Friday, 22 May 2009
Stressed, tired, confused? Dance it out! The world over, dance preserves and shapes the history of a people. As a manifestation of a particular culture's rhythm and flavour, dance can be the best way for a traveller to get to the heart of a place. That is why music halls, nightclubs and ballrooms can be as alluring for curious visitors as magnificent landmarks or Michelin-rated restaurants.
There’s no better example of this than in Seville, unofficial headquarters of flamenco dancing. It may lay claim to having the largest Gothic cathedral in existence and they may be proud owners of an impressive ancient fortress, but the presence of flamenco permeates the city. Around every corner, you’ll find museums, schools, clothing stores and dance venues all dedicated to this passionate dance. To understand why, you need to take in a show.
Watching a performance is like being at a banquet of unadulterated Andalusia. As it evolved as a dance, each subculture in the region modified flamenco to better express their plights, anecdotes and even religious beliefs. Everyone, from gypsies crying the debla to prisoners moaning as they created the carceleras style, used the basic formula of one steady percussionist/guitarist and one singer, but they each created their own unique form of flamenco.
In Seville, you’re not just limited to watching world-class flamenco from one of the city’s unrivaled venues like El Arenal – you can also learn from the masters of the dance. Taller Flamenco offers classes for aspiring flamenco dancers or regular tourists passing through Seville.
It may not seem like it at first glance, but the waltz, much like flamenco, traces its roots to the poorer, peasant classes. Over time however, the dance twirled its way out of the servants’ quarters and into the grand ballrooms of Vienna’s most powerful figures as it became increasingly refined.
Today, one glance at the city’s Baroque buildings and it’s obvious that Vienna is inherently elegant and genteel. Naturally, the waltz embodies both these qualities. “Like no other dance, [the] Viennese Waltz gives the dancers the sensation of floating across the floor. It is a combination of very dynamic movements with an unperturbed and aloof attitude that draws the immediate attention of the spectators,” says Thomas Schafer-Elmayer of Tanzschule Elmayer, a well-known school located in the very center of the city. Take a class there and you’ll get a taste of what it was like to be part of Austrian nobility. Of course, you’ll have to look the part. When it comes to the waltz, dressing to the nines is as important as keeping your feet moving in 3/4 time.
When the waltz was in its nascent form and still alien to the Viennese upper-class, it was a loud, raucous spectacle. In many ways, its more frenetic tempo and the loose, less monochrome attire could have resembled bhangra. This dance originated in the Punjab region of India, grew quickly in popularity in the UK and is now slowly, but surely, picking up speed in North America. Rohit Bhambi from Boston Bhangra explains, “Through its high energy and fun nature, Bhangra is something that all people can relate to. The fact that Jay-Z worked with Punjabi MC on a bhangra track shows the mass appeal.”
Every Saturday, the Cobden Club in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood holds “Bollywood Nights” where contemporary bhangra makes the speakers hum. Patrons here trade in the bright pastels of the traditional kurta (a loose men’s shirt) or ghagra (Punjabi dress) for more familiar clubbing duds, but the essential bhangra elements are still very prominent. Driven by beats that use the time-honored dhol drum, dancers joyfully bounce from foot to foot, alternating arms as they reach into the air. Bhangra, thankfully, is an easy dance to literally jump into, especially with the less restrictive modern forms. “Anybody who loves music and loves to dance can learn how to do Bhangra,” Rohit assures.
Learning Bhangra may be a breeze, but it doesn’t compare to the simplicity of line dancing. A form of traditional dance throughout the world, there are many types of line dancing to be found across the globe, but the Country-Western style is easily the most popular form. Despite its peak in the '90s (thanks in part to hits like “Achy Breaky Heart”), people today still fill bars all across America to slap hands and boots in neat little rows.
Almost every bar in Nashville, Tenn. boasts a wide parquet floor where crowds can get their march on. Before indecision sets in, head to Wildhorse Saloon, one of the most popular spots in town. Dive into a group of 50 or so at Wildhorse and the locals will eagerly show you the steps without breaking their stride. It may sound like an overwhelming experience having dozens of impromptu instructors, but like an evening at Cobden Club, a show at El Arenal or a session at Tanzschule Elmayer, it’s also an utterly unforgettable one.
Want to join the dance? Go to www.medestino.com, book a hotel and start dancing!