Think you’re not advanced enough as a flamenco dancer to study in Spain? Laurie explains why this is not so! She also talks about what she loved about her dance classes with Mercedes Ruíz, how she came to feel like a part of the community, friendships she formed, how she grew and learned on the trip, and more...
"It's just been fabulous beyond belief. I would highly recommend it. Do it," says Laurie 😍
“100% approval. The moment I landed in the US, what had happened in the past two weeks suddenly ceased to be a reality. It must be a dream, I told myself, by simply clapping your hands (palmas), you are in rhythm with the flamenco lifestyle--- a solid class schedule, flamenco shows every night, fine food and wine, walking tours, and meeting local flamenco VIPs. Yes, through Laura’s connections and arrangements , it’s that easy. My predication of a successful flamenco trip starts with Laura’s pre-departure check list, which includes “Have I checked the expiration date of my credit card? “ When we arrived in Jerez, she gave us an even more thoughtful and detailed “Info, tips and things to consider.” I admire her meticulous planning and smooth execution of this trip from beginning to end. I gave her 100% approval. I wish I could be like her in whatever task I’ll take in the future. Our teacher, Mercedes Ruiz is an internationally renowned dancer and teacher. I met her in Taiwan last November for the first time, and this year she will go to Shanghai, China. For almost a total of 20 hours of technique and choreography, somehow I felt the flamenco “ghost,” if you will, had come to grab me. The sudden and sensual moves of her shoulders, the quick twist of her body, and, oh! I couldn’t take my eyes off her, the “holy” expression on her face. To say she smiled or frowned is too shallow an expression. It was her spirit that was talking to us. Her routine was simply such a joy to watch, while the choreography of alegrías was a little hard for me. I set my goal as a chance to learn from a genuine flamenco master, so that I can motivate myself in the years to come. The bulerías class was held in a historically significant building, Pena Los Cernícalos. Ana choreographed and explained to us how bulerias works and her assistant Esther followed up correcting our posture and steps. I was very impressed that this place was more than a dance studio, it was a real-life bulerias environment with guitarists and singers, and welcomed dancers of all levels to show off their skills, and that’s what bulerias is all about, isn’t it? A carefree, improvising and “happy together” type of dance. I danced my first bulerías alone. It was not perfect, but it filled me with energy and hope that I would dance flamenco boldly and confidently before a crowd one day. Laura speaks fluent Spanish, and she was always with us and translated for us word by word. I believe she has built up her own network in Jerez and becomes a familiar face in the flamenco community there. One dark night we was about to pass by a studio when a man approached to the door. I thought we would just ignore the whole thing and go home, but what happened was that we entered that studio and watched the gypsy owner try out his new dancing shoes. It turned out that Laura knew him, too. We visited a small family-owned wine cellar and a big, commercial one. What a smart arrangement by Laura for us to compare the two! We were all happy with the blouses or skirts we custom made there, and the price was very reasonable. In all, Jerez is a pleasant, affordable place to visit and to stay for all visitors. And if you are a flamenco lover, you must try this two-week tour with Laura. Let her lead you through the beautiful and mysterious world of flamenco, as simply as clapping your hands.” - Debby Chen
Julie had spent time in Spain studying flamenco on her own and was ready to try it in a group in Jerez. Find out what the experience meant to her in the video above.
“GO ON THIS TRIP!!!
This will be my 3rd time in 4 years. Why? First of all I love bulerias de Jerez- particularly from the barrio that we stay in. I have danced and studied different kinds of dance for many years and have traveled to Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico and now Spain. This trip is one of the best.
-Laura brings groups 3 times a year and works with the same teachers, apt owners, dressmakers and they all respect and like her. She treats them well and as her student you are warmly welcomed by them.
-You get to study technique and choreography with Mercedes Ruíz and bulerias with Ani Lopez at Peña los Cernicalos. They are gracious and patient and know that you will be there for 2 weeks so gauge their teaching to this. They also know we are on vacation and sometimes are spacey flamencas after being out late!
