Getting to know KW’s original resident Flamenca
I met Kim Green some 3-4 years ago, shortly after Julian and I got settled in Waterloo. Before starting my group dance classes, I decided to search online to see if there was already a flamenco instructor offering lessons in the region. I soon came across kgdance.com. After perusing its pages, I quickly learned that there was more to Kim Green Dance than flamenco – not that teaching flamenco doesn’t already entail a wide range of knowledge!
By the time we founded our fest in 2018, we had already met with Kim on a couple of occasions, either for a bite or a cup of coffee, and had kick-started what has ended up being a very amicable relationship. It’s probably hard to contend the fact that as two flamenco instructors operating in the same region, we function as business competitors, but I must say that she has been the most encouraging competitor that anyone can know. In light of our increased online attention this year, I would like to flag this blogpost dedicated to Kim Green, KW’s original resident flamenco instructor and choreographer.
The history of KW flamenco’s community – the inside scoop
It all started in the 1930s at the dance school of Kim’s Great Aunt Elsie – the Ewald Academy of Dancing. A highly independent and self-motivated individual, Kim’s “Aunt Elsie” would voluntarily attend annual dance seminars in NYC, where she’d network with fellow instructors and learn from the best in the field. During one these work trips, she met a flamenco and Spanish dance instructor, named Elisa Lopez. Upon learning that Elisa was based in Toronto, Aunt Elsie recruited her as a guest instructor at her studio in Kitchener. Elisa and her flamenco piano accompanist became long-term staff at the Ewald Academy of Dancing and it was this sustained working relationship that would eventually introduce young Kim to Spanish dance. Fast-forward even more years, and the role of Spanish dance instructor went to Veronica Maguire (Artistic Director of the Flamenco de la Isla Society), who connected Kim to flamenco companies that had taken form in Toronto.
The legacy of Elsie Ewald
I think it’s important to highlight the lineage that Kim comes from, not only has it shaped who she is, but there are also some valuable take-aways in Aunt Elsie’s story. When she was just four years old, Aunt Elsie, along with her mom and 3 siblings, traveled to Canada by boat from England. This was mere months after the sinking of the Titanic. In fact, her own father was supposed to be on the Titanic, itself, but by chance got bumped to another ship. Originally of German descent, the family settled in Berlin, Ontario (later to be renamed Kitchener) and, over time, Aunt Elsie became a self-taught dance teacher. As if that isn’t impressive enough, her thriving dance business was founded amidst the Great Depression and went on to last over 60 years! When Elsie first started the studio, classes were just 50¢ each. She received most of her initial training from a dance teacher training manual she had ordered through the mail. Allow me to put into perspective the longevity and imprint of Elsie’s dance legacy:
- Two of her baton twirlers appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.
- Lorna Geddes, former ballerina for the National Ballet, retiring just this year after a 60-year run with the company, was a student of Elsie’s.
- Aunt Elsie didn’t retire until she was 80 years old.
When Kim told me all this about her aunt (after I picked my jaw up off the floor), I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the obstacles that her Aunt Elsie had to overcome, and the rays of hope it may offer us now. It should come as no surprise that Kim, too, offered insight on the significance of the arts during such times:
I think a lot of times, when there are difficult financial times, that’s when people go back and look at the arts. That’s where they look for their inspiration, to say, “How are we going to get out of this?” Or they just say, “Art, take me so I don’t have to think about what’s going on in life right now!”
Kim’s dance story: from Ewald Academy of Dance, to Toronto and beyond
We’ve established that Kim’s dance career started when she was a young girl at The Ewald Academy of Dancing – a hotspot for the entire Ewald clan, where her parents, 5 siblings, aunt, uncle and cousins had some involvement with the studio. Kim eventually took over her great aunt’s business, but in the interim, her dance training and career extended far beyond the boundaries of Kitchener. After high-school, Kim earned a degree in English from the University of Waterloo and a diploma in Dance from Ryerson University in Toronto. But even when Kim wasn’t enrolled in Ryerson’s dance program, she would still commute to and from Toronto or reside there, for a total of 8 years. I asked Kim why she felt a need to go to the big city of Toronto:
Mostly there was no flamenco here. By that point, Elisa Lopez had passed away and my own ballet teacher had moved to Toronto to take over an established dance studio. When you get to a certain level, a senior level, you want more of a challenge.
The acknowledgement that there was more to be had outside of the small town of Kitchener (which it still was at the time) was the principal reason why her Aunt would continually bring in guest instructors and choreographers; and why she always encouraged Kim to do more with her dance.
