The special footwear a dancer uses for the percussive element in the dance functions as an instrument in many ways. Since rhythm is especially dominant in Flamenco the aural effect must be sharp and clear. This sound was achieved in various ways, either with a hard leather heel and in the past often with castanet wood of a very sturdy kind such as ebony or pomegranate.
The castanet wood gave a wonderful quality to the heel beats but the drawback was a occasional split in the material posing a hazard. This was especially a possible occurrence in very hard attacks of the shoe. Later all flamenco dancers relied on nail heads pounded into the heel of the shoe for a resounding crack which carried well even on poor flooring. This was a practical matter in performance.
Shoes in different styles depending on the sort of dance are worn to enhance the musical expression of drumming which it is for the most part. In the past the dance wear for women usually were confined to an attractive pump to flatter the foot and compliment the female costume. It is notable today that the dancing shoes of women often are more sturdy to emphasize powerful technique rivaling the taconeo used by male dancers. The shoes are often out of place with the beauty of the costume. The appearance is sacrificed to achieve more power and security in the work.
Like everything in the art, there is constant change and the performance is altered to take on new challenges .
Since I often performed male dances myself, I wore boots in various styles to match a male costume and make it possible to use a more spectacular technique. Ankle boots and higher styles to match trousers in a campero.
Apart from Flamenco, in dancing other forms in the Spanish idiom, Ballet slippers are worn for the “slipper dancing” of Escuela Bolera. Also in the past footwear called Chapines were another style.
In past years when I performed a dance such as the stylized Intermezzo of Goyescas I wore more delicate shoes to compliment the stately costuming appropriate for the choreography.
A student of mine gifted me once a long time ago with some special heels studded with rhinestones. I later had them attached to a pump I bought as a regular shoe, and then used some castanet wood I had on hand to fashion the heels. The pale gold of the shoe itself was enhanced by the glitter of the heels and made a theatrical accessory to dances I did to Scarlatti which I made in the past. The images of that pair are seen in this article. An interesting history on its own!
Sometime after the first decade of my professional dance experience, two contacts developed out of previous engagements. This is, I believe, an interesting story from my perspective which relates to my ongoing exposure to Flamenco art.
The narrative that unfolds here is an outline of subjective memory about the warm friendship and participation I had with the Heredias, a family of Spanish gypsy heritage.
It is not the purpose of this story to focus on the brilliant guitar artistry of Rene Heredia. It is well documented elsewhere and I acknowledge his celebrity apart from my interest in his personal background as a member of this family.
The various threads of events all leads to the idea of this article.
In 1949, shortly after my marriage to Bernard, an all solo concert of my Spanish Flamenco repertoire of dances was booked into the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles. I was accompanied by a pianist for the stylized Spanish dances I had performed on concert tours and for flamenco by Jeronimo Villarino, a prominent flamenco guitarist who had worked with some of the greats in this art. I had met him in earlier years of my career. The program was long and varied and was well received by press and public.
Subsequently, Villarino and I were contracted at the Orpheum Theater in Downtown Los Angeles for a week’s engagement on the bill with other artists. I had done some Vaudeville “gigs” in previous years in the environs of Los Angeles. This was an attempt to revive the old vaudeville formula of live stage presentations of a bygone era. It never really caught on but it made an interesting episode for those of us who could perform in this environment.
The connection between my genuine flamenco works and the commercial world of show business somehow collided into another area.
In the mid “40’s , as I have related in other posts, I danced as a Spanish dance act in “The New Meet the People”, a legitimate stage presentation which was a revival of a very successful show produced by a group of theatrical showmen. Among them was a gentleman by the name of Edward Elliscu, I performed two solos in the show, one a male Farruca in masculine attire and another dance with a fan and castanets with music by Ernesto Lecuona called Gitanerias. It always made an impression. Both used written music and were accompanied expertly by two experienced pianists. For the public we had at that time, it went over very well. It was frankly theatrical with a Spanish flavor. The long run of 10 months added to my “fame” due to much newspaper coverage at the time.