-Laura is well connected and you have the opportunity to experience a lot of flamenco- from the theater to a local pena or restaurant. Last time we were invited to a paella lunch at the pena that turned into a true bulerias por fiesta!
-we stay in lovely apartments and can safely walk everywhere. You can participate in all the planned events or opt for some independent or rest time. The women in both of my previous groups were friendly, interesting, supportive and a lot of fun to be with.
Laura leads great trips with a lot of warmth, integrity and respect for the local culture so as a participant you are not only having a great time, learning a lot, experiencing authentic living flamenco but also are giving back to the community. They appreciate our support.” - Virginia O'Hanlon
"If you haven't come, come because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you've come once I encourage you to come back a second time because the experience will be even richer...Everywhere you go, there's flamenco in the air."
Not only will you get to hear Penny talk about her second time attending the Flamenco Tour, but you'll get a chance to see some of the sketches of Jerez that she did during her free time.
“Jerez is a small city in the south of Spain where young and old come together to celebrate life, art and passion everyday. I just got back from the Experience Flamenco Tour and wanted to let everyone know how wonderful the tour was. As a beginner Flamenco dancer, I was a little bit intimidated to go on the trip but I am so glad that I did. I feel honored to have danced with Mercedes Ruíz whose elegance and grace comes through in her every movement and with Ani López at the Peña Los Cernícalos who is full of wisdom, soul and character. But what really made this trip extra special was how the locals welcomed us and shared their culture with us as if we were family and a lot of that had to do with Laura who has developed relationships with the teachers, apartment owners, seamstresses and it is very apparent that they have deep affection for her. Laura, is a kind, thoughtful and detail oriented leader who took care of our every need. Laura is also an excellent flamenco teacher who also provided encouragement and solidification sessions for us throughout the trip on the rooftop of our apartment building! I highly recommend this trip and can't wait to get back to Jerez on another tour with Laura in the future!
(I should have given my testimonial on arrival because after meeting you and seeing where we would be living and after meeting the teachers we would be dancing with I could not contain my excitement but by my last day in Jerez I had tears in my eyes because I had to leave this magical place where I had become so comfortable and was welcomed like family by everyone I met. You can use my testimonial if you need to but I really just wanted you to know how special the trip was to me.)” - Donna Scaggs
"It was kind of my dream to go where the real flamenco is," said Liron Bobasch of Tel Aviv, Israel, so she joined the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. "It was much more than amazing … Even after a few days you feel like you know more about flamenco. You feel it in your body, and you feel it in your soul, in the music… The whole experience itself just made me feel like I’m in a flamenco movie. It’s a pause that you’re doing in your life, and it’s worth everything. If you really really love flamenco I really recommend doing it. I cannot even explain with words how amazing it is.” Watch the video, and find out about Liron's favorite part of the Flamenco Tour (Hint: It has to do with bulerías.)
"I didn't quite know what to expect, and the whole trip, every aspect of it, has exceeded my expectations," Penny Pearlman. Penny joined the Flamenco Tour last fall after only having danced for one year! You'll love watching and listening to her talk about her experiences in Jerez. She talks about how things went for her although she spoke no Spanish. She talks about how her posture improved and how much better her hands look from working with Mercedes. She talks about how she learned to dance bulerías. She talks about the group and the support she felt from that. Also, she's just incredibly articulate (she's a writer) and fun to watch. "I'm entranced by Jerez," Penny says. "Flamenco...it's in the concrete; it's in the trees; it's in the air; it's just part of life here."
"The Flamenco Tour is how I fell in love with Jerez & how I discovered sherry - it will change your life ... If I could I would go every time. I learned so much more than just dancing It's an intimate setting that allows you to bond with participants, teachers, and community!" As you know, the Flamenco Tour to Jerez includes a visit to a sherry bodega for a tour and tasting. Seana returned from the trip inspired about both flamenco and the vinos of Jerez which led to her start her own sherry blog. I absolutely LOVE that the Flamenco Tour sparked this newfound passion in Seana. (I also love that she's still dancing up a storm!) I wonder what the Flamenco Tour might lead you to discover.