Recollecting her tenure in Toronto, Kim said:
In the 80s, you could make a living as a freelance dancer – I did Ukrainian, I did flamenco, working at Wonderland for 3 seasons, I performed at Ontario Place… waitressed and bartended… and then I worked for Folk Ballet. I loved dances from different nations. I always thought it was interesting to learn about different cultures… Auditioning for Folk Ballet you had to be strong in ballet and tap, as well as pick up newer styles – such as Argentine tango and Georgian dancing… But the other half was run by a woman that did all flamenco, so she wanted people who were strong in flamenco… It seemed that you had to go out of Kitchener… There were so many other teachers that had wider experience. When I went to Toronto, I took classes and studied with Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal the first year they started a satellite school … and then there was another teacher who was renowned, he’d been on Broadway, his name was Len Gibson, and I studied Afro-Cuban jazz with him… I’d go and take summer ballet camps and meet more teachers. I thought it’s good to have a foundation with good technique but it’s also great to, with seminars and dance camps and conventions, it’s great to get out there and get different perspectives, once your own basic technique is there.
Kim’s time in Toronto is just the tip of the iceberg. Keep talking to Kim and the impressive array of dance travels just keep coming out of the woodworks. Her genuine curiosity to learn about people through dance led her to take classes at Alvin Ailey and Luigi, to study Greek belly dance in Greece, and ballet character dance in Minsk, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Her “ida y vuelta” (going and returning) reflects more than the fact that big cities and travel offer opportunities for performers, but also Kim’s thirst for knowledge and an openness to learn from different types of artists, cultures, and companies.
After completing her final year at Ryerson Dance, Kim bought her Aunt Elsie’s dance studio. She ran the studio independently for some time, later joining forces with a friend when they merged their two separate schools. She also became part of Carousel Dance Centre and, through them, has taught dance classes to children, teens, and students at the University of Waterloo.
Understanding Kim’s dance philosophy
During my most recent phone call with Kim, I managed to jot down some pretty great Kim quotes, all of which hint at how she sees the world as a dancer. Allow me to sprinkle some of these quotes below, and then present to you my understanding of Kim’s outlook on dance and life.
Besides eating with somebody, I think dancing with somebody is a good way to learn about their culture, and their personality too.
I think part of why I’ve been driven to do this has been not just a desire to dance but to discover different cultures and different people.
A lot of what I’ve learned from my dance teachers has been from their life experience.
Dance is therapeutic.
If you can’t get along in class, how can you get along in the world?
I know there is a certain stress, that you want to be better or be the best that you can be, but I think there also has to be cooperation.
Dance as long as you can.
Kim is a dancer through and through, and well-informed dance educator. She manages to share her knowledge of dance (it’s history, meanings, industry) in casual conversation, and in such a non-pretentious way! This matter-of-fact and down-to-earth way of sharing knowledge has always struck me about her. Even though her and I both have university educations in dance, her retention of dance history (and so history, in general) far surpasses mine. Talk to her about her career, and it will be hard to keep track of all the places she’s traveled to, the people she’s taken class with, and the credentials she’s accrued. But the most impressive part is that she manages to share this without an air of arrogance; and I think the ability to divulge one’s accomplishments without coming across as “bigging oneself up” is rather unique.
Kim has checked-off many of the boxes that any dance professional would want: graduating from a prestigious dance program, training with renowned artists, traveling as a performer, owning your own dance studio, and teaching at a post-secondary institution. And yet, she’s managed to do so without being an aggressive competitor. I think it’s quite evident in her quotes that she is not one to have a nasty competitive edge. It’s not that she doesn’t see the occasional need for “healthy competition,” but in general, she’s much more inclined to collaborate with and encourage others. I think this way of being stems largely from the fact that she is so genuinely interested in people, their cultures, practices, art, backgrounds, and life experiences. What she values is not winning the competition, but rather people and their stories, and dance, itself. “Dance as long as you can.” “Dance is therapeutic.” These are the words of someone who values this wonderous, moving, musical, expressive, and immersive phenomenon that is dance, and who wants to share its benefits.
When I see that there are commonalities between her and my dance trajectory, I am humbled. Working for multiple dance companies, performing at different venues throughout Toronto, bartending and waitressing to help top-off the income… At different points in time, our dance careers really mirrored each other. With all her diverse studies she was able to become a versatile dancer with a wide range of capabilities. One can dedicate your whole life training exclusively to a single dance genre. Many people do. Many people opt to focus exclusively on ballet, or tap, or hip hop, or belly dance, or flamenco, etc., and for good reason. Excelling at even just one artform, or even just one classification of an artform, takes a lot of dedication. But in an area and era where travel isn’t so accessible, or for those of us who feel a need to stay close to home, immersing oneself fully in flamenco – which lies largely in a distant land – isn’t so easy. But that doesn’t mean that we are not dancers, that we don’t have knowledge to share, be it a little bit from Column A, a little bit from Column B. I’m so glad that after coming across her site, I pushed away any thought of being scared or cynical and that, instead, I opted to reach out to Kim. Although I do admit, I got Julian, as a friendly and “impartial” guitarist, to make the initial contact.