In the interim I went on tour with Pan- American Concerts over a period of five years. During one of the engagements of several weeks, I worked with Carlos Montoya, also a well-known flamenco guitarist who performed with some of the great dancers of the era and performed later on as a soloist. This brings me to the nub of my tale.
In the early part of 1950, I was contacted by Edward Elliscu, of Meet the People” fame. He and some colleagues were producing a presentation called:” The dancer says—“: The format was a series of programs at the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles with dance artists discussing their dances and the construction of their work. I was one of two personalities along with a choreographer/dancer, Benjamin Zemach. I needed to hire a guitarist as Villarino was not available at the time; Mr. Elliscu had a young son who was taking guitar lessons with Jose Heredia. The elder Heredia recommended his son Enrique, instead. At our meeting, his two sisters, Fatima and Zoraida were included in the arrangement. We spent some time together rehearsing my Alegrias with the girls contributing excellent “palmas “as support to my dancing. The newspapers commented favorably on the program. It was my first foray into speaking in public about my work.
To backtrack in this story, in 1942, (World War II), I appeared in a show with a Latin-American dancer by the name of Ramon Ros, who had a booking at a Las Vegas Hotel called The Last Frontier. He put together a show featuring himself with three other couples in dances such as Rumbas, Sambas, and Tangos. I was his partner in these numbers. In addition, the show also included two solos of my own; one a dance called Claveles Rojos, a composition by Manolo Garcia-Matos, brother of Antonio Triana, the great Spanish dancer of the 1940’s. My other dance offering was the Farruca, which I requested to dance on a table. The staff at the Hotel built me a 3 by 3 foot table. I always considered dancing on a small table “very Spanish” or “muy Flamenco!”
In 1950, I was approached by George Bilson, a producer who knew of my work from The New Meet the People and from my concerts with Pan-American Concerts. He had seen my Farruca performed on the table and the other dances in my repertoire. The film was a featurete to be presented in vaudeville style with Jack Paar as the presenter of the various acts in the movie. Liberace, the popular pianist, was one of the performers. The film was titled Foot Light Varieties.
The rehearsals for the movie, at RKO Studios in Hollywood, took place over several days. The filming was on a set furnished to appear as a living room. My Alegrias accompanied by Enrique Heredia and embellished by the excellent “palmas” of Fatima and Zoriada Heredia gave it the stamp of genuine flamenco.
My dance on the table (the Farruca) was performed with written music (a composition of Manuel Garcia-Matos, brother of Antonio Triana), one of the great flamenco dancers of the 1940’s) was effective because of the confined area I danced.) As most everyone knows, the Hollywood mentality is geared to a mass audience not versed in the esoteric and arcane qualities of Flamenco puro. In the end, the Alegrias was not used in the film but my table dance remained in the final product. I was disappointed as were the Heredias, since we had devoted many hours together getting ready. The still photographs of me wearing the dress I wore for the Alegrias were used over and over in publicity posters, advertising and lobby cards. These exist today as collector’s items and are being sold up to the present moment at online sites such as eBay and Amazon and other outlets. I find it astonishing to know that the public has an interest in this history.
After that, the Heredias became our friends and we visited in our respected homes for dinner and of course much flamenco dancing and singing. Both parents, Mr. and Mrs. Heredia were always gracious to me and my husband. Mr. Heredia worked for a company at the time where his skills in iron work were used. Privately, he fashioned an elaborate lamp in filigree design to which he attached colorful lights giving it a very theatrical atmosphere. This was an advantage as background to a Zambra which Enrique Heredia played on the guitar and I danced the particular form with finger cymbals or Crotalos to an interesting effect. All the family seemed to like it very much.
