If you fancy your workout more expressive and dramatic than a straightforward fitness class, perhaps the passion and fire of Flamenco dancing might tempt you to exercise this autumn? Ayesha Garrett spills the beans.What: Flamenco dance is characterised by rhythmic footwork and stylised hand and arm movements, accompanied by Flamenco guitar music (an art form in its own right), both of which originated with the Gypsies in Southern Spain, although it has roots in the Indian, Jewish and Arabic worlds. It is one of the dance styles which does not require a partner to dance with and this is a reason a lot of people choose to learn it.Where: There are flamenco classes all over London and on all days of the week The largest school in the UK is La Escuela de Baile based in Chalk Farm. This school runs classes at all levels and has a regular induction of beginners. It even has flamenco for children as part of their Saturday School.When: The next beginners class starts on Monday 7th September 6:30pm at Escuela de Baile. Once you start a class, you generally stay with that time slot and improve together as a class, so you don't have to jump around to different days as you change levels.The rundown: Classes usually last 1.5 hours. They start with a simple warmup, concentrating on the feet. Beginners classes combine a technique class as well as a choreography, learning how to stamp the feet cleanly and the various types of footwork, and most importantly to bend the knees appropriately, followed by some attention on the arms and hands alone. Then bringing them together to learn a dance. At higher levels, most people take a technique class separately from a choreography class.Beginners should wear comfortable clothes, comfortable trousers (men) and eventually a flared skirt (women) and a court shoe or shoe with a boot heel. Elementary students and above need the proper footwear. Girls' flamenco shoes look like mary-janes and the boots that the men wear are a bit like cowboy or gaucho boots; both usually have nails driven into the toes and heels which produce the sound and affect the way the shoes grip onto the floor.Classes at Escuela de Baile cost £11 for 1.5 hours and are accompanied by a guitarist. There is no need to book, you just drop in on the day. If you fancy coming to watch to see what it is all about, you are most welcome!The school runs popular Easter and Christmas courses in London, for 5 days at a time, which cover all levels. As well as the choreography and technique classes, there's a range of more unusual offerings: castanets, palmas (the accompanying clapping), cajon (drum) and Sevillanas, a partnered folk dance from Spain.Is this right for you?: Flamenco is one of the most cardiovascular of danceforms so an excellent workout for the heart. Concentrating on footwork patterns it gives the mind a real break and workout of its own. At first, it can be challenging to make the feet do what you want, but this comes with time. Flamenco is a classic 'load-bearing' exercise and will strengthen the bones of the legs which can help prevent osteoporosis. Balance improves because of the nature of the footwork and posture is corrected in the classes. Arms get a workout of their own, and you soon feel those muscles toning up. Flamenco is one of the most empowering dance styles, especially for women, as it isn't 'led' by a male partner and can build self confidence to an amazing degree. It's a good feeling to be learning in a group and making that much noise. And of course there's nothing like getting rid of a day's stress by taking it out on the floor!The classes attract diverse people of all ages ages, men and women, although the latter dominate. Most people do not have a dance background which makes it a friendly learning experience. In fact, most have never tried any dancing before!Events: Outside the classes there is a London Flamenco club which meets every month and brings in performers to dance and play in an informal setting. There are also semi-regular 'fiestas' which are more of the 'get up and dance if you fancy' style as well as lots of theatre performances to attend and to see what flamenco is all about. And every few years, Escuela de Baile puts on a fantastic show, giving you the chance to show off what you're learnt.By Ayesha GarrettFind out more at La Escuela de Baile's website.
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