We know everyone in the human race is different, whether it is in skin colour or culture, but where humanity is found is in recognizing these differences and ultimately celebrating them. This is what we want for our peers, this is what we want for our children, this is what we want for the future of the world. May love and peace guide you to having hearts full of gratitude.
Like many of us, I had a few friends throughout elementary school with whom I was particularly close. Among them is one whose family is from Trinidad… let’s call her “Belle”.
Belle always had banana bread. To this day, every time I eat or make banana bread, I think about Belle’s mom—Gabriela. Gabriela would make banana bread every day. Belle was happy to share her banana bread at recess or sometimes she simply gave it away with no tradesies—Belle was up to her forehead with banana bread. Years later, when I needed a recipe (before infinite recipes were posted online) I would email Belle for her mom’s recipe.
But I digress. This blog and webpage are primarily about dance and music…. actually, primarily about flamenco dance and music, and Julian’s and my involvement in flamenco performances and lessons. The idea of writing about Belle has entered my mind before, but I wasn’t sure this platform was the right place for it. After a recent conversation with Belle, however, I realized it absolutely has a place here. After all, this website is also about who I am, and what has shaped me as an artist.
My first Carnival
I can’t remember how old I was, I estimate being around 13, when Belle and her mom invited me and a few other girls to Caribana, now called Toronto Carnival. I remember walking along what looked to be empty grounds, wondering “Where is this ‘Caribana?’” At a distance I could hear music coming from the judging point—an area yonder a fence where the mas bands and accompanying dancers are judged before entering the parade. For those of you new to the terminology, mas bands or playing mas refers to the dancers and bands in the parade. A little bit of history: “mas” is a reference to the masquerade balls that Catholic Europeans used to relish in before Lent. Colonialists took this tradition to the Americas, where over time it was appropriated and redefined by those who were enslaved (more details below). Nowadays, in order to play mas in Toronto’s Carnival, members of the public must select a group / float, all of which feature a drum or soca band, or DJ, then register and pay for their costume. While different mas-costume themes exist, the bikini-mas is quite popular. Costumes are sure to be elaborate and colourful, matching across the group, designed by a mas-costume designer and assembled by a team.
We walked away from the judging point, eventually coming to a fence so long it seemed infinite. On the other side of the fence was a parade, and one of the first things I remember seeing was a grand steel drum band riding by on a float. I’d never seen a steel drum band of that size before. I remember thinking: “I wish I had a picnic blanket and that they’d park a while, so I can properly take them in.” And then… unbeknownst to me, just behind this steel drum band came a dance escapade I hadn’t imagined. Nearly naked, yet highly decorated dancing bodies, surrounding a DJ’d float, with dancers decked out in tall feather head-dresses of bright yellow, with shining, glittery bikinis that clearly weren’t made for swimming—they were made for parading. At the time I didn’t know what a Caribbean carnival was. For me the word “carnival” meant “carnaval”—with Bonhomme—or the “carnavales” I saw in family albums from El Salvador, with marching school children and people dressed in traditional Salvadoran clothes (a topic for another blog); or a traveling fair. I never expected to be transported into a bacchanal of soca dance, music, and colourful head-dresses.
As these bikini-mas dancers approached, they vigorously and unapologetically swayed their hips. The float paused right in my line of vision. Etched in my memory is the unreserved dancing that ensued. Dancers exchanged a look, strutted their way towards each other, pressed their hips together and wined. In case you don’t already know, wining is a dance move that involves standing in a first or second position plié, generally somewhere between turned out and parallel, and manipulating the hips in a controlled manner so as to make a full circle—hips pointing to the front, side, back, side, and front again, over and over again. Ofttimes, wining can be done as a couple, where one set of hips is pressed up against the other’s and they wine together, (ideally) in unison.
The dancing was explicitly sexual and yet somehow teeter-tottering the fine line between raunchy and not-raunchy. This was well before I pursued a degree in dance and took courses that would teach me about dance history, ritual, subversion, and meaning. But something about it told me that as suggestive as it was, there was a celebratory underpinning that made it that much more exciting. It wasn’t until I was in undergrad that I would start learning that dance events such as carnival first started to take form as subversive acts. Carnival has its roots in slaves imitating their masters’ masquerades. These “imitation” events were outlawed, yet later, with the emancipation, they took a new form during the celebratory processions of the newly freed slaves.
