Dance News

Who Can Dance Flamenco?

Olga Pericet of Madrid. Photo by Paco Villalta, courtesy of National Institute of Flamenco

A fierce concentration fills the studio as a group of flamenco students—male and female, undergraduate and graduate—rehearse under the watchful gaze of Daniel Doña and Cristian Martín. The young men stretch their bodies in taut, elegant lines. The young women move their arms in fluid contrast to the brisk, rhythmic staccato of their feet. Long, ruffled skirts, called batas de cola, are draped carefully over the audience seats for the women to wear during sections that involve manipulating them like dramatic mermaid tails. When the passage is finished, Doña gives corrections about spacing, while Martín quietly takes one of the men aside to demonstrate how to perform an airborne renversé-esque move with more attack. Martín's legs slice swiftly like a blade, yet it takes a magically long time for him to land from the jump.


Celebrated Spanish flamenco artists, Doña and Martín are in residence at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The city has become home to the most vibrant flamenco community outside of Spain as flamenco itself has become increasingly popular in the U.S. Festival Flamenco Albuquerque, which takes place every June, draws leading international flamenco artists, and UNM offers the only accredited flamenco concentration in the country. Yet as flamenco evolves beyond its traditional roots, the concentration has become an incubator as well as a wellspring of dance excellence.

UNM's dance program offers staples such as ballet and modern technique classes, kinesiology and dance writing, but by their junior year, undergraduate dance majors must choose between a contemporary or a flamenco concentration. Flamenco students will then take classes in the history, structure, improvisational forms, techniques and choreography of their chosen pursuit.

There are currently 25 undergraduates pursuing a BA within the flamenco concentration. "These numbers have grown substantially in the past five years," says Donna Jewell, chair of the UNM dance and theater department. "We have tripled the number of students auditioning to be in the flamenco concentration. We also are attracting more MFA graduate students interested in the flamenco discipline."

Two of the program's biggest draws are Eva Encinias-Sandoval, a leading flamenco artist who launched the festival 32 years ago and has taught flamenco at the university for 45 years, and her daughter Marisol Encinias, who currently directs the UNM flamenco concentration as well as the festival. Like the UNM flamenco program, the festival has grown. As its budget has increased, it has allowed Encinias to bring more artists each year—from traditional Gypsy family troupes to performers like Doña who push the boundaries of how flamenco is understood, incorporating other forms such as classical Spanish dance and folklórico. The festival now includes performances, classes, history colloquia and workshops—most taking place at the university.

Many of the artists who perform in the festival also hold choreography residencies for the flamenco concentration during the academic year, working with the students for weeks, teaching technique and setting works. The resident-artist program is separate from the festival. "I always try to bring people who will teach," says Encinias. "As well as artistry, expression and musicality, I want the students to work with dancers who will be very clear in how they interpret technique."

The Encinias family's artistic influences feel like a microcosm of both flamenco and New Mexico culture. The state's history is old, diverse and sometimes challenging to reckon as Spanish, Native American, Mexican and U.S. cultures clashed and blended. "My grandmother was a dancer and singer. Her mother was a singer of traditional New Mexican music," says Encinias. "My mother would do flamenco, Spanish classical dance, ballet—it was all-encompassing. I grew up dancing with my family. There was no distinction, no 'Now my mother is dancing modern' and 'Now she's doing flamenco.' My mother loves dancing. To me, that is important." This perspective has helped Encinias establish a broad and celebratory view of flamenco in both the UNM program and the festival.

The festival exposes the students to a level of flamenco rarely seen outside of Spain, both in formal performances and in postperformance tablao, an informal flamenco setting, like a tavern, where flamenco is improvised communally. "The festival has been one of the peak experiences of my life," says Samantha Martinez, a fourth-year undergraduate double-majoring in flamenco and psychology. "All of the top flamenco artists are here under our roof. As students, we do work-study to pay for classes and tickets. All of us—these amazing dancers and the students—are with each other all week long. We're taking classes all day, seeing shows every evening and ending each night at the tablao for seven days. You get to know the artists from all around the world and see what drives them."

Many of the performers at the festival challenge the idea of what flamenco can be. Israel Galván, for one, comes from a long line of traditional flamenco dancers. Yet he creates stunningly innovative works that both tap and expand traditional flamenco, including a collaboration with Akram Khan set to Gregorian chants and a flamenco interpretation of Kafka's Metamorphosis. Some of Galván's pieces have raised questions among traditionalists about how far the artform's limits can be pushed.

This push and pull between tradition and freedom is a pervasive theme in discussions about flamenco, and not merely in academic settings. In Spain, there are skeptics as to whether non-Spaniards or even non-Gypsy Spanish dancers can perform flamenco. Encinias, however, takes a different view. "It's like saying Misty Copeland can't do ballet," she says. "That idea is alive and well in Spain among certain people. But there are amazing dancers doing flamenco everywhere now."

Third-year MFA student Justice Miles is studying choreography and has focused on flamenco as her path to self-expression. She has created a contemporary dance to flamenco music, constraining the choreography to the rhythms and patterns of flamenco dance. "I'm a choreography major, and I am an African-American and Norwegian-American young woman," she says. "I always felt racially and stylistically in-between. I view myself as an intermediary between people and different cultures. My work puts these into conversation."

