On Sunday 28 April (the end of this week) we’re running the first of our Sevillanas dance workshops for this year. I’m happy to say that we’ve got an excellent turn out for this and it was suggested to me that in honour of the workshop my blog this week should be on or about dancing Sevillanas.
One of my colleagues suggested “my life in Sevillanas” where I list some of the most important times of my life which have been marked by me dancing Sevillanas. I thought this was something I could keep on the back burner (not saying I won’t do it, just saying it’s for the future) in case it makes me sound slightly deranged…..I mean who on earth dances Sevillanas at pivotal moments of their life – not even me!
So instead I’m opting to tell you a story. It’s a true story, but I’m going to change a couple of names in order to protect the guilty. Stick with the story to the end and you’ll see that it IS a story about dancing Sevillanas.
This story is just a few years old….maybe 5 years ago, maybe less. We hadn’t been offering dance holidays in Spain for very long and in order to drum up trade, to raise our public profile and get more publicity on a big scale in the UK, we used to occasionally offer free or discounted dance holidays to journalists who would then write an account of their holidays for magazines. To be honest, it wasn’t that WE offered this – it was more than journalists would contact us and ask. Sometimes we said no, but sometimes if it was a national publication with a large circulation (with millions of readers) we would of course say yes.
And so it was that a certain young journo (shall we call her Daphne – yes, I think we will) contacted us to ask about a forthcoming holiday that we were running to the Feria del Caballo in Jerez. Daphne was eager to book for the holiday, stay in the hotel with the rest of the group who she would interview during the holiday for the article, take the daily dance classes and make the most of her Feria experience. Daphne (by the way, in case you haven’t worked it out, this was NOT her name……but it really should have been) was a journalist with a leading women’s monthly magazine, one that we were very keen to get into. There’s a strong possibility that the last few words were the key to what happened next……blinded by our excitement (greed), we agreed to include Daphne in the holiday for NO CHARGE!
In those days I would frequently fly out to accompany the holidays (something I can’t do any longer, or I’d never be at my desk) and I arrived in Jerez the day before the group was arriving in order to prep everyone that we had a top journo coming and to present in the best possible light at all times. Next day I went with the driver to meet the group from the plane and made sure that from moment one the charm offensive was switched on to max. The sun shone, the sky was deep blue, and Jerez looked lovely with the old buildings, – everywhere was signs and preparations for the Feria and everyone was enchanted!
Everyone except Daphne…….she looked out of the coach window and said “is this IT then? I’d imagined something, you know….more Spanish”. Cue dropping of jaw (from me). What do you say, what could I say, how could I not slap her up and shout you silly cow…..but now I’m starting to rant, so back to the actual story. I said nothing and thought “she’s tired from the journey; she needs to relax and eat something. It’ll be fine”. IT WASN’T.
The hotel that the group was staying in was the most highly rated, charming boutique hotel in Jerez. We had arranged for Daphne to have their best room (although everyone’s rooms were just lovely) and while everyone else in the group made ooohhhh noises at the hotel, Daphne looked as if she was sucking on a lemon. She didn’t speak to anyone else in the group once, barely spoke to the charming hotel owner who had come down to the hotel specifically to greet her and stomped (and yes, I do mean stomped) off to her room.
I’d arranged that after giving the group a couple of hours to wind down, unpack and generally relax, I’d meet them back at the hotel and from there we would go to eat. When I arrived the rest of the group were up on the roof terrace, complimentary drinks in hand and already in fine spirits. No-one had seen Daphne……..at this point I should probably explain that I hadn’t told the rest of the group that Daphne was a journalist, or why she was there, as I didn’t want them to act differently with her. I thought that if they acted naturally she would get a better idea of how much they were really enjoying the holiday.
At the appointed hour we all assembled in the hotel lobby and waited for Daphne. No Daphne appeared. The hotel called her room. No answer. I called her mobile. No answer. I went to her room. She wasn’t there. No one in the hotel had seen her leave. Staff searched the hotel, but no sign of Daphne. She …………was………. lost
I had LOST my journo! How had I managed that? The cold sweat began, coupled with the dawning realisation that I had to keep up the charm offensive for the rest of the group and make sure that they remained oblivious to what was really happening. We were already almost 30 minutes late for our lunch. I dug deep, smiled brightly and took my group off to lunch, leaving the hotel strict instructions to call me the moment Daphne appeared. We were about 20 yards along the road when we ran into Daphne who seemed very unhappy with my relieved and enthusiastic greeting. She had apparently “been bored “and had gone for a walk. She didn’t think it mattered if she turned up for lunch or not and wasn’t sure that she would now join us anyway. The others in the group, in their happy ignorance, pleaded with her to join them (looking back, I think they thought she was shy) and so off we went.
The restaurant was in a small pedestrian square in one of the oldest parts of Jerez. We had a large table reserved, under the Jacaranda trees which were in full flower, a sea of purple frothy beauty. The table was already prepared for us with bottles of chilled white wine, bottles of chilled water, bowls of crusty bread and saucers of olives. Some of the others in the group thought it was so lovely they almost had tears in their eyes and almost everyone took photos! Except Daphne.
She started out berating the waiter in English. I explained that none of the waiters spoke English. She huffed and puffed and said very loudly that she didn’t like to use a translator as they never said what she had actually said (too right there, darling). Her seat had to be moved, she was too much in the sun, she was too much in the shade. The water was too cold, she didn’t eat bread. She didn’t drink alcohol. She was a vegetarian, was there a vegetarian menu? No, she hadn’t added this onto her booking form in the section marked “are you a vegetarian?” because she had forgotten to. She sent her first course back un-tasted. She sent her second course back twice for changes. She devoured her pudding as if she’d never met cream and custard on the same plate together before. She had a second pudding. IT WAS A LONG MEAL………..
