Anyone who has danced flamenco for more than a couple of years has probably encountered dancing with a prop; castanets (castañuelas), fan (pericón), cane (bastón) or silk shawl (manton). As a dancer progresses on her flamenco journey, these props are creatively added to the mix. If keeping the rhythmic timing of body, arms, and feet isn’t hard enough, we learn how to integrate with our movements these beautiful but tricky accessories of the dance.
These accoutrements most assuredly add an extra sense of technique, elegance, musicality, visual appeal and overall oomph to a performance but if you have tendencies like mine, it can also provide moments of unplanned panic, hilarity and a few boo-boo’s. It’s like a new chef learning how to use his first professional knife set; the cuts and scrapes and mishaps are part of the journey of mastering your tools of the trade.
The castanets are still not part of my performance vocabulary. My rolls come and go like the wind, even with my daily 5-minute practicing. I think I’m progressing and then I lose it. It always comes back again, like they decided to take a little siesta or something, so at least there’s that. One of these days, the elusive roll will decide to live with me forever and then I can perform with them. Hopefully, while I still have fingers left.
The fan, well, let’s just say grenade launcher might be a more suitable term. It has, on more than one occasion, not-so-elegantly flown out of my hands amidst a turn, propelling its way toward an innocent victim. Or the numerous times I have skimmed my face or arms with the paper-fine edges, or the unfortunate moments it has simply fallen out of my grasp and ended up two feet in front of me on the floor, broken to boot.
Heading down to the lower extremities, we have the toe-crushing bastón. I love the bastón but I’m not sure how much it loves me. Thumping it on the floor with a purposeful aggression, in time, or in contra, with footwork has caused a few near misses-and a few spot-on hits. I do believe my knees, shins and poor little toes have felt the bastónes wrath more than once.
Last, but not least, there is the exotically designed manton, along with its formidable counterpart; the fringe. What a spectacular instrument of flamenco this is, being whirled around one’s body like a bird in flight. At least that’s what happens in the YouTube videos I watch. My reality has been a little less picturesque. I do alright most of the time but just when I’m getting all comfy, the manton decides to teach me a lesson. It is during these heart-stopping moments I find the most humor. Later. Afterwards. Not then. It is pure panic mode when the manton leaves my hands to fall (not so gracefully) to the floor, or when it stubbornly weaves itself around my hair flowers or earrings, or when it suddenly and awkwardly cascades over my head mid-whip like a curtain dropping at the end of a theater show. Try flamenco’ing your way out of that one!
I know the intent of the flamenco prop; to display the versatility and technique of the dance as well as of the dancer. I love utilizing them to bring a different feel to my dancing. I know these props will become more fluid for me, in time and with more practice. I mean, geez, it has only been a couple of years of prop indoctrination. Flamenco infancy.
No one told me the joy of learning flamenco would include having stock in aspirin, cold compresses, bandages, bactin and the like. I must really love it. So, for now, when this metaphorical cutlery set of flamenco dancing takes on a life of its own, my first-aid kit and humility are close by.
*Originally posted March 4, 2017 by LORI KULLBERG Contributing author for Flamencos Online since February 2021.