A week before I depart for Spain I get a crash course in Sevillanas from my flamenco teacher, Jackie. We quickly conclude that learning all four coplas is not feasible so I focus on just the first two. ‘Are you ready?’, she asks as we conclude. Ah… yeah sure, how hard can a simple court dance be? Nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience!
Several years ago when I first started taking flamenco classes my teacher Ana showed me pictures of her trip to the “Feria”. The pictures showed ladies dressed in big beautiful dresses, palm trees, sun and lots of smiles. I really didn’t know much about what all went on at the feria but I knew it was a place I wanted to be.
Jerez de la Frontera is a small town in southern Spain with a laid back vibe. As one walks down the streets music can often heard coming from the homes. Singing and dancing appear to be essentials of life here. This video here is not a performance, it's just a group of fellow feria goers casually singing after their meal! How awesome is that?
During the Feria the streets are almost deserted during the day as people recover from a full night of dancing. Also, many stores are closed down because of the festivites. It's hard to get accustomed to the slower pace of life here. In the states I feel like I'm always rushing to get from point A to point B, but here people take their time getting around. Making connections with the people they interact with is important. Ask for directions and you're bound to get walked to your desintation. Sit on a park bench and you will get an earful of the town gossip. Speaking Spanish helps, but the folks here are friendly and even if you don't they still try to communicate. It's a very connected way of living that I long for when I go back home. Meal times are long and I'm forced to slow down and savor life.
La Feria literally translated means, “the fair”. There are multiple fairs throughout all of Spain, but the one in Jerez is especially known for the parade of horses that goes on during the day and the open invitation “casetas” that host food, dancing and music all night long. The casetas are owned by families, penas, local businesses and there's even one that's hosted by IKEA! The important thing is that everyone is welcome to go into the casetas.
There you socialize, eat, drink, watch the horses parade during the day and wait until the evening festivities begin.
La feria wouldn't be complete without a carnival. Big floufy dresses doesn't stop the kids from having fun. Families go to play games, enjoy rides and partake in some carnival food.
It's much like our state fair here in Washington, but without pig riding, fried butter and vendors, and with a lot more music and dance!
The first night of the fair is quite an event. A fireworks display kicks off the lighting of the fair grounds.
A collective “ahhhh” is heard as all the lights turn on simultaneously.
The music can be heard all day long, but it’s not until the sun goes down that the party really gets started.
Each caseta has a party of it’s own going on. We walk into a few and those that seem fun we join in. It helps to have a partner, but finding one isn’t hard if you know what to do. Quickly, I learn that my French friends have learned the Sevillanas with a different flourish than what I had been exposed to. The music is fast, the floor is crowded and I feel overwhelmed. One of the ladies in our group, Josie who is from Marseille and has a “joie de vivre” I greatly admire, spends some time showing me the Sevillanas that she knows. We dance in the parade grounds and practice as a group before we get the courage to join in the casetas.
I learn that flip flops are NOT the shoes to wear for dancing! However, having had my crash course with Jackie helped me pick it up quickly. Pretty soon we’re dancing together in one of the larger casetas. Oh, it’s fun! For those that have done tribal belly dancing, it has a very familiar feel, but without the cues!
Now, not all casetas play Sevillanas. There are some that cater to a younger crowd that play reggaeton or salsa/latin mix. But for me traveling half way across the globe, I prefer something I can't find back home.
We spend the evening dancing until we can’t go on anymore because the next morning we head out to Bolonia!
For more feria photos visit my flickr page.