I have two passions in my life: dancing and reading. Nothing brings me greater joy than when these combine. I recently devoured a book by one of my favourite authors, Belinda Alexandra. Golden Earrings tells the story of Paloma Batton, a ballet dancer with the Paris Opera Ballet School. In the midst of preparations for her audition with the professional company, she is visited by the ghost of a woman, who hands her a pair of golden earrings. Curious about the mysterious woman, Paloma delves into her family history and discovers that there is a connection to a famous flamenco dancer of the 1930s called ‘la Rusa’. Although records show that la Rusa committed suicide in Paris in 1952, Paloma senses that something is amiss and embarks on her own investigation to discover what happened to la Rusa.
I poured over the pages of Golden Earrings as it took me through Paloma’s story in Paris in 1975 and la Rusa’s story in war stricken Barcelona. I journeyed through Paloma’s struggles as she diligently prepared for her audition with one of the worlds most famous ballet companies, and la Rusa’s introduction to flamenco as a young girl and rise to fame.
Although ballet has always been my ‘niche’, I’ve dabbled in jazz, tap, lyrical and contemporary. But flamenco was not a style that I had ever thought much about until I cracked the cover of Golden Earrings. Prior, all I knew was that the girls wore beautiful dresses with higher hems at the front and a floor sweeping train at the back, and that the dancer flicked their wrists as they moved. I wanted to know more. And so, off I went to a flamenco class with Laura, at Melbourne dance studio, The Space.
At the beginning of the class, Laura explained that flamenco originates from Andalusia, in southern Spain and consists of cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance) and palmas (handclaps). We started off the class by clapping out the beat of a piece of music. Then, feet movements were introduced…this is where it got tricky. Similarly to tap dancing, several movements could be used per beat. Lovely Laura was incredibly patient and stood in front of me, counting the beats out loud, slowly counting faster and faster until my feet moved at the appropriate speed.
After a couple of practices with the music, I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself. It was 30 minutes into my 1 hour class, and I’d successfully managed to pick up the fancy footwork. Alas, there was more to come. The arm movements and wrist flicking were the most precise movements of all. Clockwise on the way up, anti-clockwise on the way down, swapping mid-air should the arms cross over, and all the while, counting the beat in your head and pounding out a rhythm on the floor. Help! But, once again, Laura’s patience was in excess. With every practice, I got better and each little piece fell into place.
By the enc of the class, I felt like a flamenco champion. Obviously, learning a 60 second dance routine (which no doubt consisted of the most basic of flamenco steps) in no way makes me the new la Rusa. However, Laura’s endless praise of all of her students and the excitement of trying something new was enough to give me a bounce in my step.
Laura still teaches classes at The Space. You can check their website, http://www.thespace.com.au/, for current class times.