that you meet in your classes, so they might get inspired and dance flamenco, so they can feel powerful too? ” This is how Adriana, a 10-year old student from NYC, approached me a few weeks ago at the beginning of our fourth session, and inspired me to write this article.
Flamenco was developed in southern Spain. It celebrates the cultural roots of the Arabs, Indians, Jews, Gypsies, and Andalusians. It is now a fusion of the music, beliefs, and stages of life of the world we live in.
Even though dancing in general has many physical, social and emotional benefits for children, Flamenco is an art form that has rhythms and characteristics that kids strongly identify with, and it is the method that I found to be the most effective. From a young age we begin to carry bad habits in our posture and gestures. Flamenco is a great vehicle to teach children body language and etiquette that promote self-respect and build self-confidence.
This is an excerpt from a 9-year old student’s journal about his experience in class:
“… when you are dancing, you should never give up because you have to follow what you want to be, to feel and pass forward, because you have a choice to act on your emotions…because you have to follow what you want to be, not what other people say that you want to be. So you stomp the floor, feel that strength coming out of your little body, the energy that is always there for you, once you find it, you learn how to express it in the most beautiful or powerful form, and you experience the power of being focused, free, just at the time when you were going to give up. As you said yesterday in class, ‘shake it ‘til you break it!’ Break the habit of giving up, of putting yourself and others down, break your own fear that you are not good enough, dance it out, until you feel your own power of freedom.”
Flamenco also creates an appreciation for diversity, which I believe can be achieved through the ability to relate to others at a very basic and primal level. By moving together in rhythm and sharing the discovery that our bodies can do amazing things, kids learn that we are all similar at the core.
When I go and teach kids sometimes I tell them I am from Spain and I am there to teach them Flamenco, but often they don’t show initial interest. I start moving around the room and explain how Flamenco comes from the “cante hondo,” the protest and sufferings of “gitanos,” the gypsies living as the marginal part of society, and how it became an art form that is one of the most respected in the world. But it is only when in one second I go from shi-shi talking to stomping on the floor and I burst into a fiery dance and fast footwork, finishing with a “remate” (a dancing gesture that sharply freezes that intensity) that they say, “Wow…how do you do that?” And all of a sudden, we connect.
I proceed into rhythmic sequences that are fun and challenging, and they are totally engaged every step of the way. They experience how I challenge them with a mixture of self-confidence, elegance, lots of smiles and how I can be peaceful or fierce at any moment. But the difference is that I can choose what to express, when, and to whom…and they love it! Now, they are eager to absorb more steps, tricks, and turns and hear the personal adventures that my dance career has given me.
You learn to become a percussion instrument that produces a wide range of sounds to match the intensity of the emotions that you want to express. Sometimes the smallest sound in the room can be the most powerful. I place students in a circle and ask them to start clapping as loud as they can. I challenge them to see who is the one that can call my attention. It gets loud, they giggle, laugh and get excited. Then they try even harder, they start making interesting rhythmical combinations, but there is a moment where the strength and intensity start running out and they realize being loud is not working. After a few minutes they start giving up, and I ask them to try one more time. Then I lower my voice almost to the point of whispering but with the same intensity of my body as I held when I was loud. One after another, they all lower their volume or stop clapping all together because they cannot hear me. Then I say, “You see, we do not need to be loud to call attention, to make us listen or be understood. We only have to strongly project and focus our intention and gently show in our posture the self-confidence that we feel when we really have something important to say…” Then I can see the Aha moment in their faces! For the rest of the class I do not have to even ask them to pay attention, to stop making noises, or to behave.
Trust me, when you get 30 kids together and excited, they can be very loud to the point that to make yourself heard you need a megaphone and a lot of patience. This exercise allows students to easily apply this technique when they are feeling ignored, bored, or they are not getting the attention that they need.
When emotions are expressed through Flamenco, children learn awareness and the locations of each individual feeling. From those feelings comes the ability to recognize emotions as they develop and channel them in a more constructive direction. They learn to become a percussion instrument and produce a wide range of sounds to match the intensity of the emotions they want to express. Sometimes the smallest sound in the room can be the most powerful. It is not about the specific dance steps, it’s about the life that is in each step and how you relate to it.
If you would like to learn more about Flamenco, our educational programs, or productions please call 347-989-4145, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.maytevicens.com