Stella didn't think she could do it. She thought she needed to wait several years until she was 'good' enough. She chose not to wait. "It was absolutely incredible, and I realize it more and more as time passes. People who went on previous tours told me how incredible it was, but I did not believe it completely. Well, now I know first-hand." (Thank you, Toshi Onizuka, for providing the music for Stella's video.)
Gay had taken only a handful of flamenco classes before joining the Flamenco Tour.
See how things went for Gay (and our lovely courtyard) in her video.
Aida & Becky:
Aida and Becky formed a strong bond and laughs and tears on the Flamenco Tour. Both have joined three times. See their reflections (and our rooftop hangout in Jerez) above. Plus, here is more from them:
A note from Becky:
"No one can replicate what you have created."
"It was just the best. Laura made something very, very special happen. I'm sure the memories of this event will have a lifetime effect on every one of us. She did a fantastic job...the group synergy could not have been better.
The bulerias classes with Ana were fantastic... for me, I loved hearing the bulerias singer... singing all different letras over and over... Ana was a hoot of course; smoking away and drinking her quarts of cold beer. It was like being in a flamenco movie. Stepping foot inside my first real peña was pretty freakin' awesome. It was a little scary and intimidating at first... but Ana loved us... because they all love Laura of course. With the foundation I had from Laura's bulerias classes (which are similarly designed) I was able to understand the framework at another 'layer'... this crazy art form is all about layers... like an onion, it can sometimes make one weepy...
Mercedes... well, what can one say? ...Besides being a riveting, entrancing and amazing dancer, she is an excellent teacher as well. Everything we did in technique class was incorporated in choreography... everything. Lots of lightbulb moments. She's an absolute gem in the realm of flamenco. And having Santiago play for us and David Lagos sing on the last day was more icing on the cake.
So many great activities... we were on the move...David and Alfredo Lagos concert at Fernando Terremoto Peña.Private performance in Mercedes studio. Students were beautiful to watch. (sherry included)Jesus Mendez concert at Theatro Villamarta. His mother's fringe dress and performance will be forever etched on my mind.Another peña show.Andalucian Horse ShowMoorish BathsSherry TourTrip to Flamenco Foundation LibrarySunday Flea MarketDay trip to SevilleShoppingShoes....Eating and Wine... lots of good wine."
- Becky Poynter
You also might want to check out this email she sent to her husband during the first Flamenco Tour.
A note from Aida:
Hope you are find back home. Thank You Very Much for such a wonderful trip and bringing the Passion of Flamenco back to my Soul. I am all inspired and full of illusion. I learned so much not only of Flamenco but of myself too. You all are the best. I have seven new friends and Flamenco mentors that I can count on.
What a beautiful farewell card you gave me. I love it with picture of last place we were together y con una muñequita flamenquita en el costado. Gracias por tan bonitas palabras. Bueno Laurita esa cabezita bonita ha estado pensando en el próximo viaje ... (Okay, Laura this head of mine has been thinking about the next trip ...)
Saludos Flamencos" - Aida Rivera
“Arms, arms, arms!”
Amy is a mother of six who has managed to join the Flamenco Tour two times.
Find out what it was like for her above.
Lily joined the Flamenco Tour on a whim having had no previous flamenco experience.
"I HIGHLY recommend this trip...
Thanks to a fortuitous Google search, I found (Laura's) trip to Jerez last month and had such an incredible time (my very first time learning flamenco, too!).
Laura Onizuka is so generous with her spirit, knowledge and energy. She really makes sure that you are getting the most out of your experience. And everyone in Spain loves her, too, so you will get the red-carpet treatment! DO IT." - Lily Liang
Katie is a two-time Flamenco Tour alum. Here's what she had to say after her first trip,
"Go to Spain! There is no question. It will change your life. Once I made the decision to go, it was easy. This was to be my third trip to Spain, but the first focused exclusively on flamenco. The classes are amazing. The people are friendly, and the town is precious. I decided that I would absorb as much as I could while I was there. It didn't matter to me if I remembered each step, but I had to take one thing away with me...one thing.
