The Galician Experience
In Madrid during the 1958-59 period of my studies in Spain, I met a Madrileña , Maruja Martin Mayor, an acquaintance of one of my students. I spoke about my interest in the Muiñera , a Regional dance from the province of Galicia in North Western Spain. She recommended a friend connected with the Hogar Gallego. I knew about this dance through Edward Perkins, a manager of concerts with whom I worked over some years. He brought me a tambourine from Spain as a gift in the 1940’s and described the folk dances of Galicia accompanied on the Gaita or Bagpipe.
There were various Clubs or associations in Madrid each devoted to a particular province in Spain such as Aragon or Castile. The Hogar was the meeting place of Gallegos from this region. They sang folk songs together and socialized among their own countrymen. Their music was chiefly accompanied on bagpipes and drums and occasionally on accordion.They were a humble and friendly group. The woman whose name I was given was Celza Perez. I told her of my interest in learning the Muiñera, a dance peculiar to this part of Spain.
She asked if I wanted a dance or just some “ puntos” or stitches of steps; primarily the vocabulary of the form. No music was used, but she taught me the outline of the dance and with several sessions I was able to assemble sufficient material to fashion my own version. She told me of an experience she had with the world-famous Antonio, who had asked her to help him choreograph a Galician suite. She said he had some difficulty with the style of movement that adds an odd bounce to the execution of steps.
At the Amor de Dios studios in Madrid I was contacted by a male dancer, Juanjo, a champion Galician performer. He offered me some additional movements and explained a certain trick to the count. If one says 33, 33 or treinta tres in a repeated refrain, the rhythm fell into place… a nice tip. He suggested I teach him a Fandango which I did, but I think he only was eager to show his expertise as an appreciation for my willingness to learn this special dance form.
I continued to work and polish the dance and in Paris I included the Muinera in the three concerts I did there.
I was in addition able to perform the dance subsequently to accordion accompaniment in London and in Liverpool, both concert programs; and it was a part of the Malta concerts as well.
Later in London, among the many Spaniards, we met a young couple who befriended my husband and me … again to express the pleasure of my interest in his culture. (His wife was English) We were invited to have dinner with them at their home and share a cocida. This is a kind of stew with meat and vegetables. In the course of the evening Antonio Balado , the husband, a Gallego, taught me the rhythmic beats on the tambourine, or “pandereta.” It was a combination of two distinct rhythms played against each other. I picked it up easily.
Upon return to the USA in 1962, a concert was set up in New York. During this time, I was asked to participate in an homage to a Spanish artist I did not know, but gladly performed to remain in touch with the Spanish community. In a stroke of luck on this occasion, a group of musicians playing bagpipe and drums performed on the same program. We talked to them. They indeed were Gallegos from the old country. A visit was arranged at their apartment in lower Manhattan on Delancy Street. When we arrived the wife who spoke English welcomed us and we talked briefly with the Gaita player whose name was Antonio Mosquera . My husband noticed a tambourine on the wall and he motioned to me to ask Antonio to hand it to me so I could beat out some rhythms for him. When he heard my tapping that I learned in London, he ran to the next room to fetch his bagpipe. He began to play the ” Muñiera”. I rose to dance the steps in the living room and his wife shouted “ she’s terrific”!!
Antonio then made a quick call to his compadres, two drummers who came with a large bass drum and a smaller snare drum. They began the music again and I flew all over the living room doing my “Puntos” from Celza and Juanjo in Madrid.
Antonio and his compadres agreed to perform in my concert in May of 1962 at Kaufman Auditorium at the “Y” They were a huge hit with a number called a Fandango which preceded my Muiniera. I wore a costume made in Paris by some relatives of the dancer, Laura Toledo, from the company of the great Antonio. It was completely authentic. Also in my wardrobe were some genuine gorras, special Galican caps which Maruja had sent me and another pair made for me in London by admirers of my work. The reviewer in the New York Herald Tribune mentioned the Galician group as a standout. In the opening of the dance I tossed the tambourine to one of the drummers and we were off!!
About a week later, Antonio Mosquera and his wife invited us to a cocida at their home. Antonio took out his bagpipe and entertained us with a medley of Galician tunes soulfully rendered. His music meant so much to him, what a tribute! Antonio asked why I regarded myself as American. He said I looked Spanish. I danced Spanish, I spoke Spanish. To him I was one of them. It was a warm feeling.