Posted by Swellengram

A taste of Seville in Swellendam

  • Posted 10 months ago
  • Activities and Clubs|Local Stories

By Lizelle Steyn, dance facilitator

Twelve women are playfully flicking their wide skirts before casting the hems
aside with gusto. They are wearing flowers in their hair and fringed shawls with
rose patterns. Then the clapping begins – a very specific code to signal to the
flamenco guitarist that his turn is coming up. And in rhythmic union with the
soulful Spanish music they stamp, clap and pause; stamp, clap and pause. This is
not Seville. This much fun is had in Swellendam.

Swellendam Tourism

Stamp, clap and pause; stamp, clap and pause. (photo: Grey Stopforth)


On 29 July, the same day a level 6 weather warning was issued, the Drostdy
Museum’s historic Schuur provided shelter – and ample dancing space – to this
group of women arriving from George, Mossel Bay, Ladismith, Barrydale, and
Swellendam. United by their love of dancing, come hell or high water. Once
inside, gumboots were exchanged for swanky heels.

Swellendam Tourism

We learnt how to handle our voluminous skirts Photo: Jack Kruger


This was Spanish dance teacher Marlise Steenekamp’s first workshop in a full-
day format, but with so many years of teaching experience, she structured and
paced the sessions perfectly. “Once you move deeper into Spanish music and
dancing, you learn that many of them tell stories of heartbreak and great loss,
but today we start with the joyous ones,” Marlise reassured us. We learnt how to
handle our voluminous skirts, which she carted all the way from George, how to
hold castanets and that, in Spanish dancing, a fan is not just a fan; it’s used by a
woman to signal her intended message to a man, “follow me” or “sorry, I’m
engaged”. Handy that.


The flamenco is an expressive dance and not for the timid. While the movement
and hand postures are poised and elegant, stamping, clapping and castanets
showcase the power and passion within each dancer. To add fuel to the fire, it’s
customary for the audience to shout and encourage dancers. In Spain, the
audience becomes part of the dance via their support and enthusiasm.
Marlise led us through the different arm positions, which reminded me of my
ballet days as a kid, and showed us how to combine stamping, clapping and
pausing effectively and elegantly. For our group dance for the day, she chose a
Sevillanas, a festive folk dance. “With the Sevillanas, when in doubt, just take a
step back.” That advice saved me, as I soon realised the dance is not as easy as
Marlise makes it seem. Fortunately, for beginners, it’s optional to bring in the
hand positions. Attempting to combine all the elements of a Sevillanas is
guaranteed to warm you up very quickly.

Swellendam Tourism


Making sure we had something warm in the bellies too, Jenni van Niekerk
arrived with platters for the morning break. An inspired caterer, Jenni delighted
with tortilla espanola and espinacas con garbanzos, feeding the fantasy that we
were indeed spending a day in Spain. For lunch, Grace and Merci hosted us next
to their fireplace and provided charming service. “Is it your family visiting?”, the
manager asked. “Yes,” I replied with a smile, “This is my dancing family.”

After lunch, we returned to learning and (almost) perfecting the Sevillanas. We
nearly gave up, we laughed, we summoned the elusive concentration and
persevered, and finally we shared the collective joy when it all came together.
“I began the day standing in front of a group of strangers, not knowing what to
expect”, Marlise said. “But by the end of the day it feels like I’m standing in front
of friends and I’m sad to leave.”
Maybe a day spent dancing sounds frivolous to you, but behind every joyous
dancer there is a story. Over the past few years, several lost a parent or
companion. Some lost their perfect health or find themselves grieving a loss of
another kind. We needed the joyful choreography, the camaraderie and to feast
our eyes on so much beauty, a healing force often underestimated, and which
Marlise brought with her. Thank you to everyone who shared something of
themselves, also the family members helping behind the scenes, everyone who
played a part to make the first flamenco workshop in Swellendam absolutely
unforgettable. Bravo!

Video credit: Grey Stopforth

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