“Just as pointe shoes need to be part of a ballerina’s feet, castanets need to be part of a Spanish dancer’s hands,” says Gabriela Granados, artistic director and founder of the American Bolero Dance Company and the School of Spanish Dance. “I start every class with castanet exercises to develop a sense of rhythm and coordination.” And that coordination is key, because skilled flamenco dancers keep an entirely different rhythm with their castanets than with their feet, as their arms move independently in a slow, sweeping port de bras.
Granados has made a name for herself as a flamenco performer and choreographer in Spain and the United States. Her school, founded in 1996, was the first in Queens, New York, dedicated exclusively to the preservation of traditional Spanish styles. Granados teaches a combination of flamenco, classical Spanish, folk and character dance to students of all ages.
True flamenco, she says, should be performed to live music. (ABDC boasts an impressive roster of musicians and singers, in addition to dancers.) “Recorded music will always be the same, so students don’t have to think,” she says. “I teach my students to be comfortable with the changes that may happen if they dance with live guitars and a live singer.” But as flamenco’s popularity continues to spread, she recommends these albums for when live musicians are not readily available. DT
Series: Solo Compás
Albums: Sevillanas, Alegrías, Tangos, Seguiriyas, Fandangos de Huelva, Tientos, etc.
“I have practically the entire collection of Solo Compás, and there are as many in the series as there are songs and dances in the flamenco repertory. Each CD analyzes and breaks down one song. First, you hear the whole song, including a dancer doing the footwork. Then, the second track is without footwork, the third is without percussion or the guitar and the fourth is just handclapping. Then they offer various speeds of the same song, so you can slowly speed up your dancing. Solo Compás was created exclusively for dancers to practice and for teachers to teach.”
Series: Escuela de Flamenco presentada por Cristina Hoyas
Albums: Soleá, Cantes de Cádiz, Garrotín y Tangos de Málaga, Bulerías, etc.
“Cristina Hoyas is from Seville and was the dance partner of the famous Antonio Gades. Her own version of Solo Compás has a different flavor, with beautiful singing and some very famous dancers in the background doing the footwork.
Albums: Coplas de España: Antología De La Canción Española, Volumes 1 and 2
“Coplas de España includes a collection of pasodoble songs. I begin younger children with pasodoble music because it has shorter tracks. It’s difficult to keep kids focused for more than 20 minutes, and with short songs I can finish my projects instead of leaving dances open-ended.”
Album: Zarzuela: Preludios, Danzas, Intermedios
Artist: English Chamber Orchestra
“I love using zarzuela or operetta music for my Spanish classical and regional folkloric classes. These songs preserve Spanish tradition. Zarzuela music is very historical, and it needs to be passed on. Also, some of the dances are really beautiful.”
Artist: Enrique Granados
“Granados wrote this intermezzo for a change of scenery during his opera. He never thought it was going to be an important piece, but it turned out to be one of the most beautiful in his repertory. I use it as a solo dance, with a big fan, soft slippers and a big mantilla or hairpiece. It incorporates both moving your fan and playing your castanets.”
Album/Song: La Vida Breve (The Short Life), “Spanish Dance No. 1”
Artist: Manuel de Falla
“La Vida Breve is a short opera with 15 minutes of music specifically for dance. ‘Spanish Dance No. 1’ is a very famous piece. I have found a score with only piano and violin, which I use to rehearse. But then we perform this piece to live piano and violin. I’ll also use the recording to teach variations to my advanced students or to my company dancers in class.”
Photo by Alexandros Giannakis, courtesy of Gabriela Granados