As a hand drummer, I have come to love things I can play with my hands like bellydancing zills and now castanets. I was given a pair of castanets last year and looked up how to play them online.
I was gratified to find a video that explained and demonstrated a basic 4 finger roll on one and a final “clack”on the other. The video also showed me how the castanets are put on. They are strung with cords from both thumbs and they hang in the palm of the hands. There was mention of how the castanets are positioned to the body.
Recently a bell playing friend gave me another set of castanets while she was clearing out her house. I spoke of my desire to learn how to play them and she whipped out her laptop and directed me to a flamenco class in the city where she had gone to Cumia dance classes. I looked up the teacher, emailed her and got permission to drop in and then went to one of her beginning flamenco classes.
Being naturally delusional , I imagined the class as a sort of castanet kindergarten with either someone short and overweight in a fringe shawl with hoop earrings, hair up on their head and roses pinned on top teaching; or a razor thin, rigidly postured older women with wrinkles in black and an accent. I figured the really beginning level would be sort of sedate. There would be a few postures, how to stand and hold the hands after the primer on how to put them on and then some really simple clacky 1- 2-3 rhythm. like zills.
What got me to the class at all was my curiosity. Arriving a bit late into a not-so-big room with mirrors at one end and a flat plywood floor, it finally sunk in that I was attending a dance class, not a castanets class. The teacher and 4 other students were standing facing the mirror with that Flamenco sort of air where the posture is not tense but alert. They all had on shoes with low heels, Flamenco shoes. I had worn running shoes on and felt immediately like a marshmellow being with plastic sacks on my feet. There were no castanets anywhere.
The teacher, a pleasant looking thirty something woman, began the lesson. It was stepping slowly, raising up the toe and heel, then bringing the toe down and lifting the arch of the foot. She did small pieces of stepping sequences, repeated them , and I breathed a sigh of relief.I used my vast skills of imagination and went through the motions with my mushy feet and shoes, while staring at the teacher’s feet and red Flamenco shoes.
There was a turn or two, a little positioning of the hands, and some of the positions were awkward for me, but I just did it as though it were another drumming pattern to learn and didn’t stress. As she put some of the pieces together and we progressed together to doing it with her and slightly increasing the tempo, I began to hear the sequence stepping taps like a rhythm song melody.
We had a break. She began again, and this time we did a standing in place step called a stomp and a pattern of hand clapping with it. Step clap clap, (other foot) Step clap clap. Step Clap Step clap clap, step clap clap. The stomp step was not done with a lot of force, but it was satisfying to do it and fell connected to both the feet and hands at the same time. The 2 double 1 single pattern makes it naturally alternate feet. At first I thought it was something far more complicated and was lost until I heard and felt it at the same time, caught it and had it. I had an AHAH moment realizing that the body is the premier instrument for flamenco.
As the class ended, I told the instructor who I was and where I was from and said I might be back after I lose a little weight. She said ” Oh no, don’t wait, you were really picking it up……….” I then found out where the other students had gotten their flamenco shoes. I went home in the glow of that and am planning on going back.
I’m doing my movie flamenco homework and re-watching “Strictly Ballroom.” This morning I heard a Cat Stevens song I had never heard before called “O Caritas”. It was all flamenco beat and had spanish and english lyrics about how the world is burning with human attrocities being committed. I loved it, want to download and it. I have regarded it as a confirming omen that I am supposed to continue learning flamenco. I’m in no rush, but I’m not going to forget how it feels rather than think about it much. I’ve got stuff to do, so I don’t have to start right now.