Dancers move forward, stomping their high-heeled feet in a cadence that is akin to fast typing on a computer’s keyboard. Strong, yet delicate arms wind and twist through the air like vines. After a split-second pause, the women turn, arching their backs in what looks like a closed, curved spiral. The music stops. The teacher, in limited English, explains the more precise placing of the arms, and demonstrates the proper way to turn.
It’s an exercise at an intermediate and advanced choreography class in Toronto, exploring both the traditional and contemporary forms of flamenco, a Spanish dance.
Flamenco is Toronto’s Oldest Dance
Paula Citron, a dance reviewer for The Globe and Mail, says that flamenco is one of the oldest ethnic dance styles in the city, outlasting most other international dance styles. She says flamenco has been visible and popular in Toronto for decades. “Of all the dance arts in Toronto, I would say flamenco is the oldest. It was always accepted by the mainstream. Always.”
Flamenco is Evolving
Lionel Félix produces the Toronto International Flamenco Festival, which wrapped up it’s fourth season this year. Originally a traditional Latin ballroom dancer, he became interested in the solo aspects of dance style 1n 1995. He studied it in both Spain and Toronto over 10 years. He says that Toronto’s practice of the dance form is continually evolving. One notable example is the inclusion of live flamenco music in the city’s dance studios during classes, which is a relatively recent addition in Toronto.
“[Ten years ago,] many of the classes here were offered only with the teacher, without really considering the guitar part of it, or even the singing part of it,” he said. “Now, most of the teachers are including all these other elements, which is the guitar and the singing, which is a huge, major change.” In his experience and training Félix said he has seen all aspects of the art form evolving, even over the past decade, and believes that the contemporary inceptions and the innovation that is currently taking place are definitely good things.
“Compared to 10 to 20 years ago, I used see that many of the dances were not necessarily very innovative. They were mainly joining and doing, choreography. That’s all. Whereas now, I see there’s more things happening, even in our showcase,” he says.
Yet Rooted in Tradition
Carmen Romero was encouraged by her parents to study flamenco in Toronto, having emigrated from Spain to Toronto with her family at the age of four. She started her training in the ’70s, when she was only eight years old. She also owns and teaches at her own flamenco school in the Entertainment District. She noted that, internationally, a large display of the changes that have been made to the dance take place within the movement itself.
“Because flamenco has traveled more around the world, flamenco will always be an art form that has absorbed from its environment, and so has evolved both in the music and the movement,” she said. “There’s a lot more [bodily] isolations used, that were borrowed from other dance cultures. Turns are not natural to flamenco.”
Romero also pointed out that, while the newer styles within flamenco are a large advantage to the dance style, the traditional aspects should never be forgotten; such as the old family dances and songs that have a particular take on the classical version of the art form. She also believes it is essential to thoroughly understand traditional flamenco before including your own aspects.
“I believe you cannot be contemporary without understanding roots and history. That’s where I’m at. I believe you need to understand the history of it first and know where it came from first,” she said.
An Expression of the Soul
Contemporary or classical, audiences love flamenco, Citron says the dance form is so widely accepted because of the charismatic dancers, passion, sexuality, and the ability to relate, which is far beyond that of other dance styles. Even when the dancers rarely touch or perform on their own, the “earthy and raw” human element remains.
“It’s sexy and it smolders. The music is very soulful. If you’ve got a really expressive singer, and a really expressive dancer, it is an expression of the soul. More so than a ballerina on Pointe shoes, in a tutu,” she said. “If you’ve got chemistry between the two dancers, it’s hot. There’s nothing that even says you have to touch each other because you can communicate across a crowded room if you have that charisma.”
About the Toronto International Flamenco Festival
The Toronto International Flamenco Festival is a Not-for-Profit organization dedicated to increasing the popularity of Flamenco in North America by creating an inclusive environment for both artists and spectators. Each year the Festival brings internationally acclaimed and Canadian artists to celebrate this powerful yet graceful dance on the main stages of Toronto.
Founded by Lionel Félix in 2007, in order to showcase and celebrate the best of Flamenco in Toronto, the Toronto International Flamenco Festival is the first of its kind in Canada. It models itself on the world famous Festival Flamenco Internacional de Alburquerque in New Mexico and The New York Flamenco Festival.
About Carmen Romero
Carmen Romero founded the School of Flamenco Dance Arts in 1992. From Beginner to Professional levels, students learn the physical and technical aspects of the form but most importantly the communicative interplay between dance, song and guitar. All flamenco classes are accompanied by live guitar. Flamenco at the school is taught more as a language than a series of steps, chords and rhythms. She also gives audio/video presentations and discussions on the history, artists and culture of flamenco to give students exposure into the world of flamenco. From time to time, world-renown flamenco artists from Spain are invited to teach workshops.
Recently Carmen assisted Colombian singer Shakira with flamenco movement to portray a gypsy in her international “Sun Comes Out” world tour that opened in Montreal on September 15, 2010!
Earlier this month the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) honoured the Spanish art form of Flamenco by adding the music and dance style to their distinguished World Heritage list! Watch their video about Flamenco below:
Want to Learn Flamenco?
Flamenco is a great workout for the body and activates muscles seldom used otherwise. The core is always engaged, while wrist circles, one of the dance’s basic moves, work the forearms. Flamenco timing also runs on 12 counts instead of the usual eight, giving the brain a workout as well. In fact, dancers act as a counterpoint to the music by drumming with their feet *between* the beats of the music! A challenge, but nevertheless, everyone, regardless of age, shape or gender, can learn and practice flamenco.
Plus you don’t need a partner!
Want to experience flamenco in a relaxed Setting? You can enjoy a complimentary flamenco performance at the following restaurants:
- Embrujo Flamenco
- Plaza Flamingo
Thanks to Reinisa MacLeod from Sudbury, Ontario, for contributing the above article on Flamenco in Toronto! Photos are from the recent Toronto International Flamenco Fesitival by Photographer Quame Scott.