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[1]. 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”[2] 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.

Sincerely,

Claudia Aguirre

A.k.a. Calu

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.

Aurora Sunrise

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.

Sincerely,

Claudia Aguirre

A.k.a. Calu

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.

Sincerely,

Claudia Aguirre

A.k.a. Calu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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! 🙂

Sincerely,

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.

Happy dancing,

Calú (& Julian)