The classes are invigorating and exhausting at the same time...Mercedes is amazing. She is extremely focused, and her class is the ultimate workout. I never thought about each finger and how they connect to my wrist and so on. She has a bit of information for everyone at every level.
The bulerías class with Ani, Ana María López...Everyone loved it, but it was intense. Laura has said it's not a physical class and this is true; it's all mental. At first I wanted to watch and see if I would like it. I didn't get to sit for long... The singers and guitarists were live! It was such a treat to hear live music...I've been terrified to dance by myself for ages. Ani helped me overcome that fear. Her no nonsense attitude, encouragement, and resistance to "I don't want to" or "I'm scared" pulled me onto the floor. Through trial and error I made it through a bulerías by myself. I got on the floor at the right time, I stayed in compás, and I got off. That was a magical moment for me and the one thing I wanted to take with me...courage...Bulerías is still hard, and I mess up a lot, but I'm not terrified anymore." - Katie DeSau
"Going to Spain is something I’ve always wanted to do, but life never seemed to allow it to happen. Then, two years ago I decided that if I continued to wait for the “right” moment, it would never happen...
I arrived in Jerez on a warm sunny autumn evening. I was welcomed to our apartment by Laura and Stefani, neither of whom I’d met prior to this trip. They were so nice and welcoming. I immediately felt comfortable around them, and I knew then things were going to be okay.
Each day we had technique and alegrías class with Mercedes followed with bulerias class with Ani. Two polar opposites of technique and teaching styles, yet I learned so much from each. Mercedes’ methodical and structured style is exactly what I needed for when I felt lost. It gave me predictability and a framework that I could build on and see progress as the weeks went on. Ani’s teaching style relied more on feeling and being comfortable in the movements and with oneself. She helped me to see I that I could build confidence where I had none.
As the baby flamenco dancer of the group I felt embarrassed to dance in front of others and ashamed to ask questions. There were so many emotions I was struggling with: shame, fear and resentment, that the years I spent studying flamenco didn’t quite prepare me for this trip. It would have been very easy to give up, skip classes and spend my time exploring the city, but Stefani and Laura really did an amazing job ensuring that I didn’t give up, and I think it’s because Laura has been in that spot once before. In the evenings Laura and Stefani led “solidification” sessions where we reviewed the material learned earlier in the day. These were so critical in my ability to build confidence and the muscle memory I needed to not fall too far behind in class." Click here to read all about Mariana's experience on the Flamenco Tour. (She's been twice.)
”Oh my goodness! There is NOT one thing I disliked about the Flamenco Tour to Jerez. I had been to one other workshop in Spain. It was great but just not the same. On the Flamenco Tour I experienced an individual, very personal type of growth and it changed my approach to studying flamenco. I can't say enough about the teachers we took classes with. Their energy and passion were unbelievable and so contagious. It's still so amazing that I was studying with Mercedes Ruiz! The new friendships with other ladies in our group from different areas was so special..life long friends. I especially loved, loved the genuine relationships between Laura and these teachers, the owners of the apartments we stayed in, and businesses. It was so wonderful to see and be a part of all this. I just can't say enough about how great this tour is that Laura puts together for people in Jerez! Looking forward to my next trip back there! Thank you again Laura and Stefani for all that you do.“ Carol Carillo
Here's what Stefani, another three-time Flamenco Tour alumnus had to say:
""I have been to a number of flamenco festivals and schools, but I have never had a flamenco experience like this. Laura's trip was intimate and personalized: Small classes with the top instructors in Jerez created just for us, cultural experiences that we could not have had without Laura's expert knowledge, and fabulous performances that were not available to the general public. Through Laura's unique relationships in Jerez we had access to artists and venues that would not have been possible without her.
And through it all Laura was there to interpret, answer our questions, reinforce what we learned with solidification sessions, and make sure we were having the time of our life.