Encinias wants the program's students to grapple with the conflict between tradition and exploration. "There is a struggle for power, authenticity, the right to be able to do flamenco," she says. "People are challenging everything within this artform—gender roles, norms, prescribed ways of being. It's perfect that we can study flamenco in a university setting, because this is the place where students are supposed to think about these historical and political issues. It's important for my students to understand the tensions implicit in the artform and to understand how this challenges them as dancers and people. Flamenco can be such a powerful learning tool when you challenge yourself not to look at it superficially."

Concha Jareño. Courtesy of National Institute of Flamenco


Workshop with batas de cola—the flamenco long-tailed skirt. Courtesy of National Institute of Flamenco

To Share With Students
Performing with Honji Wang at Jacob's Pillow; photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow

Celebrated New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns has recently been exploring collaborative possibilities with dance artists outside ballet. Just this year she was guest artist with Lori Belilove & The Isadora Duncan Company, and performed on Broadway in her husband Joshua Bergasse's choreography for I Married an Angel. This summer she appeared in a highly anticipated series of cross-genre collaborations at Jacob's Pillow, titled Beyond Ballet, with Honji Wang of the French hip-hop duo Company Wang Ramirez, postmodern dance artist Jodi Melnick, choreographer Christopher Williams and more. Here she speaks with DT about the effects of her explorations.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Risa Steinberg (center); photo by Alexandra Fung, courtesy of In the Lights PR

In an adult ballet class, Kimberly Chandler Vaccaro noticed a woman working so hard that her shoulders were near her ears. "I was going to say something about her tension, but I didn't want her awareness to go there," says Vaccaro, who teaches at Princeton Ballet School. Instead, she told the dancer to remember that breathing muscles are low, below her sternum. "Then we talked about moving from the shoulder blades first, and how they're halfway down your back. She started this lovely sequential movement, and it eventually solved the problem."

Drawing attention to symptoms, such as tense shoulders, might create more issues for a dancer if the cause of the problem remains unaddressed. Simply saying "shoulders down" might compromise alignment as the dancer tries to show a longer neck or forgets to breathe, jeopardizing movement quality. Teachers can be strategic and communicate information in a way that doesn't aggravate the situation. "Dance will never be easy," says master teacher Risa Steinberg, "but it can be easier if you're not folding new problems on top of old ones."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Lindsay Martell at a class performance. Photo courtesy of Martell

More than once, when I'm sporting my faded, well-loved ballet hoodie, some slight variation of this conversation ensues:

"Is your daughter the dancer?"

"Actually," I say, "I am."

"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"

"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."

Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Any teacher who works with little ones knows that props can make class time run much more smoothly. That said, it's often difficult to find the right mix of tools that will both capture a child's attention and are manageable enough to carry around from one location to another—or pack up and store easily. Anything too big or too heavy is out, and some of the props you love to use with little ones may not be the most practical choice if you're a freelance teacher traveling to multiple studios throughout the week.

We asked two experienced teachers to share a couple of their favorite tips for easy-travel props for those who teach young ones. Here are five solid suggestions you can choose from, to incorporate into your overall teaching plans.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Paige Cunningham Caldarella. Photo by Philip Dembinski

It's the last class of the spring semester, and Paige Cunningham Caldarella isn't letting any of her advanced contemporary students off the hook. After leading them through a familiar Merce Cunningham–style warm-up, full of bounces, twists and curves, she's thrown a tricky five-count across-the-floor phrase and a surprisingly floor-heavy adagio at the dancers. Now, near the end of class, she is reviewing a lengthy center combination set to a Nelly Furtado song. The phrase has all the hallmarks of Cunningham—torso twists atop extended legs, unexpected timing, direction changes—which means it's a challenge to execute well.

After watching the dancers go through the phrase a couple of times, Caldarella takes a moment to troubleshoot a few sticky spots and give a quick pep talk before having them do it again. "I know it's fast," she tells them. "I know it's a lot of moves. And you're hanging in there! But stick with the task of articulating everything—try to hyper-explore that."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: What tips do you have for creating end-of-year performances that teachers, students, parents and administrators will all be happy with?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Savion Glover instructs students in rehearsal for NJPAC's revival of The Tap Dance Kid; photo by Yasmeen Fahmy, courtesy of NJPAC

Tony Award–winning tapper Savion Glover is giving back to his hometown community in Newark, New Jersey, by directing and choreographing New Jersey Performing Arts Center's revival of the Broadway hit that launched his career, The Tap Dance Kid.

September 13–15, you can see the group of young dancers Glover handpicked from throughout the New Jersey and New York areas, as they bring the 1983 story to life in a new and modern way. Here, Glover shares a bit about creating movement inspired by the show's original Tony Award–winning choreography by Danny Daniels, as well as what it's like to revisit the show that changed his life.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Via YouTube

For all the time we spend talking about feet, we think it's time we did a deep dive into toes. Those little piggies bear a lot of weight, endure painful blisters and help your students soar across the classroom day after day.

So, to show our toes the love they deserve, here are five exercises that are all the self-care you need this week.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
JP Tenuta with Monika Knickrehm in a Level 6 class at The Academy of Movement and Music. Photo by Mike Dutka, courtesy of The AMM

The culture of your dance studio should be a major consideration when it comes to hiring new instructors. After all, teaching experience isn't the only thing that matters! You'll also want to make sure an interviewee fits with your overall philosophy when it comes to interacting with students (and parents!) and teaching dance. Here are some great tips that can help you find the right match.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox