Flamenco & Spanish Dance at Morley During Covid 19

By Fenella Juanita Barker

It was near the end of the Spring term and I was looking forward to a packed two weeks of teaching classes, workshops and performances before the Easter holidays.  Suddenly, in mid stride, everything closed – first the performances were cancelled or postponed and then the classes and workshops had to be taught online from home.  On my last day in the studio, I had an inkling of this and managed to record material for my bata de cola workshop – bata de cola being something I could most certainly not do at home.  Myself, my husband and my special needs, teenage son, live in a restricted space and teaching from that space, as well as being confined to it, filled me with immense dread. Fortunately, flamenco can be danced in small spaces and my husband found me a small piece of wood to use as a floor and I taught video tutorials for Morley in these far from ideal conditions.

Before being struck down with illness (from which I am now thankfully recovering), I recorded at least 370 video tutorials from my home, a short lockdown Bulerias from the park at the end of my road (see below), gave feedback to students on their practise videos as well as hosting Teams Meetings for them.  Although I strongly feel that this is not the way that Spanish dance (or any dance) should be taught and definitely not the way that flamenco should be experienced, it did fill a gap in a time of emergency.  It was far more time consuming and stressful, and far less fun, than teaching in the studio with face to face human interaction with students and guitarist / singer, and I truly hope we will never have to leave our studios again.

However, there were some things that I would like to try to incorporate into my future teaching:  my students found short video clips of close ups of my body, eg feet, wrists, arm positions and castanets, really useful; they also found videoing themselves a beneficial tool (they watched themselves for self-correction before I gave them feedback) and having the option of receiving a pre-recorded or live streamed class is really useful for students who, for whatever reason, cannot attend for one or more sessions.  So, I hope to incorporate elements of the above into my future teaching.

I am someone who loves live performance (despite having also worked in film, TV and video) – the thrill is the transitory, interactive and shared nature of the experience, whether that be in the theatre, concert hall, tablao flamenco, cabaret or teaching in the studio.  My biggest fear was that this was going to disappear forever and everyone would get used to only communicating in the virtual world.  I hope and believe this isn’t so.  My students are saying how much they miss the live experience and so do I, so very, very much!  

So, I return to the Morley studios in September. To begin with, we hope to be offering a mixture of live, face to face classes along with live-streamed and pre-recorded classes in order to accommodate people’s needs and circumstances, whilst also making sure we are respecting social distance and safe practice.  We will also have to make other accommodations for the Autumn term, for instance, in the performance course, Morley Flamenco Dance Ensemble, although we will be working on a piece to perform live, hopefully in the Peña Flamenca de Londres’ Juerga Night in November, we will also be working on a piece to be filmed and streamed over Morley’s online platforms (the aim of which is to compensate for the diminished live performance opportunities before Christmas).  So, let’s hope that the worst is over, that there isn’t a second wave and that one day, in the future, we will return as wiser and more experienced artists, teachers and students to life as we once knew it! Maybe even life better than we once knew it – who knows?

By Fenella Juanita Barker

If you are interested in learning Flamenco Dance at Morley, take a look at the course below;