It's the experience I had always wanted to find in Spain and it has greatly enhanced my understanding of flamenco." Stefani Miller
Cherie was ready for an adventure when she joined the Flamenco Tour.
"Imagine your own private flamenco festival. I have lots of special memories and experiences that I never would have had anywhere else. Not every day does a flamenco aficionado get to meet important flamenco artists, and yet there they are: Juana la del Pipa in her cafe - ready to give you a big hug as if you are her long lost daughter; Rafael Lorente, escritor of flamenco letras - explaining the poetry in his verses; Santiago Lara, guitarist to his wife, Mercedes Ruiz - who obliged me with his guitar playing when I asked if he could play so I can sing a few letras; Mercedes Ruiz - who poured sherry in our cups as we waited for her company's private show; Ana Maria Lopez and Carmen Herrera - very encouraging and patient with the bulerias that I have avoided for a very long time; and of course the little kids coming out of a street corner, singing - and to that there is no other response but to dance in the streets of Jerez!" - Cherie Medel Scillia
Virginia had studied flamenco for two years and was ready to take it to the source when she joined the Flamenco Tour. Read about her trip below.
"So where do I start. I have danced and taught Afro Cuban, Haitian and Brazilian dance for many years. I'm the sort of explorer who likes to "go to the source" so I have gone to these countries many times on dance/study trips. There were a few great trips, some ok, and two really miserable experiences.
I'm fairly new to flamenco -had 2 years in at the time of this trip- but became intrigued by the "por fiesta" dances so I started looking around for ways to study in Spain, particularly Jerez. I discovered Laura's trips, and it seemed like a structure that would work well for me, so I went last October. It was without a doubt one of the best, richest experiences that I've had, and here are some reasons why.
We were warmly welcomed by the teachers, Ana Maria López and Mercedes Ruiz. We were well matched in our group, beginners to advanced beginners. Most days we started with technique class that we took along with Mercedes' students. This was a full hour of upper body positioning, arms and some basic markings. Later in the day we took a choreography class with Mercedes. She worked us hard and pushed us but was extremely patient and warm.
Ani's bulería class in the peña is the "experience" that Laura describes, intense, challenging, rewarding and FUN. She took/pushed us along with humor and kindness. Since bulerías involves solo work Ani made individual adjustments in our choreography. She focused on a few specific corrections that changed the look and feel of my bulerías. (It's difficult to break my Afro habits!)
What I really appreciated about both these maestras is their dedication to excellence in their art and respect for their tradition. Because they work with Laura on a regular basis they know how to structure the workshop classes for the two weeks that we are there so that we can feel that we accomplished something.
We stayed at lovely apartments within walking distance of everything. The owners have a café a few doors down, and its a great place to have café, vino or chat with Maribel and Jose Luís. That's where we celebrated after our last bulerías class where we all got smiles and olés from Ani and Zorri! Downtown Jerez is an easy ten minute walk, (cafes, supermarkets, banks) and it's very safe.
We worked hard, but it was a vacation too. Laura took us to the Arabic bath house for massages, sherry tasting and sightseeing in Jerez. Of course we went to Flamenco events- from top of the line award winning artists to rap influenced flamenco in a barrio peña. And the shopping- flamenco clothing, shoes, accessories- my favorite was the fleco store. Jerez is a lovely small city where you can definitely experience the pulse that drives flamenco.
So that's what we did. We had a great group of ladies and had a lot of fun together, informal chats, group meetings, parties and outings. What worked really well for me is that due to the structure and location I had to choice of being with the group or hanging out on my own. I tend to need a bit of alone/reflecting time and was able to comfortably work that in. Laura and Stefani were ALWAYS available to answer questions and take care of things, delayed luggage at the airport, translating, making phone calls, accompanying you anywhere that you thought you needed help with and always with a smile.
It was a very rich experience. I learned a lot while having a great vacation. It took a while to adjust to being back in the real world after living out my fantasy flamenco life. That's why I plan to go back in October. (I'm practicing my bulerías Ani!)"
These workshops are the best! We always have so much fun and get to enjoy dancing too! Highly recommend!!