.Rumminations on Flamenco

That word which for so  many decades appears to stand for all dance expression of Spain has acquired a meaning apart from its true definition. The  name for the flamboyant art form is Cante Jondo or Deep song. Or more succinctly; profound.  Essentially flamenco is Andalusian.

As is generally known, the dance, song and music of this genre was born in Andalucia in the south of Spain. The special aspects that are admired world-wide are the tensions and energy of movement, the stark tonal contrasts of the song and grittiness of the instrumentation along with percussive counterpoint penetrating the basic beat. It excites the senses as no other form in the ethnic vocabulary. Many years ago, Antonio Triana, the great Spanish Flamenco dancer and father of Luisa Triana, told me ” Inesita, you are only performing dances of one province, Andalucia!”  in fact the material I knew at the time was basically arrangements of flamenco rhythms and melodies adapted to a written score.

Strangely, within Spain it is not always appreciated as widely in other parts of the world.

In recent posts and comments I have made on social media and on my own Website Flamenco-Inesita, I related two experiences about hearing serious disparaging remarks about the form and its practitioners which shocked me at the time. One was from a respected flamenco guitarist who accompanied me in Madrid at the opening of the Castellana Hilton in 1953 and another instance in the same year, of a prominent Spanish dance teacher in Spain whose references to flamenco and the people who perform as very low class!

 To place this subject in perspective, I must point out that in some ways it is understandable. Having been exposed to many different forms of Spanish Dance throughout my career, I know the wonderful examples of dances and songs of different provinces and have had the privilege of learning some of these pieces and in addition the pleasure of performing them.

Knowing people from other parts of Spain and their fierce pride and knowledge of the special material they offer has been an honor.

 In my view, I see a reason for the outstanding popularity of Flamenco. It is the only thing that sells! Of course. It’s exciting. Mesmerizing. And the stage wardrobe is so visually appealing.  Above all, its sensuality attracts the public.  No one could have been more enamored of Spanish Dance than I. From my early ‘teen’s” I felt a fascination so overwhelming that I wanted to devote my life to doing this and developing my skill and knowledge.  It was so special. There were many pitfalls along the way and it was never easy.

 In my early studies, with Michael Brigante, an Italian American dancer and teacher of classical Ballet who was versed in the basic vocabulary of the Iberian dance forms I was introduced to the Spanish dance.  In this I had my initial introduction to this dance expression. Apart from daily classes in traditional ballet, there were two classes a week in Spanish dance concentrating on castanet technique. We learned Pasodobles, Jota, Bolero in addition to theater or stylized pieces to written music of Spain’s composers. These last included choreographed arrangements to music of Albeniz, Granados, De Falla, and some other popular works. We even were given introduction to some of the Mexican folkloric material such as Jarabe Tapatio, and Chiapenicas,  augmenting the repertoire more widely. Not once did I hear the word Flamenco!

 After two and one half years, I left Brigante to continue exploration of the work with José Fernandez, a brilliant dancer and teacher and player of castanets. Later I attended classes with Carmelita Maracci, a great artist who had a marvelous ballet technique in addition to her own individual style in Spanish dance and expanded my horizons further into the art of dance.

Around this period, I finally heard the magic word FLAMENCO!

 Subsequently, I had an opportunity to learn some dance routines in a more theatrical style from friends who were professional performers.  These dances to written music gave me the necessary tools to enter the entertainment profession. In initial years I joined the various organizations such as Actor’s Equity, AGVA and SAG and other Organizations in order to work.  

 I was able to finally earn a living doing what I adored.

As it turned out in my case, it was about 10 years before I had the occasion to dance with guitar. And I began at the top! Circumstances led to my connecting with the well known, flamenco guitarist, Carlos Montoya. At the time the only dance I was versed in for guitar was the Farruca which I had learned to dance with piano or orchestra, Fortunately, the structure of the dance was fitted with the authentic compás of this style and my first foray as a flamenco dancer was a success. Two years later, I had another marvelous opportunity to work with Jeronimo Villarino, a Spaniard from Huelva in the south of Spain and this great flamenco guitarist and singer was an inspirational and encouraging force in the ongoing journey I was lucky enough to enjoy.

In the ensuing years I had more and more contact with other guitarists; some much younger and the result was an astonishing list of approximately fifty flamenco players who crossed my path in one way or another and added to my overall exposure.  Along with the musicians, I met and worked with flamencos singers in various situations and this presented another avenue for new insights into Jondo forms. These contacts occurred in Los Angeles, Mexico City, Madrid, Paris, London and New York City.

 In the subsequent years, as life went on, I was had the opportunity to study in Spain with masters such as the legendary “El Estampio” ( Juan Sanchez) in addition to Regla Ortega, Antonio Marin and others such as the Pericets and Alberto Lorca, In this way, I expanded my vision of the dance, song, and guitar in all its richness of forms.

 Last, but not least is a contact with a young American, one Stamen Wetzel, who was a devoted student of Villarino for a period of seven years until the master’s death in 1972. Stamen sat at the feet of his revered teacher and mentor and absorbed all that Villarino taught him. By some twist of fate, I met Stamen in 1970.  This occurred, when his late wife attended a concert I did in that year.

Ever since we have been fellow artists and collaborators in flamenco art we so admire. In the interim, I also was accompanied by other flamenco players when different situations came in to play. Our artistic activities have endured over a half century!

 Even though as time passed and I became more and more knowledgeable in the structure of genuine Jondo dance, I remained faithful to the early love of regional dances with their outgoing, refreshing exhilarating character. It was always a relief, to change the atmosphere from the intense feeling and dramatic Cante Hondo and create another mood for an audience. As years passed and I had the opportunity to learn more and more of the dance forms of Aragon, Castile, Galicia and Valencia, I felt  enriched and gratified by these associations I was lucky to find. As someone with a musical background by my parentage and grandparents, I enjoyed the challenge of working with the intoxicating music of Spain’s classically trained musicians who depicted the essence of Spain’s genius for dance in their works. These pieces reflected the rhythmic elements of flamenco and the rich melodic content of song. The difference was in the presentation as theater or stylized rather than in its raw state. In a word, impressionistic.

 Apart from this experience, the Escuela Bolera School dance offers the serious performer another outlet in the elegant and studied technique of ballet. translated into the Spanish personality.

Above all I say there is more to Spain’s gift to the world.This is not to deny the popularity of Flamenco.

Due to my desire to know and understand other dances of the various regions of Spain, I developed an extensive repertoire which enabled me to perform as a soloist for many years. The idea of a “one women show” was a daring effort, but somehow I succeeded in establishing a respectable reputation and achieved sufficient recognition allowing a “career” in the dance world. However, nothing lasts forever, styles change: there are other points of view, and new artists come before the public with a fresh approach to the art and that is as it should be.

 Probably the reason I prevailed over time was an ability to alter my personality in each style of presentation. .

With the passing of years even the high energy I maintained for long periods had begun to wane and I made my first attempt into assembling a small company of artists who were my colleagues among guitarists, dancers, and singers. Together in our collaboration, we were able to present flamenco with high artistic purpose.

 There is a vast difference in presenting a program where I offer six or seven flamenco pieces instead of an evening of fifteen or more solos. The public changes and perceptions are altered. It is imperative to move with the times. And so I continue. Dance and music have always been the most important in my life and I cannot imagine a life without them!

 Looking backward and forward, I chose to spend my life exploring and learning; sometimes failing and often succeeding beyond my own expectation!

 This then, is my legacy. For those who have a different opinion, I respectfully allow a another slant on this fascinating art. I ask consideration of this perspective of a lifetime.