A couple of years ago, I remember stumbling upon an article online (which unfortunately I’ve not been able to relocate) that spoke about how bikini-mas’s interpretation and meaning has changed over time. It pointed out how revealing one’s body and dancing in a sexually suggestive way represent a breaking free from the shaming of black bodies during slavery and the newfound agency to choose one’s sexual partners… as opposed to being at the forceful command of one’s master. The writer warned that new audiences have lost sight of this. But even without knowing carnival’s history and the emancipatory act of this uninhibited dancing, there was something about the way the dancers expressed themselves that seemed to me, even at a young age, to be an act of freedom. It was liberating and celebratory, in a “safe zone” fenced off from the public attendees. The suggestive dancing was done with intent. Much in the same way that some of the most exciting pole dance performances I have ever seen have been from within the LGBT community (another topic for another post), something about this exhibitionist dancing seemed to yell “freedom!” Not to mention that beat… I was your regular Baloo the Bear: “Man, what a beat.”
From that point on, I was regularly invited to Belle’s house for family parties—anniversaries, birthdays, etc. where they’d always play calypso and soca and teach me how to dance—how to articulate the hips, and the width of the plié that I should employ so as to wine without being too suggestive. While at Caribana the sexualized aspect of the dancing can certainly be at the fore, at family parties the dancing was just as rhythmic and the hips just as fluid yet the overall effect was far more G-rated; but still fun and lively. The music, food, communal dancing, exchange of jokes, and family-fun reminded me of my own home and background. Replace the soca and calypso with salsa, merengue, and the like; the roti with tortillas; the Trinidadian English (which I still cannot understand) with Spanish, and you were practically at my house. It felt as though through Belle and her family, I had found an extension of myself.
Going to Belle’s family events shaped who I am—as a dancer, as an artist and musician, and more simply but just as significantly, as a listener and appreciator of music. To this day, if soca comes on the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio) or on a YouTube playlist, watch out, I can barely control myself. Seriously, if any of my fellow(ette) PhD students or professors were to witness it, I’d probably be embarrassed, not because dancing to soca is anything to be embarrassed about, but, let’s be honest, in our Canadian academic landscape, an unbridled enthusiasm for gyrating one’s hips to lively music is not something you readily come across.
My hips don’t lie
My first flamenco and Spanish classical dance instructors were trained primarily as classical dancers. They gave to me an awareness of arm positions and body alignment that became foundational to my dancing. Still, they also taught me to contain the movements of my hips. Conflating Spanish classical with flamenco, I remember for years thinking that flamenco did not incorporate fluid hips into its movement vocabulary. Years later, I would see flamenco dancing that would prove this notion wrong. Yet even after seeing this, I wasn’t entirely sure how to incorporate into flamenco the hip movements I’d learned from Gabriela (Caribbean) or from Latin dance, which my own Mom had taught me. Until one day, in an improvised performance for a studio open house, as a friend of mine kindly and zealously sang me a Bulerías de Cadiz, did I channel my inner Gabriela. Low and behold, in spite of being in a 12/8 rhythmic pattern, that since the age of twelve I’d been marking with my feet, I was suddenly feeling the rhythm in my hips. Amidst an improvised flamenco dance, I was wining! My dance worlds collided in the most magnificent way.
Although technical dance training can be a road to self-actualization, it can sometimes also become stifling, hence the emphasis on prolonged improvisation in contemporary dance, meant to enable the breaking free of one’s learned movement patterns. I love dancing, and have since well before I started with any formal training. Prior to taking studio classes, one of my favourite parts about dancing was how dancing would transport me to somewhere almost mystical, how connected it made me feel with an inner part of myself; and how I might be able to share that sensation with others through my body movements. I still love dancing, but ironically, that ecstatic feeling has become harder to access as I’ve grown older and trained more. Few of my dance moments have been quite like the one during that improvisation, where I genuinely felt that for a brief moment, I was able to access a part of my authentic self. In that trance-like wine, I felt like the real me—the young me dancing to soca with Belle and her mom, or to salsa with my mom. I suppose you might say that in that moment, “my hips [didn’t] lie”. And though it may not look like much (it’s subtle, I was a sweaty mess, and making some sort of flamenco face), I have the Instagram video to prove it happened!
I’ve become accustomed to this “real me” being contained or forgotten in my adulthood. These days, the only people whom I dare “bump ‘n grind” in front are my Vic Park & Finch / Scarberian friends, or Mr. KJ McKnight during his soca class. Not even Julian has the privilege. It’s something that I really miss, and when I get to reconnect with it it’s refreshing. It may come as a surprise, but it doesn’t even have a sexual undertone. It’s earthy, and sensual in that it’s a visceral and felt experience, but it’s far more than skin deep. It’s connection to music, it’s an appreciation of being in my body—which as we age can so often be a source of self-consciousness—and it’s liberating to allow myself to move in the way that feels the most natural to me.
