MADRID'S TAURINE SCHOOL AS SEEN BY ONE OF ITS MAESTROS
by Mario Carrión
'Actualidad', the Spanish section of this Webpage, contains an interview with Spanish matador Carlos Neila, who is a professor of the Escuela Taurina de Madrid, in Madrid, Spain, and of the Escuela Taurina de Santiago de Cali, in Cali, Colombia. In this interview, conducted in Spanish, maestro Neila answered questions about the goals, structures and functions of those schools. Since I found his information very interesting and informative, in the following paragraphs I will convey the most relevant of what he stated in our dialogue. I will limit the information to only what refers to the Escuela Taurina de Madrid, since the Escuela Taurina de Santiago de Cali is a sister school, in which the programs and procedures are very similar, but more limited, to those of the Madrid school. However, before I comment about the dialogue, I will make some observations regarding the manner in which the process for becoming a bullfighter has slowly changed during the last half-century, and I will also highlight some of Carlos Neila's accomplishments as a torero and as well as a teacher.
A few decades ago, young men who dreamed of becoming matadors, and did not have either the sponsorship of a rich man, or the guidance of a professional, or both, had to quiet school and go from village to village fighting in barbaric festivals called 'capeas'. They risked their lives in those 'capeas' fighting dangerous old bulls without having the experience or the know-how. Every year thousands of would-be matadors would lead a miserable and nomadic life, like hobos, fighting on the 'capeas' circuit, with the hope of being discovered by promoters. Of the several hundred 'maletillas', as those aficionados were known, only a few were able to escape the labyrinth of the 'capeas' to find a chance to perform in a decent plaza, where they might or not find success. Some 'maletillas' became addicted to the free and irresponsible life on the road, while some others were maimed and even killed by the bulls. Most of them would find themselves frustrated, uneducated and unprepared to lead a normal and productive life after their adventures.
One of the most relevant changes that has occurred in the making of bullfighters has been the increasingly humane role that the taurine schools are playing in the formation of the toreros. Today the aspiring toreros try their luck in a more rational manner. The luckiest aspirants belong to bullfighting families or have connections with promoters or have patrons ---padrinos---, who spend their money to provide them with opportunities to fight and learn the techniques of the trade. But for those who want to be toreros, and do not have those connections, they do not have to pursue their dreams in the uncivilized and cruel 'capeas' any longer. Now they can register in of the many taurine schools that have been founded in the last three decades, where they can find guidance in taurine and personal matters, opportunities to practice the trade, and to make themselves known as novilleros.
The most successful of the institutions offering bullfighting instruction is the Escuela Taurina de Madrid, whose organization and teaching methods have served as a model for other schools.
To know how the Escuela Taurina de Madrid is organized and which procedures are used to carry out its goal, we interviewed Carlos Neila, who has had practical experiences as a student as well as an instructor in that institution. Carlos, who was born in Madrid on April 4, 1970, received instruction in the Madrid school from1983 until 1988. He was an overachieving student there who, after learning the basics of bullfighting during the five years he was enrolled in the school, fought over one hundred junior novilladas---novilladas sin picadores---, including several in the Las Ventas Bullring in Madrid, where he exited the ring through the Puerta Grande in two occasions. He won multiple trophies and certificates when fighting in representation of the school. In 1988 he became an independent novillero, and after fighting successfully as a novillero for six years, he took his alternativa in Mejorada del Campo (Madrid) on April 16, 1994. Two years later he confirmed his alternativa with Pepín Jiménez in Las Ventas. Neila has been a professor in the Madrid school since November of 1994, and an artistic director in the Escuela Taurina de Santiago de Cali, in Colombia since 1999, while still remaining an active matador.
From our conversation I compiled the following information. The Escuela Taurina de Madrid has existed since the sixties, but was not officially recognized until the seventies as a center for taurine instruction with a constitution containing very defined goals. The school aims are to discover youngsters who possess the necessary skills to become toreros; to teach them the basic bullfighting techniques; to provide them opportunities to practice those skills with live animals in private and in public; and to ensure that the students continue their regular academic education, so they can earn a living if they fail to find success as a professional bullfighter.
The school is located near Madrid at the Batán Center in Casa de Campo Park. This is the same place where the bulls that are going to be fought in San Isidro are exhibited for the aficionados to see. The building contains offices, infirmary, classrooms for theoretical instruction, a large hall for practicing with the mechanical bull, when the inclement weather does not permit outdoor practice. The facilities also include a small bullring for practicing with live animals and for festivals and novilladas with the students performing on the cartels. The campus is continuously being improved. Now more corrals and bullpens and other facilities are being built to improve the bullring operations. When I asked Carlos who pays for the school's high expenses, he replied "the municipal government of the city of Madrid, the Regional Government of the Community of Madrid, and the Management of the Madrid Bullring supply the funds to maintain and run the school. The promoters of the Las Ventas have to contribute a percentage of their profits as a condition for managing the bullring."
