Excerpts from The Bolero School

Prologue by Alberto Lorca
"The maestro, Don Angel Pericet, sat in front of a balcony and went through the Escuela (the classical school of Spanish dance) exercises. That meant all the different existing steps very cleverly put together in groups or "families". Then there was Conchita. She was the sister of Angel and Luisa. ....... And finally, Luisa, my unforgettable teacher, who then taught me how to dance the four verses (of Sevillanas). This was the very first thing we learned. Once you could dance the steps, move your arms and play the castanets of that choreographic jewel of Andalusian dance, when you were able to dance those four Sevillanas properly, and only then, would she go ahead with the rest of the dances, an enormous repertoire of Boleros, Seguidillas, Malagueñas, Jotas and so on.
From all over came pupils such as Elvira Lucena, Pacita Tomás, Carmen Sevilla, José Luis de Udaeta, Juan Magriña. Harald Lander came every year from Denmark and he could leap very high. Once Luisa had taught him all the required port de bras, his jumps were only half as high as before. Then she asked him to add the playing of the castanets, and that was that: his leaps were down to 14 inches.
There were those pupils that approached the Escuela Bolera like refined dances executed by countesses or marchionesses. Luisa always explained to me how mistaken those people were, because none of those aristocrats had the necessary strength and stamina (fiatto) to go through with it, nor could they play castanets well enough. Furthermore, most of them would not have had the guts to visit the sites where those dances - bailes del candil, corraleras and so on - took place. In those places, as in the film "Saturday Night Fever", the bolero dances were executed as a contest: how high you jumped and how many coplas or verses you could perform in a row. This was the way you could charm the girls, and it left very little chance for the aristocracy."

From the Introduction
The Steps
"Many steps in ballet come from Spanish dance – beaten ones from the Basques for example. Most of the Escuela Bolera steps are from regional dances: some with little beats in them, some with twists of the foot on the ground (bordoneos); or on the half-pointe (lazos) with legs turning in and out as in a Charleston; punta y talon, with the toe digging (turned in) at the side and then the heel dig (turned out). There are many others : batararaña (matalaraña), a glissade and then a point of the foot to a front corner; cuna, rocking over on crossed feet, as in a sailor's hornpipe; turns with body bent, over and under, forward and backward. The Spanish glissade is more like ?step close? , although in some studios they are jumped as in ballet. The balletic steps are mainly to be found in the final three sequences of the third course, or Tercer Curso, of the Pericet syllabus. They are very difficult – brisé volé, entrechats cinque and six and so on, steps from the Russian dancing for the men with a deep plié and jumping out to the side up on heels [since going to press a pupil attending a course by Eloy Pericet said that she had seen this step in the Basque dance called Reverencia in a Basque town. He was amazed and said that "for 200 years we have said that it was a Russian step!?]; and also jumped turns in the air. These are not found in the most popular dances from this period, but beats and pirouettes are found in the Boleros such as Bolero de Medio Paso and Boleras de la Cachucha and Bolero Liso, with its free choreography.
Perhaps this is the moment to note two peculiarities about two Basque steps found in ballet that are also different from ballet. When the Basques beat their legs, in an entrechat six for example, they beat in front first. This is the way they still perform and count their beats at the Paris Opera (Richard Glasstone, personal communication). When the Basques do rodazanes (ronds de jambe), those on the ground are always outward and those in the air always inward.
I recognise that the step known as matar-la-araña ("killing the spider") may have come to us through the tongue-in-cheek corruption by Rodrigues Calderón in his book Bolerologia. He satirises many things in it. Eloy Pericet maintains that there is no such name for this step, but that it is called batararaña. Has this joke perhaps been handed down to posterity and been taken seriously?" [See also page 39: Now this is an interesting point as in fact it was supposedly a Frenchman, Thoinot Arbeau (Jehan Tabourot, Canon of Langres), who first used this expression (he was the author of Orchesographie in 1588 a history of dance in the sixteenth century)].

"What does Blasis mean by noting down the dance Seguidillas "Taleada"? Could this be a printing error? No such dance as Taleada can be found, nor could the knowledgeable Spaniards produce evidence of one. The Seguidillas Jaleadas is mentioned in print, and there is Saldoni's Boleras Jaleadas, but both with a "J".A Jaleo was a type of dance. The Boleras de la Cachucha has alternating sections of Bolero and Cachucha, with the Cachucha sections referred to as jaleos. The dictionary definition of a jaleo is a "racket" or "uproar", and it is used in dance to describe the hand-clapping and shouting that often cheers on the performers. Was it a misprint or a misunderstanding on the part of Blasis that has come down to us? ".
As a ballet-trained Spanish dancer, I was able to recognise the Basque Gabota in the Vestris Gavotte, which was demonstrated by Sandra Hammond at a history conference in the USA in the 1980ies. Had I not learned the Gabota, I could not have made this comparison when I saw the Vestris version. Musically and in the steps there is a direct connection. The Basques told me that Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810) studied in Zuberoa, which would be on the French side (Juan Urbeltz, personal communication). Did Noverre teach the Gavotte to them or did he take back that gavotte to Paris, and through his productions teach it to Vestris, through whom, in turn, it has come down to us? If someone were to look closely I am sure that there would be many such instances to be unearthed.?

Regional Similarities
Another intriguing matter is the cross-influence between regions. I came across the Peteneras in Valencia danced as a jolly, bucolic regional dance in triple time. In Andalusia this dance is solemn and deep, and counted in rhythmic cycles, or compas, of 12 beats. Then I read that the Peteneras in Andalusia was originally a dance of light gaiety. Perhaps the solemn words were added later to this melody? Yet who knows whether the Peteneras of Valencia is not the old version, now abandoned in Andalusia after the Gypsies took it and imposed a deeper mood of interpretation upon it? As I write in the chapter on the Bolero, it involves a cross-culture connection that came from the oil and silk routes that led to the dances exchanging regions. Who knows today who gave what to whom.?
As with the Valencian dances termed "Escuela", the name and connection may stem from either direction, but the development is firmly Andalusian. Two lithographs of Mariano Camprubí and Dolores Serral show them depicted with one hand on the hip and the other just hanging loosely down. This position, and the one seen in Elssler's famous picture with one arm overhead and the other slightly behind, are typical Valencian poses. The latter is called the Valencian position in the Escuela Bolera and the former is used in Valencian dances, for example the Fandango de Hortunas, which starts in that position, arm on the hip while the dancer marks time with a slight hip movement, waiting for the right moment to start the dance. In the same way, the Peteneras of the Pericet family starts in that position, hand on hip centre stage, and on the commencement of the dance moves into the Valencian position." [The Blasis 'Mercury' position is a Valencian one, seen in the colour picture no. 1]