Black Lives Matter
Now let me address the elephant in the room. The fact that I write this blog now is no coincidence. With the Black Lives Matter movement currently gaining momentum, I draw attention to these friends who helped shape me and who I care so much about. I daresay that growing up I was not blind to Belle’s colour. Physically, she always had such a beautiful and radiant skin colour. And more than that, much in the same way that people can describe someone’s personality as being “colourful,” I’d say her family possessed all the colours of the rainbow. They were warm, lively, and filled with humour. But at the same time, Gabriela was serious and firm when she needed to be. Fun and play were encouraged, as were hard work and respectfulness. What I’d failed to see though, up until very recently, were the implications of this colour. I grew up thinking that because Belle and I grew up in the same neighbourhood, earned more or less the same level of education, and ended up staying in similar sociodemographic brackets, that our realities were very much the same. Like Belle’s family, my family also had their fair share of struggles as newcomers to Canada. But what I was blind to was the fact that the very skin colour that I thought was so enchanting would bring an added layer of struggle and complexity to Belle’s life. I didn’t realize that because I had lighter skin, I wouldn’t have to face so many of the prejudices she has had to face.
As a child, my colourblindess could have arguably been a blessing, for it allowed me to simply love a people and their culture. Today, I find myself asking the following questions: at the time that Gabriela invited Belle’s friends to Caribana and to family parties, did she realize that what she was doing was sowing seeds of appreciation of a culture? Or was she simply being a mom facilitating quality time for her daughter and her friends? Did she ever think this inclusion could shape who I am, how I dance, or that years later, the dancing she’d involved me in would make my pulse quicken whenever I’d hear Caribbean music? Does Gabriela know now that what she has given to me has been a gift?
 This is how dancers and dance instructors call the bending of the legs. The roots of much of western studio dance forms’ terminology is based on Ballet’s French history.
 When the toes and knees are pointing outward (initiated by the femur rotating in the hip socket), or with the feet in parallel, as they are when you’re standing naturally.
 Bulerías is a flamenco form, with subcategories of its own, including one specifically from the city of Cadiz, which is typically sung at the end of the song and dance form called Alegrías.
 I used this term with endearment. In other to produce a certain sound, required of the flamenco aesthetic, flamenco singers are very expressive with their faces, sometimes forming a kind of grimace. This also translates into the various facial expressions used by dancers.
Disclosure: The history of carnival as outlined in this blogpost is a combination of knowledge I have accrued through non-scholarly online resources as well as videos and articles by scholars of carnival studies. The history outlined here should not be taken as a robust academic account of carnival.
#BlackLivesMatter #Carnival #Caribana #Dance #DancerLife
Links and references
Brief History of Carnival – by Nandi Bynoe – Informative Caribbean History
Carnival is Culture – The Dangers of Sexualizing and Shaming Caribbean Culture – #IAMENOUGH
Commodification of the Black Body, Sexual Objectification and Social Hierarchies during Slavery by Iman Cooper
Dr Sue Ann Barratt on Carnival and Gender
Female Agency and Oppression in Caribbean Bacchanalian Culture: Soca, Carnival, and Dancehall by Kevin Frank
Homophobia in the Caribbean – NYTimes.com
Homosexuality Is Still Illegal In These 9 Caribbean Countries | NewNowNext
In Trinidad and Tobago, Carnival goes feminist (bikinis and feathers included)
Lord Kitchener and Lord Pretender – Soca vs Calypso
Their story: Carnival, Women, Sexuality and Sex in the Caribbean by Shivaughn Hem-Lee, Cynthia Hunter, and Justin Mcnab
About a year ago, while running freelance classes at Roxy’s Dance Studio, I began teaching ‘Family Flamenco’. This family-friendly class spanned across three generations and has been one my favourite classes to teach. For me (and many others) flamenco is often a family affair. My mother has always made my flamenco costumes; my father, who is relatively new to flamenco practice, recently accompanied me as a flamenco singer and bassist in two performances; and it isn’t out of the ordinary to see my nieces and nephews tapping along during my classes or rehearsals. Even though I am the only flamenco devotee out of my parents and sisters, flamenco has, nevertheless, permeated into our family life.
