Welcome To Casa Flamenca
Valeria Montes is the executive director of Albuquerque's Casa Flamenca; a small home-based center for Flamenco art located at 401 Rio Grande Blvd NW. Sitting in the middle of the Casa Flamenca dance floor, we spoke for nearly two hours as she filled me in on the rich history and culture of Flamenco art and on the importance of sharing Flamenco with the Albuquerque community.
A Way Of Life
Admittedly, most everything I thought I knew about Flamenco was incorrect and, as it turns out, I'm not alone. "People initially come here for different reasons", Valeria explained, "mostly because of a pre-conceived notion they have of what Flamenco is."
At first glance, Flamenco appears to be an intricate dance in an elaborate costume accompanied by guitar, vocals, and percussion. And while, this description is not entirely wrong, it entirely misses the point of what Flamenco is.
A Journey Of Self Discovery
Flamenco is many things but first and foremost it is about tapping into and expressing real feelings. No fake smiles and forced politeness here. Valeria explained to me that one of the most interesting aspects of teaching Flamenco to teenagers and adults is challenging students to remove their proverbial "masks" and express a true feeling. It sounds simple enough but most of us have been conditioned against this type of expression since childhood. Women, especially, have been taught to put on a smile and be polite no matter how they feel on the inside. In contrast, the key to excellent Flamenco is genuine, uninhibited emotional expression. The quest towards this level of artistic freedom is a cathartic experience for many students and often leads to a lifelong journey of self discovery.
The Language Of Flamenco
To me, the most interesting aspect of Flamenco is the concept of the art form as a language, an interaction between all the performers. The musicians and the dancers communicate with, and play off of, each other to create a dynamic and visceral performance.
Similar to Jazz musicians, Flamenco performers study the elements of their language. They become intimately acquainted with the rhythms, the techniques, the tones, and the ways in which each performer interacts with the ensemble. In the same way that a student of any spoken language would study sentence structure and grammar in order to communicate fluently and effectively in that language, Flamenco artists also use the elements of their language to communicate. A Flamenco performance is a constant conversation between the dancer(s) and the musicians.
The language of Flamenco centers around genuine expression and this is facilitated by the most powerful human language of all, the language of experience. People all over the world use different words and modalities to communicate but the purpose of all communication is to describe experience.
Throughout the year, Casa Flamenca holds regular Tablao performances for the public. A Tablao is an improvisational performance held in an intimate environment. At Casa Flamenca, the Tablaos are held in the main classroom and attendance is limited to thirty people. Everyone sits in chairs around the edge of the dancefloor and has a front row seat for what Valeria describes as "Flamenco in your face".
I attended a Tablao at Casa Flamenca and can honestly say that it was one of the best live events, of any type, that I have seen in Albuquerque. The music alone was worth the trip, so fiery and dynamic, but coupled with the dance made for an absolutely mesmerizing performance. Everyone in attendance sat transfixed at the edge of their chairs from the moment it started until the last notes were played.
It is a rarified thing to see a room full of people unplugged from their devices and being fully present in the moment. No one was talking or looking at their phones and the energy in the air was powerful.
Artist In Residence, Juani De La Isla
I originally went to Casa Flamenca to interview Valeria, but I would be remiss not to mention the guitarist in residence, Juani De La Isla. I did not get to speak with him very much (we have a bit of a language barrier) but his music speaks for itself. (see the video below)
Another artist I would like to mention is Adrian Cabeza. He is the vocalist and percussionist seen in the videos. Adrian and Juani are world class musicians and to see them play, up close and personal, in this type of venue was a wonderful privilege.
Classes At Casa Flamenca
With classes for all age groups and skill levels, Casa Flamenca is a center for learning. When asked why she felt it was important to teach Flamenco to children, Valeria gets right to the heart of the matter. "Flamenco is a culture, a way of life. Children have fresh minds, where nothing is set in stone. It is a natural thing for them to absorb and understand a new culture without being influenced by preconceived notions."
I was struck by her words because it never occurred to me that learning Flamenco was more than just "going to dance class." At a time when our political culture would have us distracted by differences, division, and conflict, Casa Flamenca is a welcome beacon of light focused on understanding and inclusion.
Casa Flamenca offers classes in both dance and musical Flamenco performance. Classes are available on an ongoing basis and all ages and skill levels are welcome.
To learn more about taking classes at Casa Flamenca, please visit their website at www.CasaFlamenca.org.
Fall Tablao Series
This fall, Casa Flamenca is offering a four day Tablao series October 4th - 7th. If you have out of town guests coming in for the Balloon Fiesta and want to knock their socks off, this is a must-see event! For tickets and event information, click here: Casa Flamenca Fall Tablaos.