The school faculty is headed by Felipe Díaz Murillo, Director, and by the famous retired matador Gregorio Sánchez, as Artistic Director. The rest of the faculty is completed by professional toreros, including matadors Joaquín Bernadó, "Serranito", "Macareno", "Tinín", José Luis Bote, and Carlos Neila, and other toreros like Félix Saugar, Manuel Molinero, and Antonio Salcedo. All these gifted teachers, in addition to knowing the theory of bullfighting, have proved in the arenas of the world during many years that they can practice what they teach.
The student body for the 2000-01 course consisted of more than 150 students, ten of whom are girls. The prerequisites to enter the school are not difficult to meet, as long as there are openings. The applicant has to be between 13 and 18 years old, and present a medical certificate stating that he or she is healthy and physically fit. In addition, the students have to present documents showing that they have the approval of their parents, and that they are enrolled in a regular school and have passing grades, or that they are holding a regular job. The cost of the tuition is nominal, less than US $3 for the registration and approximately US $1.50 monthly dues. The students are responsible for providing their own bullfighting outfits, although the school supplies capes, muletas, swords, banderillas and the rest of the equipment.
The program has three levels 'A', 'B' and 'C' for the formation of a novillero. In group 'A' the students are taught the basic movements to manage the cape, the banderillas, the muleta and the sword. In group 'B' the students try their luck confronting with live animals. Then, the students who show more skill and determination are placed in level 'C' where they are given the chance to perform in festivals and minor novilladas, competing among themselves against advanced students from other taurine schools. There are no programs for the professional formation of banderilleros or picadors, although there are dozens of such professionals who started or graduated from the school with the ambition of becoming a matador. The students have to show theoretical and practical improvement in order to continue to the next level. They are allowed to remain in the school for a maximum of five years, or until they perform in a formal novillada. In either case, the student must leave the school either to pursue another careers or to independently continue his or her bullfighting career. The graduated student at this point does not have any economical or contractual obligations to the school. As matador Neila put it 'when the student has advanced to the point to be able to fight for the first time as a novillero, he has to leave the nest to fly free on his own, allowing room in the nest for another would-be torero." The students in each level are divided into groups of 20 to 25 students who are placed under an instructor who acts as a teacher and adviser to each student in his group. Carlos noted "this year I have 22 students in my group."
The fact that no student is ever expelled from the school for lack of aptitude, as long as they comply with the demands of the courses and the rules of the school is very interesting. The decision to quit has to come from the student. They are probably indirectly 'encouraged' to leave the school by not promoting them to the higher levels. I was questioning the value of this policy, but Neila convinced me with his reasoning that this is a good policy. "In bullfighting it is very difficult to predetermine who is going to succeed as a torero. Although there are certain individuals who show promise, there are so many obstacles to overcome in the way, that it is better to teach all the students how to be a torero, and allow each individual to determine his or her destiny."
I also mentioned to Carlos that I noticed that the toreros that have passed through the school seem to show in the plaza and in the street a more traditional taurine behavior than other toreros. They dress, they walk, they act in the arena as toreros should. I observed furthermore that in their interviews and conversations the toreros that had attended the school seemed to have a historical perspective of the toreo. Professor Neila clarified this for me. He said that my observations were correct and that this result was not due to chance, but was a consequence of the implementation of some of the goals in the curriculum. He claims "we the professor-toreros teach the students to be a complete torero, and always to behave as such. Regarding the knowledge of taurine history, the illustrious professor Rafael Campos de España teaches a class to the students each Friday during the winter."
The Escuela Taurina de Madrid has done an outstanding job in giving its students the necessary basic tools to became great toreros, since in about one quarter century of existence, this teaching institution has produced several star matadors and many outstanding ones. Among them: José Cubero "El Yiyo", the first graduate of the school who lost his life in the arena, Miguel Arroyo "Joselito", Julián López "El Juli", José Luis Encabo, Uceda Leal, Miguel Rodríguez and Carlos Neila. Furthermore, the school has produced many good novilleros, who might not have had the good fortune to fulfill their promise but who, nevertheless had their bright moments. Also several prominent banderilleros, who are included on the teams of many figuras matadors, have in common that they have been part of the Escuela Taurina de Madrid. At the present time Alberto Aguilar and Ana Infante are students that possess the qualities and determination to form part of the honor roll of the school in the future.
To conclude I will quote what Carlos Neila said when I asked him how he personally would evaluate his experience as a student at the Escuela Taurina de Madrid. He proudly claimed: "The school is formative, not only in what refers to professional issues, but due to contact with all types and social classes of persons, the knowledge of life is enhanced." Without a doubt, Carlos as a teacher will continue the tradition of the school of molding good toreros as well instilling good human values in them.
(To obtain more information about matador Carlos Neila and its activities, enter the matador's Website: www.geocities.com/matadorcarlosneila )
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