Some of the most reputable flamenco artists this world has seen have come from a lineage of flamencos, or ‘flamenco families’. The de los Reyes and Los Farrucos are but two examples. In these families, the tradition of flamenco is passed on from one generation to the next, with youth learning everything they know from their elders. In Canada, these flamenco-family relations have also emerged, with parent-offspring partnerships, such as that of Carmen Romero’s with her daughter, who now performs at Carmen’s recitals; or that of the Scannuras, a husband-wife duo whose daughter is now co-artistic director of their company; or that of Gareth Owen and his parents, who gave him his start into the world of flamenco. I suppose Julian and I now comprise part of Canada’s ‘family of flamencos’. Beyond our connubiality, our flamenco friends often refer to their fellow practitioners as their ‘flamenco family’, describing this mixed-bag of comrades, often from different walks of life, who come together and watch each other grow.
So how might it affect your family life, if you, or one of your children, take up flamenco? Well, it might not necessarily lead to you making flamenco costumes, accompanying your child’s performances, or passing on everything you know about rhythm unto your offspring… Or it might. At Carmen’s School of Flamenco Dance Arts, I recently saw two flamenco dads partake in their daughters’ recital numbers, one as a singer and the other as a palmero. Neither of them was a full-fledged ‘flamenco’, and yet there they were, up on stage, supporting their daughters as they worked their flamenco magic, helping them reach those “Olé” moments. This does not mean you need to become a flamenco aficionado if your child decides to take it up. However, you might want to prepare yourself for a lively and percussive addition to your daily life. Thankfully, given that my familial co-habitant—Julian—is also a flamenco practitioner, he completely “gets it” when a flamenco idea comes my way and I feel a need to parse it out and record it. These urges to stomp my feet and clap my hands can come at the least expected moments, like when I am cooking dinner, or walking through the grocery store. One of my students often gets her ‘flamenco itch’ while standing in a Tim Horton’s line, where she’ll softly pitter-patter her footwork rhythms in her sneakers.
Another thing that might come out of taking up flamenco is a new-found adventurousness in your or your child’s dancing, not in the sense that they’ll be adding more tumbles to their acrobatics, but in their passion and determination. Flamenco skills are often enhanced when one courageously makes eye contact, or gets in the zone and dares to improvise, or uses exaggerated facial expressions to convey rhythmic and dynamic intentions, in a deliciously cathartic way. With all its subgenres, flamenco has the capacity to help one express a whole gamut of human feeling. Having emerged out of a time when the descendants of several cultures inhabited the Spanish peninsula, it is the spawning of a cultural melting pot, so rich in history and folklore. Perhaps you or one of your family members is interested in taking on a new artistic challenge, and learning more about a culture outside your own. If so, what better way than by hearing it, playing it, and dancing it?
1 Hand-clapping percussionist.
2 Bravo, as said by flamenco practitioners.
This past weekend marked the 5th year of the Kultrún World Music Festival, KW’s biggest outdoor dance party. It is admirable to see how Isabel Cisterna, founder of the Kultrún, manages to organize an event of this size. She and her family members were all hard at work, delegating volunteers (including Julian) and answering queries for attendees. Family members also included her toddler son, who was clearly and unabashedly feeling the music.
At last year’s Kultrún we got to watch our friends from Ventanas play flamenco, Mediterranean music, and ancient ballads. This year, our attendance was that much more strategic. Isabel had told us about a Spanish band—Aurora—that she brought on board. She kindly coordinated their palmas (flamenco clapping) workshop at a time we could be sure to attend, so that we could meet the band and promote our upcoming festival. What a gal she is!
The guys in the band were a pleasure to meet and listen to. Max Villavecchia and Joan Carles Marí were excellent workshop leaders, contextualizing flamenco’s roots and the inspiration behind their work. It was exciting to see visiting flamencos dialogue with their Canadian audience and share with them, not only their music, but also their knowledge of its history and of (world) music, more broadly.
An evening with SHAD
After Aurora’s workshop we set-off to another workshop, but this time as workshop leaders. SHAD is an organization that provides an enrichment program for youth, allowing them to take workshops in a vast array of disciplines, i.e., in science, math, technology, and also in world music and dance. This is the third year that SHAD Waterloo has invited us to lead a flamenco workshop, and it is one of the summer events we look forward to each year. The students are always bright, open to a new experience, and engaged; not to mention brand new to flamenco. In this context, I feel in a position of power because I have knowledge about and experience in an artform that the audience has yet to learn. I feel confident in guiding them in the fundamentals of flamenco, explaining what it is and where it comes from, and teaching them an upbeat sequence that is suitable for first-time flamenco dancers. Upon reflecting on the series of events of this past weekend, I realized how this sense of power and confidence can so easily be shifted, right beneath our feet, depending on who enters into our environment and what expectations we place on ourselves.
