What makes a good marcaje? First, let’s start off by defining that word within the flamenco context. For me, it’s any step that holds time, or marks time. Unlike ballet, flamenco does not name every step–in flamenco, a step’s purpose or use in the dance structure forms the definition; to create the terminology used in the definition, we do not necessarily need to know the mechanics of the step.

Now, marking time seems pretty simple. Any dance form essentially marks time; a basic waltz step marks the waltz time, the basic salsa step marks the salsa rhythm, shifting weight from side to side in time to any pop song marks time. If you’re working in 4/4 time, you can simply step forward on every 2 counts. In 3/4 time, every 3 counts, or in 12-count rhythms, two sets of 3 and three sets of 2. When you start thinking about weight shifts, posture, and the use of wrists or finger snaps to accentuate what you’re doing with your body the dancing gets much more complex, and expression comes from focusing on the subtle details.

I think marcajes capture the essence of each palo (rhythm) in flamenco more so than other aspects of the dance. Marcajes can be the least complicated steps as far as the mechanics go, which makes them all the more difficult. It starts with posture–no tension beyond what the step calls for. Then if the step moves in any direction, the weight shift and how long you wait until you shift weight, and how that weight shift is initiated or prolonged can completely change the character of the step. There are even weight shifts when you mark in place as you shift from foot to foot. Some rhythms use more shifting in the hips, with knees more bent, others have straight legs and make it look like a dancer is gliding across the floor. Flamenco, in general, is very grounded, not just in the footwork, but in the marcajes as well; to be “flamenco” I think a marcaje uses gravity, it has an energy that connects the dancing body to the earth. The character of each palo needs to be present in the marcaje.

I’ve focused a great deal of time over the last two weeks on marcajes por soleá. This rhythm requires a great deal of corporal control. It looks simple, effortless, when done well; it captures the depth of the verses, the accents in the guitar. I think I sweat more working on that than drilling footwork.

It all started because I felt that I could ‘say more’ por soleá if I utilized my weight shifts more. Then I started to notice how the movement of my wrists distracted from the simplicity of the steps. I studied videos of masters, and focused particularly on Manuela Carrasco–for me, her marcajes por soleá fully embody the music. Below is a video of her dancing a soleá. Watch how she controls every detail of every movement, how she focuses her concentration–like she is in a trance, one with the music, and how simple and unembellished the movements are–she uses accents sparingly, making them all the more bold. If you just want to watch the marcajes, you can start watching around 4’30”

Another master of marcajes has to be Farruquito. I think his remates and footwork blow many people away by their sheer energy, but his elegance comes from the way he shifts his weight–sometimes it looks like he glides across the stage. Start watching at 5’30”:

And a side note on actually dancing marcajes: seeing these subtleties is one type of understanding; embodying the singing and guitar in a marking step, being personal (not just copying Farruquito, or Manuela, or anyone else), takes hours and hours and hours and hours and hours…and more hours…of practice so that eventually it becomes a corporal knowledge and understanding.