In the early months of spring, 1959 in Madrid, I began classes with Antonio Marin. Someone had recommended him as a very good flamenco dance teacher and I was given the information to find his studio.
Predictably, he conducted his dance classes in the old part of town in Lavapies, where he taught in a basement. The floor was only corrugated plaster or some similar material with a lot of damage from heelwork. It seems some of the best flamenco is found in this kind of location. A dank room with no amenities but with plenty of atmosphere. I heard that he was the teacher of Eduardo Serrano, “El Guito” I actually did meet Eduardo once in the studio. He was then about 16 or 17 and dancing marvelously in the Pilar Lopez company.
Later I realized Marin was crippled. A youngish man, probably in his mid forties, he was seated in a chair by a table and was obviously not used to putting on airs. His manner was gruff but friendly. I explained that I was interested in learning more about Bulerias and he began teaching me with the aid of some young people, a girl and two boys who were in effect his legs. I found out later he had been a dancer and unfortunately stepped on a rusty nail somewhere. The wound went bad and his leg had to be amputated. He had a great deal of knowledge.
I discovered an old dance acquaintance, Antonio de Cordoba was studying with him and I saw him in private class. Cordoba was the companion of Triana when I was in Mexico, and we knew each other through other friends and as the partner of Mariquita Flores, a dancer of Spanish heritage. Antonio was Mexican by birth. Marin was instructing him verbally and the demonstrations were carried out by his young assistants.
I learned a few steps and since there was a young guitarist playing for the classes I arranged to employ him as accompanist in practice/rehearsal sessions at Amor de Dios Studios.
One day in practice I went through some dances with Andres, the guitarist, and the boys observed me closely. I did Alegrias, Soleares, Farruca and a few of the Bulerias steps I knew. They seemed surprised.
When I returned to Marin for the continuing classes, he asked me to dance for him. I went through some of this repertoire and when I did the double turn on my knees, Marin shouted “ Bueno!”
Marin had a proposition. He wanted to groom me for the Corral de la Moreria, an important “Tablao” in the heart of Madrid and he would mount some of his own dances and arrange my Alegrias and Farruca with some of his own work. He said I should come every day for the lessons without cost and all day on Sunday.
It is a fact that Flamenco dances are really put together in fragments and can be shortened or lengthened by the dancer. The guitar players must follow the signals built into the work.
This went on for some weeks and I learned a great deal. The interesting aspect of the study was how he took apart my dance of Alegrias from Estampio and incorporated some variations of his own by means of the llamada and essentially made a new Farruca consisting of passages of his own design. I found the work very hard as he wanted to put in some special jumps in the Farruca which he presumed I could do.
With much repetition, I rapidly became very muscle sore and had to have physical therapy.
During this time, Antonio Marin had frequent visitors of singers and various flamenco friends with whom he enjoyed playing cards during the lesson periods.
Finally, the proprietor of the Corral de la Moreria came by and I danced with Andres on the guitar. Andres was always cooperative and sweet. I doubt he was more than 18 years old.
This meeting resulted in a proposal to appear at the Corral de la Moreria. Subsequently, I was invited to go to this establishment by Marin and his wife to see the tablao and have a drink. My husband was not feeling well and did not come with us. A Spanish Journalist who was interested in my dancing was invited as well, but in the end she declined or had another appointment. I went alone and was escorted in a taxi with Marin and his wife and perhaps another friend. The show was a typical flamenco performance with a dancer by the name of Carmen Casarubias who had a wonderful style and expression. Two gypsy male dancers whom I had seen before did a Farruca and strangely enough they seemed to have made some sort of mistake or missed cue in their performance and were very disturbed about it. Being authentic gitanos, this was surprising. They came over to our table to complain to Marin about the mix-up and Marin assured them that he would help straighten it out when they came to his studio the following day. Without fail, they showed up in all seriousness to correct the flaw. I was curious to observe this and it was proof of Antonio’s secure knowledge of the rhythms. (compas)
A few days later, I had a rehearsal with the guitarist from the Corral, Antonio Arenas. He seemed an arrogant sort and I felt self-conscious and a bit intimidated working with him. This was unusual because I had always had a pleasant working relationship with the majority of guitarists I collaborated with. It was not a successful encounter. Bernard was upset by this, although I don’t think Antonio was put off. Too much money was asked and the matter dropped. This was a discouraging loss. It was due in part to an awkward situation and some nervousness on my part. However, I continued to work with Marin regardless, and he set a beautiful dance; a “palo” known as POLO. It is a variant of Solea, and he mounted this especially for me. He only indicated where the song parts were to enter and I later was able to perform this at Le Catalan in Paris with several guitarists and singer.
The methods Marin used to mount his dances were an education in itself. He was able to visualize the patterns in his mind and convey them to Nieves, the young girl who made it possible for him to construct the dance. It was difficult work and often Nieves could not accomplish the changing rhythms to Marin’s satisfaction and he became frustrated and lashed out at her. She even came to tears once but she was inclined to be cross at times. With all the communication going back and forth between Marin, Nieves, Andres, and me, it is a wonder that the complete dance came to fruition. It was eventually to become a triumph as I used this dance successfully at the Catalan and on one of two television shows in Paris. The guitarists and singers were greatly impressed by my knowledge of such a work. It was known as Cante Grande.