At this point I’m going to fast forward as by now I can see you are all getting a good picture of what life with Daphne was like. By the end of the lunch only the die-hards were still attempting friendly conversation with her, the majority of the group had given up and were forming their own friendships and starting to really enjoy themselves. As for me, since Daphne continually spoke to me as if I was a mixture of her enemy and a lowly servant, I really couldn’t achieve anything worth mentioning.
The Flamenco dance classes started the next day. The group had 5 classes over the week, all with a local teacher at her dance school. The rest of the group found the classes challenging and great fun and loved the fact that they were dancing at a local school. I dropped in to watch the classes on day two, to see how everyone was getting on and to make sure that the teacher was happy too. As soon as I walked in I noticed Daphne sitting down. In the break I asked the teacher if everything was alright and she said yes, but that no matter what she did or said, she couldn’t get Daphne to dance. I was amazed and said “do you mean she comes here every day and just sits there?” and she said yes……..
Everyone else was learning the dances of the Feria, the Sevillanas and the Rumba. They were going to need them because later that day we went to the Feria del Caballo for the first time. What can I tell you, how can I describe it (hopefully you’ve been to a large Feria and I won’t have to)? On the day we went it was still relatively quiet, with no more than 40,000 people enjoying several square miles of casetas. There were beautiful horses parading up and down, beautifully dressed locals, from every corner poured the music of Sevillanas – inviting you to dance, drink and enjoy yourself. The first day at the Feria everyone was a little bit intimidated and although I know they really wanted to dance too, they just felt a bit too…..English (yes, there were no Welsh, Irish or Scottish in the group on THAT particular holiday, though we do encourage bookings from people of all nationalities), so they just walked about and soaked it all up.
Daphne also came to life, taking loads of photos. She particularly liked photographing the horses and the carriages. We found a table outside a particularly attractive caseta and ordered a round of drinks and a selection of tapas. Daphne went off to take photos. About 15 minutes later a local came running over to me, asking me to go with him back to the first aid tent – Daphne had been trodden on by a horse.
No bones were broken thank god and far from being tearful, Daphne was ranting about how she was going to sue the organisers of the Feria. Privately I thought “good luck with that one sweetheart” and publicity I had the job of talking her down from the trees. I did this by distraction technique. I explained that I was rather concerned that we were 3 days into the holiday and I hadn’t seen her interview any of the group, nor had she spoken to me or to the hotel owner or the dance teacher. Nor had she asked me any background questions on Jerez or the Feria. This seemed to cheer her up immensely and she told me that she had changed her mind about the angle of the piece and was going to do it from the point of view of a normal client in our group – so no interviews and only the knowledge she could pick up herself.
We had three more days of the holiday. Everyone else loved their classes, loved being in Jerez and loved the Feria. They made new friendships, got drunk, laughed and got sunburnt. And they danced, and danced, and danced……by the second visit to the Feria I couldn’t stop them dancing. Sevillanas, Rumba – I got tired and had to leave them to it and by the third day at the Feria they really didn’t need or want me there. They had discovered a 24 hour party with great food and drink and a place where you could dance till you dropped. Suddenly a group of women aged 35 – 60 were all young and carefree again. I loved it.
Daphne never got off her chair in dance class. Daphne never danced Sevillanas at the Feria. By day 5 she had stopped contact with the rest of the group altogether. Daphne barely spoke to me or anyone else at the final meal of the holiday. Daphne did not seem happy. I was later told that on the plane going back to the UK she sat separately to the others and at the baggage carousel said happily to them “goodbye, I don’t suppose I will ever see any of you again”.
3 months later I was in Sainsbury’s. Standing in the magazine aisle, reading that month’s copy of the magazine that Daphne had written the article for. The first that my poor husband knew that anything was wrong was when, from two aisle away, he heard me make “a strange animal howling noise” and rushed over to find me jumping up and down on the magazine, shouting “Bitch, bitch etc…….” (You can probably imagine the etc part)
Yes folks, Daphne had written her story – a fascinating tale of love, lust and dancing in the hot Andalucian sun. Something had called her to do this thing and even though she had never been to Spain and didn’t speak Spanish, all on her own she booked this holiday and went unaccompanied to this strange town called Jerez. There she knew no-one and was completely alone, staying in this quaint little run down hotel. Somehow she found her way to a local dance teacher who on seeing her dance christened her “La Niña Valiente” (the brave little girl) and admired and encouraged her natural talent. She was entranced by the strange, almost savage locals, cooking over their open fires in the streets (in her version everyone’s cookers seemed to have packed up) and gazing at her with dark, lustful eyes. A local man told her that she should go to their Feria, so that everyone would see her dance. She went and hung around at the edge of the dance floor at first. Then a tall, dark, gypsy man with long flowing hair approached her and said “are you La Niña Valiente? If you are then you must dance with me” He whirled her out onto the dance floor and there their almost consummated their passion, in the powerful steps and hot glances of the Sevillanas. She felt like a woman re-born.
Yes, folks that is my sorry tale. As I promised at the beginning, this story does end with dancing Sevillanas. At no point did Daphne mention Camino Holidays or Camino del Flamenco and no reader would have been any the wiser about how or why she got there.
Strange but true……..18 months later I was contacted by someone wanting to book a dance holiday with us. She said that she’d read a thrilling article in a magazine about how an ordinary woman booked a Flamenco dance holiday to Jerez and how she found love there and it had inspired her to want to do the same. Did we offer holidays like this? I said……..yes!