In later years, I would see Fatima and Zoraida at performances, but we did not socialize as before. I did engage Enrique Heredia as guitarist for me in several of my concerts during the late 1950’s. One at UC Riverside University, two at the Ivar Theater in Hollywood and one in Ogden, Utah with Leo Carrillo. My husband and I happened to see Rene Heredia by chance in Madrid on the Gran Via one evening in 1958 and he was then playing for and rehearsing with Carmen Amaya. We also greeted him at the performance of Manuela Vargas at Royce Hall at UCLA. He was one of her guitarists on the Ed Sullivan Show in years past. I know that one of the sisters, Sarita, played guitar, danced and sang professionally and I met her in Madrid while I was studying with El Estampio. She also was a student of Juan Sanchez (Estampio) and when I introduced myself we embraced. Sadly, I heard she passed away some years ago. Another sister, the youngest, Carmen, also died very young. Rene Heredia continues with his successful concerts in Colorado. Again, I was informed of the death of Enrique some years ago. So many losses of my fellow artists! The tragic rhythm.
This is the story. Flamenco touches our lives and brings us together.
A program featured in this article shows a dedication to me from the Heredia Family. It is written in Spanish and translated to English reads: To Inesita, A great artist of the Spanish Dance; we salute you with all our best wishes, Fondly, The Heredia Family. A lovely tribute!
One of the most interesting flamenco dance forms is the Zapateado. To explain its structure in simple terms I offer these definitions.
Zapato means shoe in Spanish; zapateado; with a lower case z. is footwork. The Zapateado del Estampio is the Dance. The rhythmic count is 6/8 time.
It is counted thus:
123 456| 123 456|
123 123 123 123.
The dancer’s count is 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4. etc……
The Zapateado del Estampio. was created by Juan Sanchez, also known as El Estampio. as the legendary dance artist and teacher. It also may have been a collaboration between Estampio and Antonio Bilbao, a contemporary of his.
In any case, this work stands by itself. It has no cante and no palmas are employed for the dance. The intricate heelwork is a masterpiece of technique and variations. Originally, the steps were divided into groups of eight, and this was followed by a section known as the “campanas” : often regarded as an arrangement between the dancer and guitarist. It has disappeared in the mists of time.
Apparently, as the years past. it may have fallen out of fashion and the dancers no longer remembered the steps. Since the guitarists depend on the dancer’ memories it has been lost.
The Zapateado is a very old traditional Jondo dance. Both Cervantes and Quevedo, another poet and writer of the Golden Age in Spain mentioned it.
Curiously, Scarlatti’s D minor sonata (K. 120) reflects much influence from this dance form in its rhythms, syncopation and accents, since it too, like the Zapateado is in a duple meter-12/8 time.
The wild hand crossings in this piece reminds one of the intricate taconeo patterns, which are so typical in this dance form.
I note that Bach’s Gigue in G Major has a rhythmic structure of 12/16. This piece along with the “Sonata” of Mateo Albeniz in 6/8 is definitely compatible as a dance and the same steps used in the Estampio fit into the music as well as with the guitar.
After eight decades of performing I have at last collected and organized my “papers” to be placed in a Performing Art Special Collection at the Charles E.Young Research Library at UCLA. It has been transferred to the location for processing and cataloging as an Archive of my performing life.
It is quite extensive and detailed, an accumulation of material in many forms of work I have done since my early years. Covering numerous locations and venues; a chronological survey of professional experiences which contains history of the dance forms of Spain, especially of Flamenco. It explores areas of music, structure and form, a philosophy of art, and some personal ideas.
The background I have as a dancer touches on much territory of style, nuance, and experimentation. Then too, having performed on the campus at UCLA further corroborates this material to be preserved there. My solo concert appearances, lectures- demonstrations, work with young children all attest to the scope of the work. Between the years of 1957- 1969 I was present as a performing artist at the University so therefore it appears I have come “home” to a rightful place for future generations to study and compare the past, present, and the years to come. It is now offered to the world for dance historians, artists, and scholars.