Our workshop with SHAD was well-received. Julian even gave a couple of musical keeners an impromptu lesson on flamenco theory and technique after the official workshop ended. It was a pleasant surprise to see two young Canadians so eager to learn more about flamenco music-making. The next morning, I picked up dancer, Pol Jiménez, and singer, Pere Martínez, of Aurora. The day before, I had requested back-to-back private lessons in each discipline. I had asked each artist if I could show them some of my material and if Pol could provide me with additional footwork and if Pere could help guide me in improving my vocal sound production. The night before the workshop, I barely slept a wink. The thoughts that were plaguing me were, ‘What will they think of my chops?’ ‘Will I embarrass myself?’ ‘Will they find my skills-set workable but improvable? That would be the ideal.’ ‘How much can I really learn in 1.5 hours?’ ‘Is it worth investing in private classes as opposed to group classes’? Apart from these nervous thoughts, I was also exhilarated at the possibility of growth, opportunity, expanding our network, and witnessing something exciting right in our very own space. In the end, I got exactly what my heart desired. I was provided with intricate but feasible footwork and tips on how to achieve better sound (to help get rid of the Kermit the Frog quality about my flamenco singing). I got the one-on-one attention only available through a private class; and more than that, I got to witness breathtaking singing right next to me, I got to take-in improvised, delicate, and detailed footwork right before my very eyes, and I got to experience an impromptu bulerías jam between Julian and the guys. Julian has trained with some pretty top-notch flamenco artists that I can’t hold a flame to, so I am always grateful when he has the opportunity to play with those who can play to and above his level, bringing his potential up, and reigniting that excitement that drew him to flamenco in the first place.
The set that Aurora played later that evening was exceptional. It was a spectacular hybrid of flamenco meets jazz meets rock. Pere consistently sounded like an authentic flamenco singer but had these glorious moments when his empathic wailing was akin to that of Maynard James Keenan’s. My worlds collided in a magnificent way. All the band members delivered something unique and special. The audience loved Pol’s dancing, and I was glad when his fellow band members supported him with palmas, giving his footwork skills the opportunity to stand out and shine. Max whipped out some sweet solos on the keys that were jazzy and reminiscent of psychedelic rock. Joan rocked out of that kit like he was ready for a metal festival, and Javier Garrabella is an absolute monster on the bass (I would know, I used to play). Much to my surprise, although I probably I should have expected it, the pianist and drummer also had some slick flamenco moves that I got to see as they were doing some post-show, backstage jamming. I’ll be frank and say that I am disappointed in myself for not jumping in when invited to do so. I admit I let my own demons of shyness and lack of self-confidence get in the way; but I am happy that I got to sing with them all they way from Victoria Park to Albert and Weber, close to the hotel where I dropped them off. I might have messed up some lyrics along the way, as I often do when I realize people are actually listening to me, but at least I took the risk and put myself out there as a flamenco practitioner playing along with those in the major league.
This past weekend, CaluJules was joined by Welsh-born dancer and Master of Performance, Josie Sinnadurai; and what a treat it was! Josie was born to two professional ballet dancers and she herself is a pro contemporary dancer. In addition, she spends extensive time in Spain where she trains with la crème de la crème of the Flamenco world.
We picked up Josie, who made the trek all the way from Montreal by bus, at Don Mills Subway Station on Wednesday evening. She arrived hungry and eager to settle-in after a long journey. Even still, she patiently waited for everyone to sit down at the dinner table so we could dine together. The next day, we started rehearsing for the Toronto Tablao show, which took place on Sunday afternoon. We had a great turn-out thanks to our flamenco-friends and the supportive Toronto flamenco community. On Saturday, Josie kindly accompanied me during all of my dance classes in Scarborough and at the Bayview Ballet School in North York. As many of you readers know, my current PhD studies focus on arts provisions in the suburbs. Through my work as an arts educator, I try my best to provide my own artistic resources to communities at the peripheries of urban centres. I can speak to the struggle of trying to keep classes going in less dense areas, where there aren’t already established flamenco schools. To have an artist of Josie’s calibre willing and able to join us out in the sprawled suburban landscape of Scarborough and North York is a rarity that has not gone un-appreciated.
Josie was no doubt an inspiration to the younger dancers at the Bayview Ballet School, all of whom train in ballet and who are learning to shift back and forth between a ballet aesthetic and flamenco technique. Josie was able to articulate flamenco movements using ballet vocabulary, which helped the students execute the desired outcome quickly and efficiently. For the ladies, Josie worked on marking steps, showing us how to mark with precision and dynamics. In addition to this, she also showed us one-legged turns. I can honestly say that, even with the dance training I have already received, my pirouettes have never been better; especially not when wearing flamenco shoes which can be awfully slippery! With detail and clarity, Josie broke down where to place our weight, how to use our arms, and how to hold the torso firmly. In the end, it actually felt easy!
