Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
The Double standard of the Flamenco Dance; Spanish icon or Gypsies' tradition?
During the fall semester of my senior year, I studied abroad on the Spain Program. The research grant that I received through the CIIS office allowed my experience abroad to be even more memorable. I learned about Flamenco and what it encompasses through interviews, lectures and live performances. I was able to not only explore Flamenco through a theoretical aspect, but as a dancer as well.
While I was in Madrid I attended Flamenco classes three times a week at the Amor de Dios academy for two and a half months. When I first started the classes it was difficult for me to isolate my upper torso and maintain a rigid posture, while my feet were tapping and making rhythms as fast as they could go. While I was working hard on trying to keep the rest of my body from moving and getting more frustrated when I failed to do so, I learned that eighty percent of the dance is posture and attitude while twenty percent of it is the actual dance moves. The hardest aspect of the dance is to interpret and reflect the emotional story that the strings of the guitar are telling. Through these classes I immersed myself in the culture and traditions of a marginalized group in Spain known as the gypsies. The Gypsies are a race that has never been accepted or recognized as being Spaniards by most of the population. In one of the interviews that I conducted with the guitarist for our dance class he identified himself as a Gypsy that just happens to be living in Spain. Most of the gypsies identified themselves with their race instead of a specific country. This is due mainly because gypsies tend to be nomadic people with the exception of the group that inhabited Spain five hundred years ago and have been there ever since.
As a Flamenco student I was able to relate on a more personal level to the dancers and the dance itself. As part of the dance class we went to a couple of Flamenco bars throughout Madrid to practice and form a special bond with our teacher. My teacher taught me that in order to be a Flamenco dancer you need dedication, patience, perseverance, and strong-will. These characteristics were shown in the faces of dancers as they competed with the guitar in the live performances that I attended. I learned so much about the emotions integrated in the dance by observing other dancers. To be the top performer you need to feel the pain, sorrow, sadness in the music and make the audience feel it through your dance steps.
All the places I went were exceptional, but the one that I truly connected to was a Flamenco bar that I went to while I was in Barcelona. As part of my research project I went to Barcelona to compare the Flamenco style between Madrid and Barcelona. It was my theory that in Madrid the more traditional style was perform, while in Barcelona the modern Flamenco influenced by different dances (salsa, merengue, hip pop, ballet, jazz etc) were performed. In this particular Flamenco bar that I went to the dancers made the audience part of the show, people where picked randomly and brought on stage to dance with the performers. I was one of the people that were picked and I had the chance to practice some of the dance moves that I had already learned. The experience was extraordinary; I danced on stage for several minutes while everyone else became my own audience. My theory of the modern style Flamenco was proven correct. One of the performers told me that the modern Flamenco is entirely different from the traditional; the traditional was an instrument to communicate the pain and sorrow of the gypsies while the modern style flamenco is an ensemble of all the different cultures brought by the immigrants that are now part of Spain.
This experience has helped me in so many different ways to understand and help communicate why Flamenco is so important to the gypsies and the Spaniards. The research that I conducted while I was in Spain is the foundation of my SYE where I will be defining the importance of this dance to both culture. I am grateful to the Weaver family and the CIIS office for giving me the chance to experience and learn everything that is encompassed in Flamenco.