Exploring Flamenco: One Dancer's Journey
Flamenco was born when wandering Roma gypsies blended dance and musical traditions with those of southern Spain. Award winning dancer and Albuquerque native Alice Blumenfeld recently spent a year in Spain delving into the tradition.
"I don't know, maybe I was born dancing ," she said. "I started taking dance classes when I was 3, starting with ballet."
"It almost felt like an out-of-body experience," Alice explained. "I just became so enraptured and enthralled. It was in that moment that I decided that I wanted to be able to do what that dancer was doing."
Alice began devouring anything and everything Flamenco. She took classes in Albuquerque where there's been a thriving community for decades. Within a few years she was performing, and was even teaching Flamenco before she moved to New York City for college in 2008. There she regularly performed in Spanish theaters and in restaurants.
"Traditionally speaking it's a structured improvisation," the artist said. "So that gives me a lot of freedom to express what I feel in the moment so that I'm not stuck dancing the same choreography over and over again. Instead I'm able to really live in the moment, dance in the moment and be myself in the moment."
Alice said the art form has it's own language. Specific sounds and footwork make up the grammatical structure and the conversation happens between the dancer, the guitarist and the singer.
"There's a system of communication between the dancers and the musicians," she explained. "Mostly the dancer is in charge."
She said the dancer controls pretty much everything from the speed to when the piece actually ends. Between the guitar and the dancers foot tapping and hand clapping, or palmas, a rhythmic brocade is woven.
"Eventually you create your own style and you tell your own stories," explained Alice. "You're able to have a dialogue and understand each other."
The dialogue is one wrought with emotion, as performers tell stories about the human condition, be it love and jealousy, or poverty, persecution, even death. The words to the songs are sometimes ecstatic, often tragic.
When Alice finished college she wanted to spend as much time in Spain as possible. She'd already spent a semester there, so she knew she wanted to be surrounded by other Flamenco artists, or Flamencos.
"I think to really grow as a flamenco artist it helps to go to Spain and be so immersed in that culture," Alice explained.
Moving to Europe and paying for lessons would be expensive, so that's why Alice applied for a Fulbright scholarship, one of the most prestigious and competitive award programs in the world.
"It was an incredibly difficult application. It forced me to really think about what I wanted to do in Flamenco, what I lacked and why I needed to go to Spain to study," the artist said. "I was really hungry for that connection between music and dance. I wanted to understand the connection between those dance steps and the music so I could create my own dances."
Spending hundreds of hours on the application, Alice was pretty sure it was a long shot. In the Spring of 2012 however, she got an acceptance letter.
"That was probably one of the happiest moments of my life," she exclaimed. "I had to read it twice to make sure that it was real. I was so elated."
Sevilla, where Alice went, is one twelfth the size of New York City, but she said the experience was like going from a small town to a great big city in the world of Flamenco.
"The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know," she revealed, "because Flamenco is just infinite. To be in Sevilla, in the center of Andalucia, which is the birth place of Flamenco, I was able to experience all the nuances and the different styles of the traditional rhythms."
Alice returned to Albuquerque this summer, debuting her latest work in a show called Un Paseo Por Andalucia. She says it was both comforting and an honor to be back collaborating with the Albuquerque musicians who had helped initiate her into the dance years ago.
"They're some of the best musicians around for sure," she explained. "In the whole country."
Because Flamenco is improvisational, Alice and her guitar virtuoso, Ricardo Anglada, only had to get together once to briefly rehearse and run through the show's structure before performing. (Anglada recently suffered a stroke while performing.)
"As of right now I have a lot of work to make my living dancing, " she said, excited. "I'm feeling very optimistic about making my living as an artist. It's a dream come true and I couldn't be happier about it."
Alice has been touring around the country for the past several months. Reviews call her dancing exhilarating. She hopes to return to Spain soon to dive even further into the infinite world of Flamenco.
Listen to more of Anglada's music here, co-written by Vicente Griego.