I’ll readily admit that working side-by-side with Josie was a humbling experience. She too is an entrepreneur, organizing and managing all of her gigs during her self-made tour; and yet she continually stays in tip-top shape with regular dance conditioning exercises. Collaborating with Josie last week was an enriching experience for Calu Jules and we highly recommend that other flamencos consider working with her too! If you’re a flamenco school, do consider bringing her on board for guest workshops. You won’t regret it!
We wish Josie all the best for the month of July, and we look forward to working with her again during the Little KW Flamenco Festival. To all flamenco enthusiasts in and near the Waterloo region, don’t miss out! Join Josie, Julian, and me at our Flamenco workshops and closing show, July 30th to August 2nd.
Over the past three weekends, Julian and I have been hard at work sharing our enthusiasm for flamenco and promoting our classes at a variety of events. Last night, we got to meet and perform for a lovely group of Tangueros from Kitchener-Waterloo and London, Ontario. Amid an evening of Tango dancing at Carlos Siri’s monthly Milonga La Yumba, held at The Guanaquita Restaurant in Kitchener, participants politely gave us the dance floor and graciously partook in our performance as attentive audience members.
During the remainder of the Milonga, we were greeted by former residents of Andalusia—the birthplace of Flamenco. Who would have thought that we’d all serendipitously end up meeting at a Salvadoran restaurant on a winter night in Ontario, Canada? A note about the Salvadoran cooking: the food and service at The Guanquita is great. As a Salvadoran-born, myself, I feel very happy to have performed there, among the wall art and cuisine of my birthplace. To the Andalusian who was in the house last night, I can only hope that my husband and I struck a similar chord with you, by paying a tribute to the art-form of your homeland; an art form that through history has also become part of Latin America’s identity and that is now growing in popularity in Canada.
Thank you to my University of Waterloo friends and flamenco students for coming out to support, to the Ontario Tango scene for welcoming us to their event, and to the Guanaquita personnel for opening and maintaining such an establishment! 🙂
Claudia a.k.a. Calú
Thank you Mind Body Soul Studios for helping us bring in Valentine’s Day in style. On Saturday, we attended the MBS Valentine’s Day social and shared a Flamenco performance with attendees. Throughout the evening, we met fellow Scarberians who taught us about practices ranging from Cuban Rumba, Kathak, Filipino Martial Arts, and we even got to partake in a Bachata class! Given the interest in Latin dance at MBS, we thought it fitting to perform some “ida y vuelta” pieces, influenced by Latin and Caribbean music. Oddly enough, while I expected my moves to remind the audience of Latin dance forms, I was told my dancing looked rather like fighting!
On Friday, March 9th, from 7:30-9pm, we’ll be returning to MBS to lead a workshop on the basics of “por fiesta” (for partying) flamenco forms. Salsa, Bachata, and Kizomba dancers alike, you might find some of your own moves fitting in nicely. Equally, you might find the arms and hand technique enhancing your Latin dance style:
Thank you again to MBS Studios for your hospitality and for the coaxing my husband into dancing Bachata with me!
Last weekend we got to do one of our very first promo shows for the Filipino Association’s monthly dance at Ellesmere Community Centre. Suffice it to say, we had a blast (see the photo for the evidence). The opportunity came sooner than expected, which pushed us to get this website up as soon as possible, as well as put together a flyer and logo.
Lessons learned from this gig: don’t “plug and play”. My dad was kind enough to do our sound, which we tested at home earlier in the day. However, likely due to a travel mishap, my microphone cable stopped working mid-set! This led, at first, to some feedback and later to no sound from my mic. Not to mention, Julian’s fingers didn’t feel quite as supple after setting up. Thankfully, our audience was far too gracious to turn their heads up at us. They listened attentively, cheered us on, and helped make the evening special. In short, always make sure you get the opportunity to test the sound in the venue, ahead of time.
A tip to my fellow dancers: I do not recommend dancing on tile! I did it because the monthly event draws in many dancers, all of whom cover the floor. My portable flamenco floor would have surely been a tripping hazard. Instead, we found places in the hall that had a nice deep sound and placed a microphone near a “sweet spot”. Even still, my toes felt the impact the next day.
The highlight of the night was my first attempt at leading a flamenco-rumba line dance to Lolita’s cover of Sarandonga. Those members of the Filipino Association really know how to get down; and with plenty of style.
Thank you to the Association, the supportive audience, and to our friends and students, Nellie and Evelyn, for setting this up.
Calú (& Julian)